How We Can Measure Mental Toughness?
We are all about measurements in society. Hence, it’s why I receive a “survey” after every visit to any store or airport.
We measure what we treasure.
There are a good number of measurements and a ton more definitions of the ubiquitous term. These definitions and measurements come not only from academics but coaches of all kinds as well.
While some definitions are good, most seem to baffle us, or the term is used to over-simplify and describe ALL mental skills.
As many posts before this one, I’m a simple is powerful type of coach. We define mental strength as 1) How we perform well under pressure and 2) How we deal, cope, and handle adversity.
That’s it! Simple.
Now, both of these circumstances are a matter of when, not if, they are going to occur. We will all have times of pressure, these “have-to” moments, and we will even more frequently have times of stress and adversity.
Let us never forget that adversity is sneaky.
So, how can we measure it?
It’s a question that I was not able to answer early on in my career because it was so subjective.
But too often, we only look at the results, the outcomes of events to decipher whether someone or team was mentally tough. Yes, Tom Brady coming back to victory from 23 points down in the Super Bowl is an example of mental toughness. But, grit is also going 0/3 in baseball to finally get a game-winning hit in the 9th inning.
Being mentally tough does not mean being in the zone or flow.
Winning a golf tournament by 8 or 12 shots as Rory and Tiger have done is NOT the best measure of psychological toughness. It’s just a peak experience! Now, being in flow is a top of the line, best ever, type of performance, but it’s more of preparation meeting opportunity. Of course, both of these athletes, Rory & Tiger, are mentally tough; one does not get to where they are without having it, but there are better examples of fortitude and resiliency, like Tiger Woods coming back 12 years later to win The Masters.
The way we measure it more accurately, however, is to first determine what we consider to be the most important mental skill.
To measure mental toughness is indeed subjective! But so is happiness, joy, peace, attitude, and patience! No one denies that these are all important attributes, but every one of these are also subjective. Instead of trying to paper and pencil test it, we can still peer into real-world examples to measure it.
People and players do not do what you expect, they do what you inspect.
If we consider effectively letting go of mistakes to be an accurate form of mental strength, then let’s look for those situations when they occur. That means examining one’s response after a mistake has occurred. Or, let’s say, we consider determination or drive to be the best measuring stick. When these opportunities arrive like sticking around after practice or showing up early or practicing on our own, that’s how we measure it.
Next, there simply has to be adversity. Whether it is inherent in life or sport or if we create it ourselves. The more adversity, the better the opportunity.
Now, the most difficult part of measuring it also means staying away from the all or nothing trap. Mental Toughness is NOT all or nothing. It’s a matter of how much? How much did this person or team exemplify grit and resiliency and coping with adversity? It requires looking past results and asking questions and hearing how they processed information.
Indeed it can be measured, we just have to know what it is that we are looking for! The beauty about it is that we will witness failure after failure when it comes to this mental skill. No matter how many times we have failed, it STILL ONLY TAKES ONE!
Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & Associates is based in Indianapolis. Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out all the books.
Please check out the podcast 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness as we interview expert athletes and coaches about Mental Strength and their Hinge Moment.