Building Mental Toughness

By Jay Forte

Have any of these happened to you?

  • You worked hard on a report or proposal, but your manager found many errors and omissions.
  • You tried something new and different when you planned the office holiday party, but everyone commented they liked the old approach better.
  • You went through eight interviews for an ideal job, but were not chosen.
  • Your teen screams that she hates you, calls you a terrible parent and slams the door to her room.

There are some events we move right past, mostly unaware of them because things are going in the way we expect or want them to go. But then there are the moments that are difficult, frustrating, aggravating, irritating, challenging and disappointing. This is when we feel life is tough. We feel like a failure.

Failure registers on our internal danger meter; we instinctively react because it’s how our brains are wired.  Our brains are programmed to keep us safe and failure – or the feeling of failure – makes us think we are in danger, real or perceived, physical or emotional.

And when we fail, we sometimes just want to quit or avoid the situation. We feel defeated, helpless, hopeless or just numb. When this happens, we can either give in to our failures or learn to see that failures are common and are learning events. Developing the mental toughness to succeed in and learn from failures is required to make it through life..

Here are several things to develop the mental toughness when you fail.

  1. Stop and notice the failure. You can’t change what you can’t notice, so tune in when you feel helpless, hopeless, defeated or a like failure. Call it for what it is – failure. This creates the ability to deal with it.
  2. Understand it. Why did this failure or situation happen? What didn’t work about what happened? What do you need to learn from it?
  3. Change your thinking about failure. We all have failures. This is how life teaches us things. Learn to see failure as part of the way you navigate your way through life. Work intentionally to be optimistic and positive, even in times of stress or failure.
  4. Create a plan to move forward. Failure is tough once. Suffering through the same failure over and over is painful. Creating a plan to learn from and not repeat the failure teaches you to not to fear failure, but to accept it and use it productively.

We all fail; it is truly part of being human. It also helps us learn to see where our edges are. If we always play it safe by avoiding failures, we’ll never see how amazing and remarkable we actually are. Failure shouldn’t be an enemy; it is a wise teacher. Treating it this way helps us use it to move the needle of our performance to deliver something great.

Take Action

Be [mentally] tough. Be resilient. Keep a journal of your failures. Take the time to understand them, document your recovery or improvement plan and learn from them. With great intention, you can develop improved resilience and mental toughness.


Consider reading I Don’t Know is Ok (right now)

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