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Mental Toughness

Down but Never Out!
Always Clutch!

What is Mental Toughness?

What comes to your mind when you think of a 'Mentally Tough' person?
Somebody that can stay strong under pressure?
Doesn't give up after repeated failures?
Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Ronaldo Nazario

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Muhammad Ali

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Michael Jordan

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Roger Federer

What qualities do Ronaldo, Ali, Jordan, and Federer have in common? 
They've all suffered from numerous setbacks throughout their careers.
But without giving up, they've come back strong from each of those setbacks.
They all knew how to deliver in clutch moments of big games.
They were all incredibly 'Tough' athletes.
So, what does it really mean to be mentally tough?
What qualities did these 'tough' athletes have in common?

Some common Myths about 'Mental Toughness' 

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport psychology

Mentally tough people never express emotions!

Myth: Tough people always keep a straight face, emotionless, no matter how they feel! 
Fact: Hiding all your emotions doesn't really reflect on your mental toughness, nor does it give you a significant advantage in stressful situations.  

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Crying makes you weak!

Myth: Mentally tough people never cries because crying makes people weak!
Fact: Crying when you feel sadness or pain is a natural human response, supressing your natural emotions doesn't make you tough or give any kind of advantage.


People are just born 'Tough'!

Myth: We are just born tough! Either we have it or we don't.
Fact: There is no evidence to suggest that 'Mental toughness' is hereditary. Elements of personality and behaviour that make us more resilliant, presistant, or 'tough' can be attained through training, and requires time and patience to achieve.

Adlul Kamal, MSc, Sport Psychology

Toughness is all about domination and control!

Myth: Tough people dominates and controls others around them.
Fact: While staying in control of a situation is very important, being tough has nothing to do with dominating or being obsessed with controlling everything around us. Trying to control everything and everyone is actually a symptom of fear and weakness.

Bottom Line:
Mental Toughness has nothing to do with hiding your tears or supressing natural emotions!
Mental toughness is achieved through mastering a combination of many psychological, social, and behavioural skills and qualities.

It's okay to -


When you are in pain!

Express your emotions!

There's no need to maintain a stiff face!
Looking all serious doesn't make you tough!

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology


When you are happy!

Be yourself!

Just be yourself, be expressive! 
You can still be as tough as anyone!

As long as you are in control!

What is 'Toughness' and 'Hardness'?


In materials science, material hardness is the ability of a material to withstand force without deformation, scratching, penetration, and indentation.

In other words, it is the ability of a material to maintain its physical features even in the face of applied force.


Toughness is the ability of a material to absorb energy and deform pastically without fracturing.

A tough object may change in shape due to applied force, but it will not rapture easily.

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Maraging Steel

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology

Spider Silk

Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology


Hardness is depended on a number of properties such as ductility, elastic stiffness, plasticity, strain, strength, toughness, viscoelasticity, and viscosity.
Toughness, on the other hand, requires a balance of strength and ductility.
Needless to say, achieving true hardness or toughness is not easy. Naturally formed hard materials such as diamond and titanium takes billions of years to form. When produced artificually, it takes a lot of time, effort, and careful attention to atomic details in order to create objects that are materially hard and/or tough.
Much like material toughness of the diamond or titanium, you must garner the right ingredients of skills and qualities in the right balance that will form your mental toughness!

Physical Toughness vs. Mental Toughness

How different is mental toughness from physical toughness?

What determines physical fitness/toughness?

Take a look at this picture below
Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology
By looking at his massive physique,
can we guess how physically fit or tough this man is?
The Answer is - No
His big muscles would suggest that he's probably very strong, he can lift a lot of weights.
But is that enough evidence to conclude that he's a physically tough person?
Is he tough enough to run a marathon?
Is he fast enough to run a sprint?
Does he have the agility to do a flip?
Is he athletic enough to dunk a basketball?
Does he have the energy to play soccer for 90 minutes?
We don't really know, hence, we can't really say how physically tough or even how healthy this man is.
Physical toughness is not achieved by mastering one or two attributes of fitness, such as strenght or speed.
True physical toughness can only be achieved by paying attention to various elements of health and fitness such as:

• Strength

• Endurance

• Explosiveness

• Reflexes 

• Flexibility 

• Speed

• Respiratory strength 

• Cardio

• Quickness 

• Body fat

• Muscle Mass

• Body Mass Ratio

• Blood Pressure

• Cholesterol level

• Blood sugar

And so on...

Similarities between Physical and Mental Toughness

Physical Toughness

Mental Toughness

- Requires deliberate training and repetition
- Takes time to see improvements, no shortcuts
- Requires patience and perseverance
- You can't grow excessive amounts of new muscles in a few days, lose 50kg in 1 week, or drastically improve your cardiovascular strenght in one month.

- Also requires deliberate training and repetition
- Also takes time to see improvements, no shortcuts
- Requires patience and perseverance
- The same way, if you want to improve your coping skills, ability to stay calm under pressure, or capacity to concentrate, you have to commit, practice and remain patience for results.

Characteristics of Mental Toughness

Doesn't break or gives up, always comes back strong, delivers clutch plays - these are some qualities that are often echoed when we describe mentally tough athletes.
In sport psychology literature, characteristics of mental toughness can be summarized using the following qualities. 

Mentally Tough
athletes are resilient. They do not lose hope or motivation when things do not go their way. They remain highly motivated and maintain their beliefs towards their goals even during times when things are not going so well, such as being sidelined for injuries or bad performances.

Mentally Tough athletes persevere when met with challenges. Their resilience gives them the strength needed during difficult times to continue to work hard towards their desired goals.

Mentally Tough athletes are equipped with the right behavioural, cognitive, and emotional tools that helps them cope with pressure under various circumstances. This allows them to perform well under pressure, such as, when the score lines are close, the stakes or expectations are too high.

Mentally Tough athletes have high adaptability, i.e., they can change and adjust to new conditions. This is a particularly useful quality for athletes because it allows them to change and rethink their plans when needed. For example, let us say, a hockey player who failed to be drafted in the NFL after working towards this goal for 10 years. If he has the right set of adaptability skills, he would remain motivated, and adjust to this new unfavourable circumstance in his life. He would perhaps rethink his plans, maybe explore some alternatives, such as, playing in Sweden or Finland, and continue his pursuit for an NHL career.

How to build Mental Toughness

So, how can we become more Reslilient and Persevere when odds are stacked against us?
How can we learn to cope with pressure and become more adaptable to different conditions?

It's simple - Train your Mind, just as you would train your body!

Building Blocks of Mental Toughness

To improve our mental toughness, we must focus on improving the following behavioural, emotional, cognitive, and social skills and resources.


Deals well with failure well - 
Applies positive self-talk - 
Uses visualization - 
Uses relaxation exercises - 
Avoids distractions - 
Sleeps well, Eats well - 
Uses Goal setting - 
Stays Motivated - 

Cognitive •

Positive thinking -
Learns from mistakes -
Knows how to Concentrate -

Adlul Kamal, Sport Psychology

• Emotional

- Controls stress & anxiety,
- Copes well with pressure,
- Manages emotions

• Social

- Manages personal life well
- Good social support system
- Family Support
- Friends 

What makes Cristiano Ronaldo mentally strong?

Think about Cristiano who has found a way to stretch out his career over two decades scoring over 700 goals for various teams at the highest level. 
Can you identify him with some of the skills mentioned above?
Has he always been a winner?
 Nope. Look at the trajectory of his career, you’ll see it’s filled with setbacks, injuries, and disappointments. But the fact that he was able to span his success throughout various stages of his career is a clear indication that he had managed his failures well and continued his journey forward.

How to train and develop skills to improve Mental Strength

As mentioned before, Mental Strenght is not so different from Physical Strenght, so to improve the skills related to Mental Strenght, you must train your mind the same way you would train your body.

Identify the areas where you need improvements. Do you have a lot of negative thoughts? Are your expectations unrealistic? Are you getting enough sleep?

Select the exercise sets that would help you improve in your areas of weakness. For example, if you are struggling to stay calm under pressure, you may benefit with some relaxation exercises. Or, if you are suffering from a lot of negative thoughts, you may benefit from some cognitive behavioural therapy routines.

Adhere to the routines that you have been assigned. Remember, your mind develops toughness the same way does your body - over time through repetition. So, you must comply with your mental exercise routines assigned by your sport psychology consultant, the same way you would adhere to your physical exercise routines provided by your fitness trainer.

You must remain patience as you go through various phases of your mental exercise programs. Remember, muscles take time to form and grow, you have to give your body time to grow your muscles regardless of how many push ups you do each day. There's no shortcut, you can't do 1,500 push ups in a day to fast track your stregnth training. Similarly, you shouldn't expect immidiate results after few days of practice. Be patient, don't give up, and you will see some positive results in due time.

Evaluate your progress and assess your situation from time to time, and adjust your routines in accordance to your changes.

Let Failure pave the way for your Success!

Losing really sucks! But it does provide the opportunity to identify our weaknesses, and grow from it. All the athletes named on this page have rigourously experienced failure and adversities throughout their careers. Someone that wins all the time is probably very good at their sport, but sweeping opponents all the time doesn't make us mentally strong. It's our ability to cope with adversity, and adapting to changes without breaking apart is what make us strong.
Adlul Kamal, MSc. Sport Psychology
Think of a Rock, imagine the impact of natural forces it had to absorb for millions of years. A rock goes through many changes such as melting, cooling, eroding, compacting, or deforming enroute to becoming an solid hard rock. Treat your mental strength like a rock, allow yourself to be exposed to the impcats of adversities, be patient, and in time, your mind will be as tough as an indestructible rock.

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“The scope of one’s personality is defined by the magnitude of that problem which is capable of driving a person out of his wits.”
― Sigmund Freud

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Adlul Kamal, M.Sc. - Sport and Exercise Psychology