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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Business

Mental Toughness for Business Success

Jennifer Touma

How many times throughout your day do you find yourself feeling distracted and unfocused? Do you fall into the habit of jumping from one task to the next without completing the project at hand? Are you frustrated by feelings of disorganization, lack of direction and fuzzy thinking? Practicing mental toughness in everything you do is an important factor in your performance success.

Mental toughness is a characteristic that colors how you will perform a task and how effectively you respond to your environment and its challenges. This article demonstrates how mental toughness is a key factor that enables you to perform to the peak of your abilities. It is a quality that can be developed or enhanced in a number of ways; it will heighten your awareness of your own mental toughness and show you how you can achieve business success when you apply it.

Although the article focuses on business, the applications are universal in all areas of life, including business and sports endeavors.

What is Mental Toughness

Although there are many definitions of mental toughness, also known as mental strength, the collective and generally accepted definition from the fields of sports and business is your ability to rebound from setbacks and disappointments, to be mentally flexible, have a strong self-belief, persevere through the challenges, and respond to situations effectively with calmness, focus, and presence of mind.

Prominent sports performance psychologist Dr. James Loehr, author of Mental Toughness for Sports: Achieving Athletic Excellence, popularized the phrase mental toughness.(Loehr, 1986)  His research in this area shows that mental toughness is a learned skill to be developed through experiences, deliberateness of purpose, and awareness.

This learned skill is fast becoming the competitive edge for athletes, business professionals, and in life in general today. Mental toughness is a life skill, a characteristic, and a mind-set that helps you win in business and in life. It gets you through the rough times and empowers you to perform your best with less effort, less struggle, and less stress. Once you have trained and cultivated this mind-set within yourself, you will become a more influential and peaceful person in whatever you do.

My experience in working with business professionals repeatedly demonstrates that mental toughness is the underlying character trait that fuels individual performance and enables other mental skills, such as confidence, resiliency, and mental flexibility to perform at their best. As you read through the story below, think about a time when something like this happened to you.

Adjust Your Mental Habits

Carla, a new leader at a telecommunications company, has been asked by her boss to present at a company conference. She has presented before to smaller audiences, but this would be her first experience with a large crowd of a thousand people. She feels the pressure of wanting to perform well. It would be easy for her to make up some excuse and back out.

She accepts the challenge. To be mentally tough, she stops dwelling on fear and cluttering her mind with negative what-ifs. Instead, she prepares her presentation and herself in her mind’s eye by reexperiencing those moments of peak performance when she presented successfully.

As she feels the energy in these moments, she imagines applying them in her new presentation. She knows she has to engage her previous habits to help her develop new ones and be mentally tough. She knows that if she vividly imagines having a new habit, her brain will naturally begin to rewire to make the mental connection.

Carla is developing mental toughness, and she’s going to be ready for the presentation. A word of caution: Mental toughness does not mean that you become a bully or feel the need to display unruly or arrogant behaviors toward someone or something to show your mental strength.

What it means is that you have trained and developed your inner resilience, resolve, flexibility, and centered fortification to such a degree that you’re able to deal with whatever comes your way, outperform your ordinary standards, and be optimally effective and productive in life. Seen from a martial arts model, it is a defensive art of managing self, not an offensive one.

You Can Achieve Excellence with Mental Toughness

People in business—whether entrepreneurs or employees—are motivated to succeed in a number of ways. Whether your main work is leading your business and team (e.g., managing a mutual fund, coordinating a business development, strategizing) or taking part personally as a salesperson or active producer, your forecast for accomplishment is brighter when you practice mental toughness in everything you do.

Some of the benefits you gain from practicing mental toughness are your abilities to

  • have consistent clarity of vision, direction, and strategy that lead to accomplishing both personal and professional goals;
  • refocus your thinking as the situation changes;
  • outperform your competitors by remaining consistently focused, confident, and in control under pressure;
  • perform at your best to positively affect income;
  • respond to challenges effectively and with clarity, which is the key not only to increasing your business income but also in becoming more successful in the marketplace.

Your Competitive Advantage Begins First In Your Mind

Success in business and in life depends on your ability to master not only what you do but also what and how you think. This means that all human action begins in the mind—the joining of thoughts, desired outcomes, imagination, and creativity.

Feeling in control is the first step to being in control. You can develop your mind to enhance your performance and your competitive advantage. To become a winner in business and life, you must first become a winner in your mind. As you read through the story below, think about a time when something like this happened to you.

Michael is a successful sales professional, well liked and highly respected. When he makes presentations to prospects, he is confident, focused, and in control. On this particular sales call, Michael enters the buyer’s office and confidently gives his name to the receptionist. Including himself, there are seven competitors scheduled to present, all vying for one contract. As Michael looks around, he notices many of them quietly rehearsing; some look uneasy.

Michael knows that when the presentation is only a few minutes away, it’s too late to practice and rehearse. He is already poised and ready. He has done mock presentations in his mind a hundred times, so that it becomes a habit that displays confidence. He previously rehearsed, practiced, and visualized his desired outcomes so he could address every point and respond to every challenge. He knows that controlling the issues means controlling the pace of the presentation, its direction, and the sale.

The receptionist calls Michael’s name. He walks confidently into the inner office, confident that he can defeat his competitors and win the contract. He is mentally and emotionally in the moment. His thoughts center only on this presentation, not the last one or the next. He fills his mind with a can-do attitude and projects his desired outcome. He plays to win.

Measuring Your Mental Toughness

Measuring your mental toughness represents only one source of information. It is important to recognize that other forms of evidence about your mental toughness will exist, such as how well you perform under pressure.

Take stock in your degree of mental toughness by answering the following statements. Answer each with rarely, sometimes, or always.

• When unexpected events in the workplace occur, they derail me. __________.
• I am reliable. _________.
• I throw in the towel when I am under pressure. __________.
• I can adapt myself to the challenges that step in front of me. __________.
• I walk away at the first hint of difficulty. __________.
• I frequently worry about making the same mistake I made recently.__________.
• I keep rereading the same information when under pressure. _________.

Review your answers. They represent a snapshot in time. Remember that mental toughness is a characteristic that determines in some part how you will perform a task and how effectively you will respond to your environment. It is a key factor that enables you to perform to the peak of your abilities and can be developed or enhanced in a number of ways.

How Do You Know You Are Mentally Tough?

What evidence should you look for that tells you if you’re cultivating mental toughness? How do you know you’re mentally tough? Here’s a partial list of corroborations. Perhaps you can identify a few more.

  • You remain calm and focused under pressure instead of losing your cool.
  • You make a commitment and follow through with it instead of breaking it.
  • You adapt to the challenges that step in front of you instead of rigidly resisting them.
  • You have a stick-to-itiveness at the first hint of complexity instead of giving up.
  • You surround yourself with more positive people instead of naysayers and people with negative attitudes.

Steve Bergholtz, senior facilities consultant for AmSan Division of Interline Brands in Danvers, MA, says, “Regardless of what is going on today in the world, you must make the decision not to yield to its pressure. The only control you have is how you respond to the situation or challenge—so respond with a positive mindset. I have chosen not to participate in this economic downturn. Being mentally tough enables me to be more creative in my approach to business and my forecast strategy with better clarity and vision. It gives me the competitive edge to outperform my competitors both professionally and monetarily.”

When you make a decision to be mentally stronger, your forecast for success and for accomplishing more is brighter, richer, and more fulfilling. You begin to evolve into a more influential and authentic human being. Be gentle and patient with your development as you navigate the often challenging, sometimes treacherous waters of business, relationships, and life. Taking on this type of personal and professional development is like strengthening a new muscle at the gym; it takes time, effort, and work, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Remember the old adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And for a more inspiring adage, when facing a situation that may be daunting, confrontational, or overwhelming, remember the mighty wisdom of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” (Nietzsche, 1888).

Action Strategies for Mental Toughness

  • Pay close attention to your thoughts. Switch from thinking on cruise control to deliberately being aware of what you’re thinking.
  • Control your emotional response to all circumstances. At the very first sign or feeling of pressure or not wanting to stand up to a challenge, immediately stop what you’re doing, take a few deep breaths, and be still in both mind and action. Then ask yourself, “Am I allowing these events or circumstances to control how I emotionally respond, or am I controlling how I want to respond?”
  • Visualize yourself being powerful, resourceful, and triumphant when facing difficult situations. This technique can be used to improve a sales pitch or the accuracy of a sport.


Loehr, J. E. (1986). Mental Toughness for Sports: Achieving Athletic Excellence
Massachusetts: Stephen Greene Press.
Nietzsche, F. (1888). Twilight of the Idols, London, England: Wordsworth edition limited.

©Copyright 2014 Jennifer Touma Mindscape

Jennifer Touma, founder of the workplace development company Mindscapemind, authored "Moment of Impact" to inspire individuals to become self-directed leaders. As coach and speaker, Touma helps businesses and individuals turn moments of impact into exceptional performance. She holds a Masters in Organizational Leadership with certifications in NeuroLingusic Programming® and Mental Game Coaching®.

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