Mental Toughness During COVID-19

Updated: Mar 26

As we watched from our beachside homes in Australia, it seemed to some that we were far removed from the harsh realities of the global pandemic. However, having family in Italy, the UK and North America, we knew first hand it was only a matter of days until stages of isolation would come our way. We took advantage of this time and spent as much of it as we could in the great outdoors.


And then, without notice, a pre-emptive strike imposed itself upon us. The fear, the panic, the outright madness threatened to infiltrate our lives. An emotional contagion sweeping across the nation with the power to shock and immobilise.


When faced with challenges and difficult circumstances, I tend to focus on what I can control and work from there ~ but it seemed to me, that many of the people I spoke to were focusing on all of the things they couldn't control. I knew that we needed to make a shift, as a society we needed to take the control back and this brought me to thinking about Mental Toughness and all that it had to offer.


According to Clough, Earle & Strycharczyk, Mental Toughness (MT) is defined as:

“a personality trait which determines in large part how people deal with challenge, stressors and pressure .... irrespective of prevailing circumstances”.

Not only is MT a personality trait, it's a plastic personality trait that can be developed through deliberate practice. Originating in sport, health and education, MT quickly made its' way into the boardroom. Both leaders and their teams need to be cultivating MT right now. We're in a time riddled with uncertainty, complexity, fear and a perceived lack of control. We need to develop a positive state of mind, establish a sense of control, help our teams stay on track of their goals and emerge stronger once we overcome the struggle. Developing the 4 C's within MT offered a framework to achieve all of this and I was urged to share it with my network.


The MT construct developed by Clough & Strycharczyk is a psychometrically validated construct that consists of 4 scales known as the 4 C's: control, commitment, challenge and confidence. Each of these scales are independent yet combined they equate to MT.


Control consists of two sub-scales, life control and emotional control. It describes the extent to which you feel in control of your life circumstances and to what degree you are able to control your emotions. Can you 'get on with it' irrespective of how you feel? Can you put your negative emotions aside, establish a sense of agency and take action? If yes, you have a high degree of control, if no then you may have some work to do.


Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. William James

Commitments' two sub-scales are goal orientation and goal achievement. Similar to grit, commitment is about setting stretch goals and not letting obstacles detract you from achieving those goals. It's about your degree of persistence, dogged determination and relentless pursuit. Perhaps you need to modify your goals based on the impact of COVID-19, acknowledge that it's important that you adjust course and continue striving forward.


Challenge is a combination of possessing a growth mindset and thriving outside of your comfort zone. People high in challenge push the boundaries, accept risk and embrace change. Are you able to find the positive and see potential opportunity through the pandemic? Perhaps this is a chance to pause, reflect and shift your focus, or alternatively an opportunity to work on those projects you've been putting off. If you're high in challenge, you're likely not letting COVID-19 stop you in your tracks, you're still creating, connecting, analysing and taking action.


Confidence, the final C is both belief in your abilities and interpersonal belief. Do you have belief in your ability to get things done, even when you may not have the skill-set you give it a go or you're happy to learn by trying? Interpersonal confidence is when you are comfortable in a group and comfortable giving your opinion to influence others. With the uncertainty and ambiguity of COVID-19, being high in confidence you believe that you have enough know-how to get through this period. You utilise your positive outlook and inspire others to adopt a similar mindset.


People often say 'isn't MT just resilience'?


Whilst resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences or challenges, MT adds a positive component. The first 2 c's ~ control and commitment ~ equate to resilience, when you add challenge and confidence, you have MT. The positive element looks for opportunity and utilises a sense of agency to act on that opportunity.


MT can be measured.

Through a psychologically validated measure, we can measure an individual's MT in as little as 8-10 minutes. The assessment identifies what challenges an individual may have, the potential impact of those challenges and development activities to address those challenges. Taking it one step further, there is also the option of working with a coach to support individual's in their development.


For more information on Mental Toughness and how you can start developing it right now with simple, practical exercises ~ get in touch and we'll create a plan for you and/or your team!


Kirsten works with individuals, teams and organisations through initiatives in leadership, performance and well-being and in developing human potential. Get in touch with her today to see what you're truly capable of.

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