Can You Handle the Heat? A Mental Toughness Test

Pressure tests our self-confidence and mental discipline.

Life is good on the job when predictable conditions give us a clear path for showcasing our talents. That’s when we’re convinced we have what it takes for our next step.

Unfortunately, the unpredictable is also predicable. Are you ready for it? Do you know how you’ll handle the heat?

Rings of fire 

No job is immune from surprises that test you. On any day and at any time, things can go up in smoke and your job will be to find your way through the flames.

Disruption emerges from:

  • Your boss and coworkers
  • Customers, clients, and vendors
  • Performance reports and financials
  • Software glitches and system failures
  • Policy and procedure errors
  • Communications breakdowns and stymied negotiations
  • New regulation and legal decisions
  • Marketplace competition and under-performing products

We can either crumble or rise to the occasion when things go wrong. In either case, everyone will be watching.

Gut it out 

Great models for developing mental toughness are athletes in individual sports, like golf and tennis. It’s always the player against the opponent and the conditions. To succeed, one will contend with adversity better than the other.

These athletes live by routines which become a kind of rhythm of play. It’s how they tap into muscle memory and keep their visualization patterns humming.

Golfers and tennis players are frequently disrupted by:

  • Weather delays, causing them to stop, wait, and restart
  • Crowd noise during play or reactions unsupportive of them
  • Persistent or sudden injuries
  • Excessive heat, cold, wind, or rain
  • Disrespect or gamesmanship from their opponents

There are hundreds of examples where certain athletes blow leads, implode, or even retire from play because disruptions overcome them.

Our mind can either weaken or strengthen us during adversity. We just need to know which one we want it to be when it’s our time to be challenged.

Assess your mental toughness 

When the heat’s on, how do you react? If you answer “yes” to any of the following, consider taking the next steps in parens.

  1. “I get stressed out and lose concentration when I’m told my project is due by noon instead of the end of the workday.” (Clear out all other distractions, defer other tasks, avoid interruptions, and focus only on the project.)
  2. “When my boss gives me negative feedback, I lose motivation.” (Think about the contributing factors in the feedback; develop and implement a plan to change what you’ve been doing.)
  3. “When I’m accountable for a team result, I micro-manage to avoid things going wrong.” (Stay away from the details, refocus on the big picture, provide support and cheerlead.)
  4. “In a conflict situation, I usually back off.” (Ask questions to understand the issue; request time to think about what you’ve heard; come to terms with your position; and set a time to meet again to resolve.)
  5. “If I make a mistake, I’m reluctant to try again.” (Learn from each mistake and commit to trying again as soon as possible. Ask for feedback. Work at the fix until you’ve mastered it.)
  6. “When a problem arises, I wait for a coworker or my boss to take the lead.” (Commit to taking the reins, especially when you have the expertise.)
  7. “If I get a poor rating on a performance factor, it takes me weeks to get over it.” (Reset your performance goal for that factor to meet expectations. Commit to immediate actions to turn the rating around.) 

Action is the marker 

Mental toughness is the outgrowth of committed action. It demonstrates your willingness to keep pressing forward, drawing on your capabilities, and being averse to quitting no matter how difficult the challenge.

You have to act to build and increase mental toughness. Each step you take increases your self-confidence and your business fitness.

Mental toughness builds on itself but it takes your efforts to get the ball rolling. Once you do, everyone will take notice and your career will benefit.

Photo from Ben Sutherland via Flickr

14 thoughts on “Can You Handle the Heat? A Mental Toughness Test

  1. Mental toughness is outgrowth of committed action. When I think it’s particularly difficult is when committing to action is not readily available – like with a rain delay or a meeting delay and I have to time to think, think, think about the challenge that’s coming but can’t actually work on any part of it.

    As always, good suggestions

    • So true…but it’s like so much of what you blog about…those internal conversations we have with ourselves. Part of our mental toughness comes from not letting the negative and doubting voices fill in the space that downtime creates. That’s always been a struggle for me and I so admire people who can just turn off those voices and retain their focus on what needs to be done. Thanks for always adding something important. ~Dawn

    • Irene…Gosh, we all freak out for somethings more than others. Mental toughness is an ongoing challenge. Progress is when we don’t freak out as much or for as long! Regrouping sounds like the perfect strategy! :-) Thanks, ~Dawn

  2. Love all things mentally tough, although I was waiting for the boxing analogy…:).

    #3 reminded me of a lesson my clinical sup taught us: “Those who micromanage do so b/c they (unconsciously) think that those tasks that they allow to fall by the wayside, will be discounted by you, as well.” Translation: If your boss has trouble with time management, s/he’s going to ride you about how you could’ve been more productive and efficient with your time. Not that it makes slacking off acceptable, but it does add a lens to view the criticism.

    I think all things worthy of fighting for in life come down to mental toughness.

    Not that you asked for the gratuitous boxing reference, but, “Bam, bam, bam!”

    • Actually, Linda, I think boxing is a great reference point. It takes a ton of mental toughness to hang in there when you’re getting your head beat in. That makes the toughness part both abstract and concrete, behavioral and actual. I really admire mental toughness and believe people who can click it on when it’s most important have taken a lot of hard knocks to get there. Now one more atta girl “Bam” for you! ~Dawn

  3. Hi Dawn – Well number 1 & 4 definetly are some of my button pushers! I am not a lover of deadline change! I have learned as I’ve gotten older to just accept change and breathe deeply, as change is a part of life!! And I have also learned that I need time to re-think how I feel when get into a discussion with someone and there is new information presented to me that I need to integrate into my thought processes…I usually need time to mull things over…

    • Kathy, I tend to be structured myself, preferring time to sort things out before I take action. But sometimes, that luxury isn’t there like whensomeone is forcing the issue or circumstances are moving fast. Being able to click into real-time problem solving is crucial. To become mentally tough, we need to practice it, model it, and test it. Part of the process is awareness and recognizing when the moment is giving us time to practice. So I guess we’ll have to give up mulling when situations warrant! That’s life! Great to hear from you. ~Dawn

  4. Extremely guilty of numbers 2, 5, and 7! I really need to learn how to turn criticisms and suggestions into something positive, rather than sit and just feel crushed and sorry for myself.

    • Susan, we’re all guilty some to some degree for all of them. No one gets mentally tough without taking it on the chin and then bouncing back multiple times. Sometimes we bounce quickly and other tmes not. It’s just important to draw on past experiences in ways that make us more resilient the next time. Take heart. I’m with you on this. ~Dawn

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