What is “Mental Toughness?”

Have you ever wondered what sets apart people who are extremely successful in life and people who are not? Why do some people accomplish all their goals and more, while others struggle in the stages?

The assumption people prefer to make is that exceptional people are especially talented, genetically gifted, and just one day effortlessly discovered that they were amazing. Research into the psychology of success and happiness suggests the reality is something entirely different. It is not high IQ or great genetics that propel people into being greatly successful, the natural talent only accounts for 30% of a person’s achievement, at best!

Mental toughness, however, is a much more important factor with a much bigger impact. Angela Duckworth, a well renowned researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, calls this particular kind of toughness, “grit.” She developed a scale that measures the grit of various people and uses it for her research. The results are profound. She found that grit plays an important role in achieving your goals in health, business, and life. There is great news about grit as well, it is a trait that can and does increase, usually with age and experience.

It does not matter too much how much talent a person comes in with, but rather how committed they are. People have to stick to practicing for endless hours, and devote their life to a single main goal over many years. Martha Graham said in an interview that, “It takes 10 years to make a dancer.” It takes a lot of mental perseverance to do that. This is true in other fields as well. It is about not being phased by small failures along the way and giving up.

Mental toughness involves a lot of prioritization. People with high grit keep their eyes on one main goal, and have small goals along the way that will help them to get there. They are very dedicated to their top priorities and easily say no to anything that hinders them from getting to their bigger goal. This includes following strict diets, schedules and daily practice calendars. In essence, success depends on sticking persistently to very small, mundane tasks that help them get better and make small daily improvements.

Talent is great, but it can be squandered. Good daily habits and resilience are much more important. Consistency can make even the average person extraordinary. It requires a large amount of mental strength to become a great athlete, leader, artist, writer or employee. It is about showing up every day, on time, doing your best, not missing appointments or practice, and prioritizing important goals in the midst of distractions that really makes the difference.

If you want to be more mentally tough, consider your grittiness. Do your interests and goals stay consistent year after year? What specific goals are most important to you? List out your priorities and only allow for up to three at the top. Ask yourself what you could do more consistently to reach them and push yourself to do this things every day. Be clear about what you are going after and do anything it takes.

Will Smith said, “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?” He credits his success mostly to his grit, as do most very successful people.

Take a look at your own role models and notice how much work they’ve put into their accomplishments. It might be more than you think!


Duckworth, Angela. Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance. Vermilion, 2017.

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