Within sport, mental toughness has been used as a term to refer to a pool of attributes that enable sports people to persevere when faced with adversity. Similarly, some business leaders seem to share the belief that mental toughness is the solution to thriving under pressure at work. However, with CiPD figures highlighting stress as the most common cause underlying absenteeism, the prolonged advantages of mental toughness are almost certainly up for debate.
As a result, Lane4 considers mental toughness to be the reactive form of the wider construct of resilience. Mental toughness may be vital when required to face inescapable pressure, though, more proactive skills are required to become resilient in today’s complex business world in which pressure, stress and adversity are to some extent controllable.
Listed below are three areas which highlight differences between resilience and mental toughness:
1. Performance Intelligence
Those with high levels of performance intelligence are able to apply existing knowledge in order to thrive, rather than simply cope, when faced with adversity or pressure. Whilst a mentally tough worker might battle on through the mountain of work, a resilient one may use critical thinking skills or existing knowledge to find a more efficient way of doing so.
2. Performance Environment
Whilst a mentally tough person may be solely reactive to their environment, a resilient one considers how their environment may be utilised to facilitate their own resilience. For instance, a resilient individual may look to utilise their support network when faced with increasing workload, whereas a mentally tough one would simply look to cope in the same circumstances. Equally, a resilient person considers what control they may have over their environment, in order to minimise potential sources of stress. For instance, they may clearly manage expectations of those around them to avoid unnecessary pressure later. In these two examples, the requirement to be mentally tough has arisen due to a lack of wider resilience.
3. Health & Wellbeing
Mentally tough individuals may cope with increasing work demands through sacrificing their work-life balance. This is in stark contrast to those who are resilient whose healthy work-life balance allows them to come to work refreshed and able to think clearly about potential and existing adversity. Equally, effective energy management encompassing healthy diet, sleep and exercise patterns, also leave resilient individuals feeling that they can do more than just cope when faced with increasing demands.
In conclusion, although mental toughness may be considered an effective strategy to cope with unavoidable pressures, it’s limited in its ability to create long-term, sustainable and positive results at work. As a result, it is vital that we look to develop truly resilient individuals, rather than simply mentally tough ones.