The 5 Unshakable Traits of Mental Toughness

the little preschool boy plays the superhero outdoors

How mentally tough are you?

Since the new year just began a little over two weeks ago, there is no better time to develop new habits, right? If so, the following sentence could hold the motivation to change your year (maybe even your life), if you let it:

You either control your mind or it controls you.

It might sound like an overstatement to say this, but I believe that the previous sentence holds the secret to life. Yes, seriously. As always, the biggest and most important battle that we’ll ever fight on this earth is the battle between our two ears.

Consistently control your mind and you’ll win. Allow undisciplined thoughts to control your behaviors and actions, and you’ll lose. Repeatedly.

Simple, right? So, why do so many people come up on the losing end so often?

It all comes down to one critical factor: Mental Toughness.

The guy who stays cool under pressure? He has it. The woman who can stay locked-in on a goal despite the drama that’s going on around her? She has it too.

This is a critical skill to develop because every (and I mean, every) wildly successful person who I have had the pleasure of interacting with personally or professionally has a healthy amount of it.

Below are the five most common traits that I’ve personally noticed in those people. Do you have these five traits working for you in your life?

Let’s find out.

1. They Are Quick to Own

If you’re reading this article and your life isn’t ideal, why is that the case?

Is it your parents fault? Your significant other’s fault? Your boss’s fault? Your kids’ fault? Someone else’s fault?

The list of people to blame could go on and on, but here’s the real deal:

Your list is meaningless if your name isn’t on it.

People who lack mental toughness are quick to blame others, and even worse, they willingly and frequently choose to play the victim role in their lives. All of their problems are due to outside forces (the economy, the government, their boss, their spouse, etc.) that they have absolutely no control over.

Mentally tough people, on the other hand, are quick to take full ownership of their lives.

Since they look at their life successes and life failures as being completely within their control, they get to keep their full power to improve/change their circumstances at any time.

Blaming others has the opposite effect. It strips us of our power and gives it all to the people and events who are “keeping us down.”

The choice is a simple one: You are either quick to blame or you are quick to own.

And in case you’re wondering, it’s impossible to do both.

Choose wisely.

2. They Are in Control of Their Emotions

Mentally tough people have bad days just like everyone else.

They get cut off in traffic. They get bad service at the restaurant. They have to wait in long lines. They have to deal with lazy and unmotivated coworkers. 

The main difference is that they don’t allow those events to reduce them into emotional infants.

In my experience, a lack of mental toughness usually goes hand-in-hand with a lack of emotional control.

Even worse, people who lack mental toughness and emotional control usually take out their daily frustrations, disappointments and anger on the people who deserve it the least (i.e., their kids, their significant others, their friends and other loved ones.)

Yes, there’s a very real cost to lacking mental toughness. And when it comes to the inability to control your emotions, here’s the painful truth:

Every person I know who lacks emotional control is a person who consistently hurts other people.

Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, the result is still the same.

Being mentally tough, and creating a more positive world for all of us, means making a real effort to stay in control of our emotions.

Or as my mom taught me, we can’t let our moods determine our manners.

3. They Don’t Let Fear Stop Them

I talk a lot about fear on this blog. Mainly because it is the #1 enemy in the way of living our most positive lives possible.

It’s easy to forget this, but everyone is scared. Yes, everyone.

Seriously, think of the most mentally tough person who you know. Got him/her in your mind? Trust me, there is something that scares the living hell out of that person.

We’re all scared (myself, definitely included), so when you think that you’re “more scared” than the rest of us, you’re not. The difference is that you might not have the mental toughness to act in spite of that fear.

Yes, it takes mental toughness to stare down your fears, but here’s the good news:

As soon as you feel the fear and choose to do what scares you anyway (for example: speaking in front of an audience, starting a business, having a long-overdue conversation with a loved one, asking for a raise from your boss, leaving your emotionally-abusive spouse, etc.), you have instantly become mentally tougher than you were before.

If nothing else, marinate in this quote for a quick and powerful wake-up call:

Why tiptoe through life, only to arrive safely at death? If you’re going to be afraid to live, what’s the point?” -Unknown

No one said that this mental toughness stuff was easy, but it’s far easier than living a small life that is being controlled by your fears and insecurities.

Like the quote said above, what’s the point in that?

4. They Keep Showing Up

Mentally tough people don’t commit when they feel like it. They commit. Period.

They don’t workout only when they feel like it–they workout. They don’t write their book only when the spark of inspiration strikes–they write the book. They don’t save money only when something that they want isn’t on sale–they save money. Most of all, they don’t do what’s necessary to improve their lives only when it’s easy and convenient.

Mentally tough people fully commit until the goal is reached, whether it’s hard or not.

The power of 100% commitment cannot be understated. Unfortunately, people who lack mental toughness rarely will experience what it means to be 100% committed to any meaningful goal.

They will take their ball and go home as soon as they get some negative feedback from a hater. Once things get too hard, they’ll make excuses about why it can’t be done. Worst of all, their lack of mental toughness is actually strengthening the habit to “quit when the going gets tough.”

Mentally tough people are different. They keep showing up no matter what.

That’s what commitment is all about.

It doesn’t matter if their manuscript has just been rejected for the 27th consecutive time, if they finished a grueling year-long recovery from an injury only to get re-injured shortly after getting back on the field, or if they are struggling to give up smoking.

Each and every day, mentally tough people commit to keep showing up and to work relentlessly toward their goal when weaker people would have quit.

If you want to be mentally tougher, here’s the only way to do it:

Keep showing up.

5. They Choose Positivity

As I’ve said before, choosing a life of positivity is hard freakin’ work, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

It’s definitely not for the mentally weak either.

No matter who you are, life will knock you down–count on it.

The real question is what happens after you get knocked down?

Do you chronically complain and wallow in negativity, or do you have the mental toughness to defiantly say, “this will not break me. I will get up” even when you’re on the ground in intense emotional pain?

Do you look at a world that’s broken in many ways and use it as evidence that we’re all hopelessly screwed, or do you say, “I have the ability to make this world a better place, right now,” and then take action to do it?

In both scenarios, there’s one option that’s painfully easy and one that requires some serious mental toughness.

Many will take the easy road, but I’m asking you to do something different. Something harder.

Make the tough choice.

The world needs your toughness–and more importantly, your positivity–more than ever.

Your Turn

Do you consider yourself to be “mentally tough?” Was there anything on this list that particularly resonated with you? Was there anything that you think that I missed? Jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

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  1. Do you call mentall toughness fighting your previous employer who has money to hire a lot of lawyers against you while you don’t? Or do you call walking away from it all and start a new life even knowing your employer has done wrong to fight for justice? As you know it can be a draining and painful process to fight bullies.

  2. Do you call mentall toughness fighting your previous employer who has money to hire a lot of lawyers against you while you don’t? Or do you call walking away from it all to be mentally tough, so you can start a new life living in a positive way to push negativity away from your mind even though your employer defamed and disparaged you? Do you fight injustice against all odds? As you know it can be a draining and painful process to fight bullies. Do you stand for truth and principles?

    • Hello Anna, and I know Shola will have a more eloquent reply for you. In the meantime, I do want to offer you encouragement. I found this blog when I was in a situation similar to yours, being bullied and persecuted unfairly, and unable to fight the powers that be. Rest assured, I have learned that it is indeed mentally tough and positive, to value yourself enough to walk away. As positive people, we absolutely stand for truth and principles, and we know we only have control over those in our own lives. If others do not live by that, and seek to impose their negative value system on us, then in positivity and good self-esteem, we must move on to a better place, where we can flourish. After I started following and understanding this blog, I did accept that it was not defeat for me to walk away. I walked away in disgust from repulsive people, and found a better job with good people who treat me well. I’ve been here three years now, and I have never looked back. Give this philosophy a chance, and consider giving yourself a break from being undervalued and abused. Best wishes to you that this will be a great year, and you will make positive changes for now and the future.

  3. I consider myself mentally tough. However, not 100% of the time. There has been times where I’ve allowed situations to bottle up, and rather than reflect and correct, I let the situation erupt into a negative emotional outburst. This doesn’t happen often, but I’ve learned from those experiences. My struggle or concern, if you will, is when I see my loved ones lack being mentally strong. I provide positive feedback in all aspects, but when the person can’t figure it out, it saddens me and leaves me feeling like I haven’t done enough to help.

  4. Laurie Steiger says:

    Well Shola, I think I may have some work to do, especially about not letting my emotions control me! Thanks for the insights, I enjoy reading your blogs.

  5. Happy New Year Shola, and thank you for a post that gets right to the point on our New Year’s Resolutions. We need more than good intentions and will power. We really do need to have ourselves mentally ready to hang in there. Having been abused as a child, I did cling to that for a very long time, blaming my shortcomings on my parents, etc. It is true that they not only did not prepare me for success, they also did everything in the book to set me up for failure. It took a long time to figure out, that I needed to let go of that, take responsibility for myself one day at a time, and learn how to live a decent life. I was not mentally tough, and I was very hurt, so it took a lot of effort. I did show up though, mostly every day. I had no choice, I had hit bottom. I have learned to live by a lot of these five principals now, though some days are better than others. Thank you for the kick in the butt reminder, to hang in there to reach our goals.

  6. Happy New Year, Shola!!!

    Interesting stuff! When I read “mentally tough” I immediately assumed I don’t have it. Tough has never really been a word I associate with myself. But when I went through your list, I could check off all five points! So I guess you taught me that I am mentally tough!

    When it comes to toughness or strength, I don’t necessarily think of myself. Yes, I have been through lots of stuff and it has helped me to grow. Maybe I would think of myself as wise, but tough is a new one for me.

    Thank you for the lesson and for the constant inspiration to seek self-improvement. You continue to bless my Mondays with your weekly emails (I missed you last month!) and blog posts of positivity!!!

    Massive hugs, my friend!


  7. Great post Shola, your post really resonated with me! Last year I had many circumstances that I had to use mental toughness and even though it was difficult I was able to see the power of it, with how I perceived it in my mind. When you have a circumstance where you need to use, mental toughness, the most challenging part is sitting in the space after you made a decision to stick up for yourself. The space where, sticking up for yourself and setting boundaries to those that have crossed them, to teach them how to treat you. The space can be very uncomfortable and most people don’t like to sit in it. Once you set the boundary, it’s almost like a game of chess to see how they react to the boundary set. It can be a lonely and powerful space but if that boundary is accepted it feels good and provides knowledge for the next time. If it’s not accepted it feels good to know you supported yourself, no matter what the outcome.

    A while back someone told me a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. The quote has always been in my mind, and I think about it on a regular basis. The quote means “If someone isn’t treating themselves well, others are less likely to treat that person with the respect they deserve”. With this reason it’s very important that I set clear calm boundaries as to how I want to be treated and what I will accept from others.

    In 2017, I will keep this in the forefront of my mind to treat myself this way and hope others will see by my example and be inspired to do the same.

  8. Happy New Year Shola,

    Great stuff, as always! God bless you.

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