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Mental Toughness for Sport, Business and Life
By Robert Weinberg
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Robert Weinberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIntroduction to Mental Toughness
Individuals in all aspects of life strive to be successful. To be successful in any endeavor usually requires technical and/or physical skills that can be in part genetic and in part due to training. For example, a baseball player needs to know the technical aspects of how to hit, field, run the bases, and throw. Similarly, a golfer needs to know the techniques associated with the proper grip, transfer of weight, backswing, and positioning. Along these lines, an accountant specializing in taxes needs to be well acquainted with the specific aspects of the tax law and any changes that occur year to year. A salesperson of computer software would need to be up to speed on the latest technologies and advances in the software industry. Staying at home with kids also requires a skill set that might include time management skills, driving skills, lots of energy, and cooking skills. This list can go on and on regarding the technical and physical skills needed to be successful in different professions as well as in raising kids. However, anyone who has been successful in any endeavor knows that having the technical or physical abilities or capabilities to do a certain job are not enough. There is a mental aspect to most tasks that often separates those that are competent in the technical/physical part of the task from those that really excel. When individuals have the talent, knowledge or physical capabilities to do a particular task or perform a certain skill, they are usually labeled as having potential. This can be one of the worst labels put on individuals as they are burdened by expectations of having these abilities but it remains to be seen if they can somehow turn these abilities into high levels of performance. Usually that key lies in their mental strength and mental abilities, which are often termed being "mentally tough."
Before we get into what is mental toughness, let's look at some examples of mental toughness (or maybe you don't consider these individuals mentally tough) from different perspectives.
ARE THESE INDIVIDUALS MENTALLY TOUGH?
Most people will tell you that you have to be fairly tall (or at least be around 6 feet tall) to possibly make it in the National Basketball Association. However, there have been exceptions to this rule. One notable exception is Muggsy Bogues who was all of 5 feet 4 inches tall. He was always a very good player but was very short. When he was in junior high school and very successful he was constantly told that he wouldn't be successful at the high school level because he was too short. After excelling in high school he was again told he simply was too short to make it in college. Not only did he make it on an NCAA Division 1 team (Wake Forest), but also he was a high draft choice in the National Basketball Association and went on to have a very productive career (despite his small stature). So would you consider Muggsy Bogues mentally tough to continually fight against the odds and all the naysayers who said he could never make it to the highest level because he was too small?
It was a key playoff game and Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls was sick, really sick. He had a high temperature and was throwing up before the game, which dehydrated him. He could hardly stand up and appeared to have no energy left in him. During timeouts he would sit down with a towel over his head and say nothing to try to conserve energy. Through all of this Michael Jordan scored over 30 points including the key baskets to give his Chicago Bulls a critical playoff victory. Was Michael Jordan mentally tough in this situation?
Tiger Woods is generally considered the best male golfer of his era (and perhaps the greatest golfer of all time – despite his off the course transgressions). He has already won 14 majors and has a good chance to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 19 wins in majors. We all know that Tiger Woods has incredible talent but it is also known that he has never lost a major when he has been ahead at the start of the last round. As his fellow golfers will attest, he seems immune to pressure and you don't want him near the lead in the last two days because there's a good chance he will find a way to win. He also has been known to be meticulous in his physical and mental preparation for tournaments. Is Tiger Woods mentally tough? Along these lines, would you consider Phil Mickelson mentally tough? He is a great golfer (most people think he might be the best current golfer behind Tiger Woods) and most recently he has had to deal with both his wife and his mom having breast cancer. He has been known to blow some big leads and chances to win major Gland Slam events but he has also won several of these Grand Slam titles including the Master's in 2010 while dealing with these personal issues.
Chris Evert was one of the great all-time female tennis players ever to play the game. She was especially known for her even keel demeanor on the court where nothing ever seemed to fluster her. No matter what the situation or how she might have played a point she always appeared calm, cool, and collected. Her unerring concentration helped her reach at least the semifinals in 44-45 grand slam events (an amazing achievement of consistency over time). Would you consider Chris Evert mentally tough due to her style of play and consistent success over time?
On-line traders have one of the most difficult and stressful jobs in the business world. Changing conditions constantly bombard them, such as when one position starts to rise as another begins to tank. More specifically, they must pay attention to order flow, earnings reports, trading history, sector performance, economic trends, interest rate movements, current news, as well as other influential variables in making decisions to buy and sell stocks and other securities. Sometimes one bad decision can nullify weeks of hard work and turn profits into loses. One trader (who we'll call Teresa) offers the following thoughts about her success over many years.
"I was one of those traders who thought I could come right in and be successful, but soon ended up being shown the door and being told not to let it hit me in the butt as I left ... I had to work hard to learn the trading game over time. I had to learn not to be suckered into the market and falling for those fake-outs. I'll never forget those days getting chewed up by the market makers ... But I learned through practice, talking to other traders, and making mistakes. I also finally learned to be comfortable with my surroundings like the software you use, the resources you go to and the environment you trade in. I was finally able to block out all the distractions and focus all my attention on the market and trades and stopped wasting my time and energy on irrelevant factors. Murphy & Hirschorn (2001, pp. 150—152)
Would you consider Teresa mentally tough?
Bill was the CEO of a thriving software company. He helped grow the company from just himself and his best friend to a multimillion-dollar company with several hundred employees and locations in cities throughout the United States. But times changed and some of the new technology that helped him become successful was being manufactured less expensively by some of his competitors. So Bill felt that he just had to cut costs and the best way to do so was to downsize and let a number of employees go. He received a lot of criticism for this approach and the workers who were let go (some of whom had been with the company for many years) were very upset and angry and paraded through his door and left message upon message on his e-mail and cell phone. But Bill persisted despite this pressure and eventually helped turn the company around over a few years with a more efficient and less costly staff as well as other cost-cutting measures. Would you consider Bill mentally tough?
Arthur was 35 years old, had a lovely wife of 10 years, two wonderful children ages 5 and 8 and a very successful job as an Assistant District Attorney. But one day while driving to work, he was hit head on by a drunk driver and was paralyzed from the waist down. Arthur was despondent and depressed for months after his life altering injury. But then he realized that he could either just give up or try to do the best he could, given his situation and limitations. So he really started working hard at his physical and occupational therapy and started reading again in his area of law. He changed his attitude from "why did this happen to me" to "I am not going to let this get me down." He eventually got his job back in the Assistant District Attorney's office, learned to get around with a wheel chair (his house, office and van were customized to accommodate his disability) and tried to lead as normal a life as possible. Was Arthur mentally tough?
Similarly, Thomas Muster, a professional tennis player had just broken into the top 10 in the world with an upset win. As he was putting his racquets into the trunk of his car a drunk driver ran right into him severely damaging the ligaments, bones and tendons in his legs. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors immediately operated on him. The prognosis was that if he worked hard and was fortunate, he might walk again (probably with a limp). Well Thomas Muster didn't agree with the prognosis and was determined not only to walk normally again but to play competitive tennis. He was seen in a video just a few days after his extensive surgery, laying on a cot on a tennis court as someone threw balls to him and he swung at them with a tennis racquet (his arms were not injured). With dogged determination, Thomas Muster made it back to the world of professional tennis. But he did not just make it back; rather a few years later he became number 1 in the world and won what many consider the most physically demanding of the tennis Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open. Was Thomas Muster mentally tough?
Finally, Christine is a single mom of two young boys (under the age of 7). Due to her situation she feels trapped as she dreads going to work because she'd like to stay home with her kids. So she is up by 6:00 AM every day to get the kids off to school and her to work (she works as a nurse). When she gets home she takes the kids to their different sport and musical activities, prepares dinner, helps them with homework and then tries to take care of other things around the house (bills, cleaning etc.) before going to bed. She has been doing this for several years, the kids do well in school and seem well adjusted and she manages to make ends meet and keep the household going although there is not much time for her own pursuits. Is Christine mentally tough?
MENTAL TOUGHNESS AND SUCCESS
All of the individuals described above were obviously successful at what they did. But is success necessary for an individual to be considered mentally tough? For example, take a baseball player (Tim) who has spent the last 7 years in the minor leagues. He was a decent college player but he never really excelled at batting (although he was an excellent fielder at second base). Over the last several years he has done a variety of things to help his batting including lifting weights regularly to build muscle, taking extra batting practice daily, working with the hitting coach, and mentally preparing for each game by watching game film and reading scouting reports of the opposing pitcher and team. With all of these efforts, Tim managed to increase his batting average from .245 to .275 and his home run production from 8 to 15. However, the major league club to which his minor league team was attached, had a young all-star 2nd baseman and a quality back up. So although Tim improved throughout his years in the minor leagues he never really got a chance in the major leagues except for a couple of late call-ups in September when the pennant race was over. Eventually at the age of 30 he left baseball and went back to school to get a business degree. Was Tim mentally tough?
Let's look at an example from the business world regarding mental toughness and perceived success. Paula is an accountant at a major accounting firm. Because she is a woman, she had to fight some discrimination in a mostly male accounting firm. This involved some subtle and not so subtle hazing practices that, at times, made things very uncomfortable for Paula. But she always was very professional and just did her work. As a result of her dedication and consistent motivation, she rose up in the ranks over ten years, always performing her work efficiently and effectively. She hardly ever missed a day and she constantly studied the new tax laws (she specialized in tax accounting) to remain abreast in this ever-changing field. However, as has happened in recent times, a couple of the partners got involved in unethical accounting practices and it brought the whole firm down. The firm decided that they needed to start fresh (clean house) so they let Paula go as they tried to start over with younger accountants who were not associated with the past bad business practices. Was Paula mentally tough?
Finally, let's revisit Bill, our CEO, who decided to let a lot of long-time employees go in a cost-cutting attempt to save the company. As you recall, Bill took a lot of heat from disgruntled employees and had to endure lots of criticism for his approach. But he coped with all of this pressure well and tried to position his company for success in the future. Unfortunately, market conditions were such that the company simply could not compete with the low-priced labor from the Far East and eventually went under. Would you still consider Bill to be mentally tough?
So although most people associate being mentally tough with being successful, that may not always be the case. Because your success can be decided by another individual (e.g., a coach or a boss), being successful is not always in your control. In addition, a person might be really mentally tough but simply lack the physical or technical skills to be successful. Being mentally tough appears to help you achieve success but certainly does not guarantee success. In any case, being mentally tough is probably more of a process than an outcome although most of society focuses on outcome and the process is often lost in the shuffle. We will focus on the process of being mentally tough and not the outcome (although in many cases, being mentally tough might help produce a positive outcome).
An interesting twist to the notion of success and failure as it relates to mental toughness comes from a TV commercial featuring Michael Jordan. Specifically, in the commercial, all time basketball great Michael Jordan notes all the times that he has lost, failed or missed a potentially game-winning shot. He goes on to say that all of these failures helped him to succeed. What is left unsaid but what one can read between the lines is the idea that somehow, failing helped him develop the resiliency to stay the course and keep focused on success. In essence, failure provided him with humility and perspective that helped him become prepared for, and embrace success in the future. You might say that all that failure helped Michael Jordan learn to deal with disappointment and become mentally tough. Thus failure can help you understand what it takes to be successful (and appreciate success), which can make you more mentally tough. Before discussing the similarities of mental toughness between sport and business, here is a brief look at how mental toughness might be important both for enhanced performance as well as personal growth.
MENTAL TOUGHNESS FOR INCREASED PERFORMANCE AND PERSONAL GROWTH
When most people think about mental toughness, it is usually in relation to improving performance. For example, why did the term mental toughness basically grow up in the sporting world? One important reason was that it is usually fairly easy to determine success and failure in sports (winning and losing) as well as performance outcomes. And in many cases these outcomes come quickly and are permanent. For example, if a player wins the MVP in the Super Bowl then he will always be the MVP in that game; that can never change. However, in the business world, a CEO might have turned a company completely around to profitability in three years but then three years later it can go out of business. In any case, mental toughness and performance excellence usually go hand in hand for most people.
Excerpted from Mental Toughness for Sport, Business and Life by Robert Weinberg Copyright © 2010 by Robert Weinberg. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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