Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Becoming Mentally Tough to Better Manage Stress


The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.

~William James~

When you are faced with an unexpected challenge or change, how do you normally respond to it? Do you see it as a challenge or as an opportunity to stretch your capacity to be more and do more? Your answer to this question can be an indication of your mental toughness according to the authors of Developing Mental Toughness.  Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk co-wrote the book and defined mental toughness as, “The quality which determines in large part how people deal effectively with challenges, stressors and pressure…irrespective of prevailing circumstances.”



Key Factors for Mental Toughness

Clough and Strycharczyk identify additional factors “involved in success and performance other than talent and raw ability.” These factors comprise their 4C Model for overall mental toughness. They are:

1.      Challenge: seeing challenge as an opportunity

2.      Confidence: having high levels of self-belief

3.      Commitment: being able to stick to tasks

4.      Control: believing that you control your destiny

Think about a recent incident in which you faced relentless demands, change or unexpected challenges, on a scale of 1 to 3, with one being bad, two being just o.k., and three being pretty good, how would you score your response to the stress that you felt in the situation? Clough and Strycharczyk writes, “One could argue that a central component of mental toughness is how effective one deals with potentially stressful situations.”

A Reason Why Some People Respond Differently to Stress

I’m sure that you have recognized how the people in your sphere of influence manage stress. One person may use stress to “motivate them to thrive in the face of a challenge, while another see the stressor as a threat” and it seems to take the wind out of their sail.

A reason for this could be based on the trait anxiety theory, “which is the personality factor that predisposes an individual to view certain situations as more or less anxiety provoking.” The authors explain that, “Individuals with high trait anxiety perceive events as being more threatening than individuals with lower trait anxiety.” Currently there is ongoing research on the influence of genetics and environmental influences on developing mental toughness.





The Role of Resiliency on Developing Mental Toughness

Peak performing athletes have known for decades the importance of mental training on performance. In the article, The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes by Jack J. Lesyk, Ph.D. of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology writes, “At the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology we work with serious athletes of all ages and ability to help them learn and sharpen these important skills. We believe that our work is worthwhile because the same mental skills that athletes use in achieving success in sports can be used to achieve success in other areas of their lives.”

When I think about factors besides my faith in God that enables me to bounce back from setbacks and adversities, I will quickly tell anyone that the shift in every situation began with the reframing of my perspective and setting my mind with a determination to overcome a particular experience so that I would be better and stronger as a result of my actions. My mental toughness has developed over the course of my life not because I set out to do so, but as a result of difficult times and my relentless belief that I could overcome it.

I now know this skill can be developed as I have nurtured it within many of those who have worked with me.  I have witnessed the difference in how a shift in their thinking empowered them to manage stress better and adopt a stronger self-belief that transforms their life and enables them to achieve greater success. Wayne Dyer stated, “What we think determines what happens to us, so if we want to change our lives, we need to stretch our minds.”

A resilient attitude is closely connected to the degree of mental toughness that we exhibit. The stick-to-itiveness factor demonstrates the amount of effort and perseverance we expand in completing tasks and achieving goals. A resilient attitude is a reflection of our internal thinking process, which is a reason why mental training is not just important for athletes, it’s important for you and me.






A Mental Strength Regimen

You can increase your mental toughness by developing resiliency. Clough and Strycharczyk identify the following skills we need to develop to cultivate resiliency and be mentally tough:

1.      Emotional regulation: Resilient people manage their internal world which helps them control their emotions, attention and behavior.

2.      Impulse Control: Resilient people manage the behavioral expression of their emotional impulses, including the ability to delay gratification. Impulse control is correlated with emotional regulation.

3.      Causal analysis: Resilient people are able to get outside of their habitual thinking styles to identify more possible causes and thus more potential solutions.

4.      Self-efficacy: Resilient people believe in themselves and as a result build others confidence in them-placing them in line for more success and more opportunity.

5.      Realistic optimism: Resilient people are able to stay positive about the future without Pollyanna-style optimism.

6.      Empathy: Resilient people are able to read others’ non-verbal cues to help build deeper relationships with them and tend to be more in tune with their emotional state.

7.      Reaching out: Resilient people take on new challenges and opportunity enhancing the positive aspects of life.

 
As humans, none of us are going to hit home runs each time we feel stressed. That is an unrealistic expectation from an imperfect vessel. However, we can take a proactive approach to developing our mental toughness so that we aren’t so easily miffed every time we encounter a stressor in life.

The way that we approach a circumstance affects significantly how the experience is handled. By developing and nurturing the skills in the “mental strength regimen”, we can better manage our thoughts, emotions and behaviors and increase our capacity to better manage stress, improve our wellbeing and positive behavior toward others.

It’s Your Move ~ Aspire Higher


Reference: Ohio Center for Sport Psychology, The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes, Jack J. Lesyk, Ph.D. Retrieved September 11, 2012 from www.sportpsych.org/nine-mental-skills-overview