Home » Blogs » Leveraging Adversity » Mental Toughness: Are You Missing The Point?

Mental Toughness: Are You Missing The Point?

bulls eye photo



Based on a recent google search of the term mental toughness, it appears that not only do most of us want to become mentally tough, there are now a host of exercises, traits, habits and training programs that will get us there.


We are told that we can learn to overcome any adversity, perform at the upper echelon of our capacity, and develop a psychological edge that allows us to cope better than our counterparts. Indeed, Jim Loehr, the author of The New Toughness Training for Sports, defines mental toughness as “the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”


Sports commentators often use the term freely to describe any athlete who perseveres through difficult circumstances to win – or as default explanation of victory itself.


Mental toughness has also been described as having both reactive and proactive qualities, meaning that mentally tough players can use mental toughness attributes to help endure and perform well during adverse situations.


But is mental toughness really about winning all the time, always performing at our best, and most troubling, always performing better than everyone else?


If you ask me, the answer is no.


For one thing, social comparisons – especially upward ones – have been correlated with lower levels of subjective wellbeing. But that is only one part of a much more troubling problem. Defining mental toughness as the need to perform at our best consistently, blatantly ignores the fact that life is not about simply performing. Further, any study of learning reveals that improvements in performance are not consistent, and instead seem to occur alongside setbacks. That is, we are getting better, while we also seem to be struggling.


The same is true with overcoming adversity in life. Studies in the new field of post-traumatic growth demonstrate that growth embodies a paradoxical nature. While we are feeling stronger, we are also more aware of our vulnerability. While our faith may be tested, we also come to understand it much more clearly. And while the fragility of life become much more palpable, we also experience a deepened sense of gratitude.


Telling people to perform at their best all the time, overcome any adversity, and persevere for the win ignores the fact that in order to perform better – or get tougher – we have to start with reality. Everyone has weaknesses. Everyone fails at some point. Everyone has setbacks. And we are all vulnerable. Ignoring these things doesn’t just stymie progress, it makes us pretend to be something other than what we really are.


Mental toughness, like change, happens not when we become who we think we should be, but when we become who we really are.


Claire Dorotik-Nana is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards. For more information on Claire or her work, visit

Photo by mrosanno

Mental Toughness: Are You Missing The Point?

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2016). Mental Toughness: Are You Missing The Point?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Aug 2016
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.