What IS Mental Toughness? | The Mental Toughness Coach - Chris Dorris

What IS Mental Toughness?

What IS Mental Toughness?

It is a legitimate question. But the fact that it is a legitimate question is silly. If you do a search in Google for the phrase Mental Toughness, a majority of the top results are around athletes and sports training, or a Navy Seals style approach to dealing with pain and struggle with grit. Grit your teeth and bear it. That’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. Instead, simply, Mental Toughness is the psychological equivalent of physical fitness; both require education, discipline and maintenance. Mental Toughness is the ability to use your mind in ways that serve you. It is the ability to manipulate your emotional states by governing your thoughts so that you ultimately maximize the probability of having and doing what you want, and being who you want to be.

What Are the Core Distinctions or Attributes of Mental Toughness?

Unlike physical training, Mental Toughness training involves no fatigue, no over-training and certainly no risk of injury. Your training ground is your life – every moment of it. Fundamental to Mental Toughness is the ability to self inquire. That is, the ability to ask yourself questions – all day, every day – like, “What state am I thinking myself into at this moment and could it use an upgrade?” The most Mentally Tough people choose to live in a perpetual state of such self-inquiry. And not only do they never get exhausted by that, they are constantly rejuvenated by the practice. But, again, it is ALL predicated upon internal awareness – more specifically, the ability to examine one’s internal psychological states.

How Mentally Tough or Strong Are You?

It’s a great question to ask yourself. And, naturally, it’s a completely subjective one. But there are some metrics that can give you some insight into your level of Mental Toughness. For instance, if you are a chronic complainer, chances are that your Mental Toughness “Quotient” isn’t very high. A complaint, by definition, is a low-grade interpretation of reality. Low-grade interpretations of reality lead to failure of intelligence. So, the more complaining you do, the harder you make it to create excellence. And there is no Mental Toughness in that.

Another way of estimating your Mental Toughness Quotient is to gauge your responses to “adversities.” I put that term in quotes because adversity itself is simply an interpretation.

How do you respond to circumstances when you do NOT get what you want? That is a telltale indicator or how Mentally Tough you are.

How long do you sulk? How much time do you permit to pass before you chose to elevate your state and open up to possibilities?

Do you see the world more problematically, or more opportunistically?

Do you take ownership of your ENTIRE life, or do you assess blame to the outer world for that with which you are dissatisfied in your life?

Do you Vibe high? Do people like being around you (even if you are an introvert)?

If people call you “lucky” a lot, chances are good they are wrong, and you are simply Mentally Tough.

How do you honestly respond most frequently to the question, “How are you?”

Do you love your life?

Do you consider yourself successful?

Are you impeccable with your word?

Do you dream big?

Do you permit the outer world to govern your inner states? Or, rather, do you CHOOSE to create your states intentionally and permit those to govern what you co-create?

These are all great questions to be asking yourself over time in order to assess your level of Mental Toughness.

Who Should Focus On (Further) Developing Mental Strength?


Virtually None of Us Have Been Educated or Trained to Develop the Skills and Attributes of Mental Strength.

Getting in good shape requires energy and action. That’s true for both physical as well as mental fitness. But why is working on mental skills such an ambiguous concept for most people, especially outside the world of sports?

The answer is that we didn’t have mental training as fundamental curriculum in our educational experience. We all had Physical Education. Or when I was in grade school, we called it Gym Class. But there was no Mental Gym Class. No Thought Warrior Class. No Emotional Mastery Class. No Psychology of Strength Class.

In college, I had Psych Stats, but no specific focus or studies on Psych Strength Training Course. It doesn’t exist in academia yet, so most of us have had absolutely NO exposure to the fact that there are countless ways to actively and powerfully train our minds to be in excellent condition.

So, put another way, Mental Toughness is the consequence of putting in the energy and effort, to the development and growth of your mental strength.  Mentally strong people find it easier to achieve their goals and create excellence in their lives.

The stronger your mind, the easier it is to be happy and successful. It’s as simple as that.

When you hear athletes say, “I’m in training,” you know what they mean. They’re training for a sports competition of some sort, like a marathon, for example. Usually, they will be working, with the help of one or more coaches, on the specific skills they need for success.

When is the last time you heard an everyday Joe say, “I’m in training” and when asked “For what?” they replied, “Crushing my life goals!” Let’s make that more common.

“I am rigorously training my mind so that I can more effortlessly create an amazing life for myself and model that for my loved ones!”

Mental Toughness is having developed, through sustained structured training, the ability to choose your response to all of reality. And that is huge! It is “Response-Ability.” The ability to respond instead of react to what happens. Responses are mindful. Reactions are mindless. By virtue of the absence of any formal Mental Toughness Training, most people are living complete reactionary lives. They have no ability whatsoever to choose responses, especially to events that are undesirable. Not only do most folks not have that ability, most folks don’t even know that there IS an ability to be developed in the first place.

There’s a great quote by the late, great Indian Philosopher, author and lecturer, Jiddu Krishnamurti:

“Do you want to know what my secret is? You see, I don’t mind what happens.”

Some may misinterpret that as complacency when, in fact, it is the antithesis of complacency. It is a masterful and hard-earned skill to be able to not struggle against reality. Krishnamurti had to train his mind over the course of years – diligently, with ZERO DAYS OFF – in order to develop the ability to respond to all of life with curiosity at worst, or with enthusiasm at best. Through his training alone, he has reprogrammed his mind so that he only uses it in ways that serve him.

I have a mind, but I am not my mind. And my mind is trainable. Through disciplined training, I am able to reprogram myself to respond to all of reality in ways that make it easier for me to feel great and to create excellence.

“Until you are able to respond to all of life with enthusiasm, your work is not done.”

A Practice of Unlearning

I often refer to Mental Toughness Training as a practice of UNLEARNING. It’s not a talent, it’s a skill, developed through practice, just like sports – growth through practice!

You see, over the course of time we unconsciously adopt ways of thinking that forbid us from being consistently happy, and that make creating excellence in our lives virtually impossible. One huge example of such learning is the belief that when I don’t get what I want, that’s bad. When I don’t get what I want, it isn’t a “bad” thing. It’s simply an event. Or as I say in one of my favorite mantras “ain’t bad – just is.” Shakespeare said it a bit classier:

“Nothing good or bad happens until you think it so.”

Mental Toughness When ________________? (insert something “bad”)

If your car is stolen from the mall parking lot, but you are unaware of it because you are still inside shopping, is it a “bad” thing? HELL NO! It’s not good or bad. It can’t be anything because you aren’t even aware of it yet.

Then you come out of the mall and discover that the car has been stolen. Is it a “bad” thing now? HELL NO! Not until you interpret it as “bad” and that is effortless for you to do because you have been programmed – absolutely convinced over time – to believe that it’s not only “bad”, it downright sucks!

It just IS. It is an event. The car was stolen. The end.

It is simply an example of an event that occurred and one that you weren’t wanting or expecting. How you respond is governed entirely by your beliefs.

Your beliefs are the software that runs you. Your beliefs are your operating system.

You’ve been given code that runs you in such a way that when something happens that you weren’t expecting and/or wanting, you lose control of your emotions. The outer world is suddenly entirely governing the inner world. That, by the way, is the definition of a victim of circumstance. Here is another mantra for that:

The outer world is a reflection of the inner world.

What that means is, whatever I have going on in my life, is the direct result of what I have going on in my mind. That, then, means I have quite the incentive to strengthen what I have going on in my mind. And we weren’t taught the specifics of that. At least not the vast majority of us.

I often say that the most Mentally Tough people choose to live in a perpetual state of self-inquiry. And, by the way, the most Mentally Tough people in the world are also the happiest and most successful (success defined as having your life on your terms). So what is this “self-inquiry” then?

All of Mental Toughness Training is predicated upon awareness. It’s an inside job. It’s the invisible work. It is being in the acquired, masterful habit of asking yourself questions like:

  • What kind of emotion am I thinking my way into in this moment, and is it serving me?
  • Could my thinking use an upgrade right now?
  • What’s my state and shall I manipulate it?
  • Do I agree with what I just said?
  • I’m feeling unpleasant, so what is the false belief that is running me?

These inquiries raise your internal awareness so that you can manipulate your states of mind in a moment’s time. THAT is powerful! And it takes practice. Lots of it.

As long as we are awake, we are interpreting reality in one of three ways: low-grade, neutral or high-grade. In other words, simply put, this sucks, I don’t care, or this is awesome.


One of the most sophisticated practices is called CATCH > OWN >  REPLACE

The practice involves catching yourself when you are in a low-grade state (which is ALWAYS because of your low-grade interpretation in that exact moment). Then you take ownership of that emotional state by acknowledging that you aren’t feeling unpleasant because of anything in the outer world, but rather, you are feeling unpleasant because of the way you are thinking about it. And finally, replace the thinking with an upgraded interpretation.

Let’s take an example. Traffic. You’re in your car in traffic. And you are frustrated.

  • CATCH that emotion.
  • OWN it by saying, “I’m not frustrated because of the traffic. I’m frustrated because of how I’m thinking about it.” And then,
  • REPLACE that thinking with an upgrade, like, “Thank God for the life that I have created for myself that permits me to have the luxury of having a car!”

Accumulate tens of thousands of repetitions like that, and you will find yourself to be a totally different person – a Mentally Tough one!

Get Some Grit: Tools & Practices to Help You Be More Mentally Tough

Here’s one more mantra for you that also helps clarify:

Create The State, Don’t Wait!

The #1 Mistake that the Untrained Mind Makes is Waiting. Specifically, waiting for good things to happen before creating super high-grade states like enthusiasm, gratitude, competence, confidence and joy. Start now. Create high-grade states with high-grade thinking and THEN go take action. BOOM!

And eliminate complaining. Seriously. There is nothing worthwhile in that whatsoever. Complaining by definition is having a problem with reality. That weakens you in every way, both mentally and physically.

Here Are Some of My Favorite Definitions of Mental Toughness

  • The ability to use your mind in ways that maximize the probability of creating more joy and excellence in your life with less effort. (That’s probably my fav.)
  • The ability to respond to ALL of life with enthusiasm and gratitude.
  • The ability to love what is and create from it.
  • The ability to profoundly alter your psychological states in a moment’s time.

What books should I read to further study and develop Mental Toughness?

  • Loving What Is  by Byron Katie.
  • Prison Break  by Jason Goldberg
  • Scream and Run Naked  by Alison Arnold
  • Crazy Good  by Steve Chandler
  • Reinventing Yourself  by Steve Chandler
  • Fatherhood is Leadership  by Devon Bandison
  • The Four Agreements  by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Tao of Pooh  by Benjamin Hoff
  • Life is Magic  by Jon Dorenbos
  • Failure’s Not An Option  by Jeff Nyce
  • Journey’s on the Edge  by Walt Hampton


Leave a Reply

Please leave a comment.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions!

I accept the Privacy Policy

The Mental Toughness Coach - Chris Dorris