Key Traits of Mental Toughness: How Do People Get Back Up in the Face of Adversity

by @deanyeong | Sign up to weekly newsletter here

People who succeed in life are not necessary strong physically or intellectually, however, every single one of them is strong mentally.

There is no one definite path to achieve success at work and in life. In many cases, it’s not about what you have and what you do – what industry you are in, what you spend your money on, what unfair advantages you have – but how you do them.

Every one of us gets knocked down by setbacks and challenges in life at some point. However, people with high mental toughness are able to get back up quicker than the rest. And they do that again and again and again when most people have already given up.

  • Many people want to start a freelance design career, but most of them give up after 2 months of trying, and very few of them succeed at the end of the day.
  • Countless bloggers start a blog and abandon it just after three weeks, only a handful of bloggers rise above the rest and become professional writers, bestselling book authors, and famous thought leaders, by investing an insane amount of energy and time into their craft.
  • Many people dreamed of building the next huge startup and changing the world, but only a few succeed not because of what they did, but what they didn’t do. They didn’t talk themselves out, they didn’t complain, and they didn’t accept the status quo.

Having high mental toughness is not just another nice-to-have to add into your toolkit, but a multiplier, a booster, and a magnifying glass that maximize your effort by countless folds. And it also helps you to stay on the bus and play the long game.

Mentally Strong People Think and Act Differently

I don’t think mental toughness is something you born with, and I strongly believe it’s something we all can learn along the journey. After studying many examples of successful people and top performers, here are the 10 traits of people with high mental toughness carry in common.

Delayed gratification. Most people failed because they give in to temptations or give up to challenges too quickly. Mentally strong people understand how to work hard and contribute more now before they even think about returns. Psychologist Walter Mischel proved the ability of delayed gratification contributes to one’s success later in life, in his marshmallow experiment held in the late 1960 and early 1970.

Embrace constraints. We want to believe we have total freedom, and we think more freedom makes us better off. The truth is the opposite. When some people naively want to have all the freedom, happy people embrace constraints. When they want all the glory, successful people embrace failures. When they want to be perfect, mentally strong people embrace imperfections.

Never seek for permission. They own themselves responsible. They never seek for permission and authority. They make their own way. If they made mistakes and hit a roadblock, they suck it up. They don’t control things that can’t be control – such as money and people. But besides those, they are always in control, especially their own state of mind.

Focus on the fundamentals. Start with the fundamentals. Focus on the thing that matters the most. This helps us to eliminate distractions and cut through the noise.

Consistency. Mentally strong people are not born to be strong mentally, but they learned along the way. Success doesn’t come in a day or two, and mentally strong people understand the power of consistency. They take tiny actions continuously and focus on the progress.

Self-awareness. Figure out your vision and purpose. Define your own identity. Then, know your strengths and weaknesses, know your roles, know your position, and know your goals. People who are self-aware are stronger mentally because they know how to deal with every circumstance and environment. If you don’t believe me, listen to Gary Vaynerchuck. He is the one who constantly emphasizing the importance of self-awareness today!

Sees thing as what it really is. Mentally strong people never create stories for themselves. The ability to see thing as it really is required practice. To be mentally strong, you need to stop telling yourself the stories that make you comfortable and hide your true self and the reality behind the curtain. Accept the reality and then take action to fight against any adversity.

Optimism. One thing that moves us forward is hope. If there is no hope, there is no action and thus, no results. Mentally strong people believe in themselves, at the same time, believe in faith. The failure of seeing hope in everything you do will fail you before you even try.

Embrace uncertainty. Most people want to predict the future. Certainty and safety are necessities since the evolution of mankind. But no one can predict the future with 100% accuracy, which means there will always be uncertainty. Weak people flee away from it, mentally strong people embrace it.

Willingness to learn and expand. Curiosity and the willingness to figure things out make people stronger mentally. Read, experiment, learn, reflect. Successful people never stop learning, even from a defeat, and that’s exactly what makes them stronger.

After Thoughts

Again, I believe mental toughness can be learned. Although I don’t have a defined step-by-step plan to improve your mental strengths right now (will do some research and come back to you with this), but here are a few simple tips I put together that had helped me to become stronger mentally.

  1. Invest 80% of your energy and time to structure your mindset. Mental toughness is all about how you perceive things and the way of your decision-making.
  2. Take risks regularly to push yourself away from your own comfort zone.
  3. Exercise. Pushing your physical limits doesn’t only train your body, it trains your mind too.
  4. Be around with mentally tough people. We all shaped by our environment, in this case, we grow stronger mentally by picking up these traits from them.

You don’t need to go through massive pain to improve mental toughness. All you need is to invest a little bit of effort, time, energy, and an ounce of willing to be uncomfortable.

Let me know what you think about these traits of people who are mentally tough in the comment below. Have a few suggestions on strengthening mental toughness? Share it with me and the others below.

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