What is Mental Toughness?


Welcome to the first in a series of 3 articles discussing the concept of ‘Mental Toughness’ from one of our partners Joanne Turley at Ark Academy.


What is Mental Toughness?


Mental Toughness is one of those terms that means different things to different people. It can be quite a polarising term conjuring up misplaced and stereotypical images of male machismo.


Jim Loehr, a leading sports psychologist, produced the first popular use of the term ‘Mental Toughness’. He defined it in as “The ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your capabilities, regardless of competitive circumstances.”


However, the one Joanne works to is the one developed by the world leaders in the field, Professor Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyck. They developed the 4Cs model of Mental Toughness.


They define it as: “a personality trait which determines, in some part, how individuals perform when exposed to stressors, pressure and challenge… irrespective of the prevailing situation.”


What is the 4Cs Model?


Most personality models and measures assess the behavioural aspects of personality (how we act). Mental Toughness differs in that it assesses something more fundamental – how we think. In other words, why we act and respond emotionally to events. It enables us to understand mindset in a very practical way.


Research carried out under the direction of Professor Peter Clough of Huddersfield University identified in 2002, the four key components (constructs) of Mental Toughness. These are called the 4Cs. In 2017, work by Doug Strycharczyk, Dr John Perry and Professor Clough, allowed the concept to be expanded to eight factors to be understood and assessed around the 4Cs. These factors are:


    Life Control – I really believe in myself, I can do it.  Emotional Control – I can manage my emotions and the emotions of others.
    Goal Orientation – I set goals and like the idea of working toward goals.
    Achievement Orientation – I do what it takes to keep promises and achieve goals.
    Risk Orientation – I stretch myself, welcoming new and different experiences.
    Learning Orientation – I learn from what happens, including setbacks
    In Abilities – I believe I have the ability to do it, or can acquire the ability.
    Interpersonal Confidence – I can influence others.


It is consistent with motivational models such as Maslow and with all leadership models providing an additional level of understanding to support development in these areas. It is also relevant for all soft skills development such as team building, interpersonal skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence, etc.


It has a particularly strong role in Coaching and Mentoring where it supports the development of a client’s self-awareness of their strengths, their development needs and why these exist. It is also widely used in talent management programmes to support the transition to new and challenging roles.


Usefully, the Mental Toughness concept embraces a number of similar ideas such as Mindset, Grit, Character, Resilience and Learned Optimism in one comprehensive framework.


Questions to Consider …….


Could Mental Toughness help us explain why some people are able to deal with stress and pressure better that others?


What if we were better able to assess that as part of a development programme?


How could knowing someone’s Mental Toughness score inform our recruitment?


If you would like to find out more, then Joanne can be contacted at ARK Academy: jturley@arkconsultancy.co.uk


For more information, please view the other articles in this series:


Why is Mental Toughness Important?


Can Mental Toughness be Learnt


Gareth Snaith, Contract Performance Manager, 3SC