Why We Need to be Mentally Tough


Mental toughness is the ability to maintain our focus despite difficulties. It typically  manifests as resilience, commitment, determination and an inner strength that enables us to persist when times are tough or, when life knocks us off our feet. It’s not something we are born with, it’s a learned skill which we can develop.

Roger Federer is a great example of someone who is mentally tough. Not just because he ranks as the number 1 tennis player in the world, or because he is older than most tennis players, he demonstrates mental toughness by being gracious under fire, and in the way he maintains his focus. When playing tennis Roger usually appears calm and relaxed but during the 2018 Australian Open grand final, he lost his cool during the fourth set and instead of getting angry as many players do, he did something unprecedented. He ran off the court between sets and changed his clothes. At the time I wondered if changing clothes was a way for him to change his mindset, and whether it was or not, he came back onto the court a different man and cruised on to win his sixth Australian Open.

During the interview following  that win Roger said that during the fourth set he lost control of his thoughts and his mind was all over the place. Once he regained control of his thoughts he went on to win the set and match quite easily.

What makes a person mentally tough?

Researchers who have studied elite athletes concluded that mental toughness results from grit, which is defined as determination and commitment to a goal. And while I don’t dispute that I feel there is more to it than that. To me the level of determination that Roger displayed comes from motivation, from doing something that you love. And it’s a well known fact that Roger Federer loves tennis. So, being motivated or having a compelling reason, is what provides us with the determination to persist when the going gets tough. Motivation is the fuel that drives us, that enables us to turn obstacles into something meaningful.

Rosie Batty, the domestic violence campaigner, became a campaigner for battered women following the death of her son, who was killed by his father. Her motivation, most likely, was a way to survive by making something good come from this tragedy. In doing so she demonstrated immense compassion and mental toughness.

Mental strength is developed by using whatever tools we can to help us move forward. Our ‘why’ is what compels us to persist even during tough times.

Mental toughness always starts with a decision to change yourself

There is a video doing the rounds on Facebook showing Roger Federer, as a young player, chucking tantrums on the court. He says that he realised one day that wasn’t who he wanted to be, and he made the decision to change. Novak Djokovic, another great tennis player, made the same choice.

The ability to be able to change the way we think and act, sometimes within a very short span of time as Roger Federer did, is what separates people who survive and thrive from those who struggle through life.

We need to: make it okay to try and fail; look for the good in difficult situations; act on our strengths rather than criticising or complaining, this way we not only change our own lives, we become positive role models for the people around us.

When our mind is filled with positive thoughts, plans for what we are going to do next, we don’t have the mental space for doubts. Instead of looking at what’s missing in your life, fill your mind with thoughts of things you love. Reflect on what’s good about your life, what you are grateful for and looking forward to. These thoughts are the stepping stones to becoming mentally strong.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”