What Is Mental Toughness?

What Is Mental Toughness is one of the questions that international sports psychologist Gareth J. Mole addresses in his new book – due out in Oct 2019.

What is Mental Toughness? It’s a bit like one of the engines on a four engine plane.

I am sure almost everyone thinks about writing a book at one stage in their lives. I have felt like I have a couple of book in me for many years but for reasons beyond my control I have not ‘stepped up’ … until now. Since the start of 2019, I have been tapping away behind the scenes and am delighted to confirm that we’ll be seeking interest from publishers around Sept / Oct of this year. I am yet to pick a title for the book – which will be aimed at serious athletes and sporting coaches – but a large chunk of it is about mental toughness.

What is mental toughness, what is it not and how to improve it permanently are amongst the main topics that I explore in what I am calling a ‘guidebook’?

Partly due to the fact that my kids are currently on school holidays (which halves the amount of time I get to work) and partly to ‘test the water’ of my penmanship for this latest Mental Toughness Digest blog I have decided to paste an expert from the book – which is about two thirds finished. Enjoy, forward and constructive feedback via the comments sections below might just get you a free copy of the hardback in the post after we go to print.


Mental Toughness Targeted By Mental Preparation

Before going through the subcomponents of Mental Toughness I need to address what I assume will be the main point of controversy about this book – separating the mental side of performance from general wellbeing.

Or using terms you’re more likely to come across – considering both mental health and mental toughness as important but different.

For some of you, the aeroplane analogy will automatically do the explaining for me. Although the aircraft can be thought of as a single vessel in the same way that a person can be thought of as one being the fact is that each of these is made up of different interconnecting ‘bits’.

In the event that the aeroplane analogy doesn’t quite get the job done let me justify this approach future using some of the other engines as examples.

Most human beings do not require super fitness, amazing physical strength nor excellent flexiblity in order to function, thrive and be good at what they do. In fact, only relatively small amounts of physical activity may be needed in order for most people to experience the day to day benefits of exercise on their wellbeing. 

But if this person happens to be an athlete – and in particular an athlete of a physically demanding sport – such as biathlon or triathlon – then these small amounts of psychical activity will not be sufficient if they want to go as far in their chose sport as possible. 

Just Like An Aeroplane

If the purpose of the aircraft is simply to go for short 20 minute flights as part of a hobby group for amateur fliers then it still needs to function but the efficiency of the engines is less critical compared with an aeroplane that wants to fly as far as possible (safely).

So Mental Toughness joins the previously covered Physical Capabilities, Technical Consistency and Tactical Wisdom to make up the fourth and final engine – the four groups of ‘extras’ needed to go much further than might otherwise be possible. 

With this in mind, I will be guiding you through a number of different ideas that most people really never need to consider adding to their weekly routine. But the mental requirements of becoming the best possible athlete or sporting coach you can be are far from the mental requirements of basic functioning and wellbeing.

So what is Mental Toughness then? What are the subcomponents of this engine, what areas can we target for improvement in our quest to become mentally tougher?

After 15 years of helping mostly athletes with mostly their performance mental toughness, I believe that it is best broken down into these five key psychological subcomponents:

  • Motivation
  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Unity
  • Focus

In other words the best possible answer I can give at this stage to the question ‘what is mental toughness’ is something along these lines:

Mental Toughness is an umbrella term that refers to varying levels and combinations of motivation towards training and competing, the ability to manage the full spectrum of emotions and thoughts, knowing when and how to switch on or off as well as team related factors such learning to respect your teammates.

Gareth J. Mole – Sport Psychologist – 2019

Most of the other labels that you’d expect to be here are either synonyms of one of these words or a type of one of the subcomponents or a combination of the both of these. For example, the words concentration and attention are both synonyms of focus. Confidence, pressure. fear and feeling relaxed are all types of emotions. Flow, one of the most common words in modern-day sport psychology, is really just a blend of high focus and relaxation.

In fact, I’m happy to invite any fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory to compare what you currently do to get into a state of flow with my suggestions below and let me know which is more effective.


If you can wait until the book gets published to find out what the ‘below’ means then get in touch via our Contact Us form and ask for some information about our 1-on-1 mental toughness training options. We typically reply in less than 24 hours.