I’m a huge tennis fan. I love how the sport combines athleticism with artistry. But what really fascinates me is how playing the game challenges our mental toughness; our resilience under immense pressure. Mental Toughness

This morning I was catching up with the tennis news in the run up to the Monte Carlo Masters. Following extended time out for knee surgery in 2013 and a very poor season in 2015 by his exceptional standards, Rafael Nadal is looking to extend the 8 consecutive titles he won at Monte Carlo between 2005 and 2012! In a recent interview, he said his 2015 results were primarily due to stress and anxiety. The Spanish World No. 5 said that it had been a daily effort for him to tackle the mental demons he was facing, which were as a battle against himself as it was his opponents.

Last year I was competing against myself and now I compete against my rivals.” ~ Rafael Nadal

Meanwhile Roger Federer is looking to win the Monte Carlo Masters for the first time, after unexpected time out for knee surgery earlier in the year. Like Nadal, Federer knows all about mental toughness. In 2013, the great man had a shocker of a season by his own high standards, dropping out of the world’s top four for the first time in ten years. His story then was similar to Nadal’s now. A loss of confidence, the cause of which seemed to be back trouble and general physical wear and tear. Federer took stock, changed his coach and his racket, and roared back to threaten the world No. 1 ranking the following year.

So what’s mental toughness in elite athletes got to do with business?

In a blog post last year, I explored why a number of my clients had been so successful, often exceeding their own expectations. This was despite them often having seemingly few advantages in terms of financial capital, business experience and marketing skills - and in some cases a supportive network of peers. One of the qualities they have in spades is grit or mental toughness. In today's blog post I explain why mental toughness is such an important quality when it comes to running a business.

The well-known psychologist and researcher Angela Lee Duckworth studied West Point cadets, teachers in tough schools, and sales peoples, asking who would succeed and why. “In all those very different contexts one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success,” she said in her popular TED talk. Grit or mental toughness.

Duckworth defines mental toughness as:

…passion and perseverance for very long-term goals … sticking with your future, day in day out”.

Quite simply, mental toughness is one of the factors that differentiates those that succeed in business from those that don’t. It’s the ability to persevere in pursuit of a long term goal that builds the attitude needed for long-term success.

Here are 5 ways you can develop mental toughness and become more successful as a result.

1. Strive For Excellence - But Ditch The Perfectionism

Gritty people rarely seek perfection; instead they strive for excellence and mastery. At first sight, you may think I’m making a semantic distinction. But if you think about it, excellence and perfectionism are in fact at odds with one another. Perfection has a more pedantic, intolerant and inflexible quality, whereas excellence is far more forgiving and allowing of failure.

Perfection is necessary to succeed in sports like ice skating, gymnastics and of course tennis. But it’s also someone else’s perception of an ideal. Pursuing perfectionism can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Excellence however is an attitude. The word excellence, derived from the Greek word ‘Arête,’ is more closely associated with fulfilment of purpose and virtue. Excellence allows for disappointment, prioritising progress over perfection. Like excellence, mental toughness is an attitude of seeking, striving and never yielding.

[shareable cite="Denyse Whillier"]'Excellence and perfectionism are at odds with one another. Strive for excellence, not perfectionism.'[/shareable]

2. See The Past As Valuable Training - And Nothing More

Learning from the past is valuable so learn from your mistakes and those of others. And then let them go. Sounds easier said than done? Well it depends on your perspective. When something bad happens to you, you could see this as an opportunity to learn something you didn't know before. When another person makes a mistake, see it as an opportunity to be kind and understanding. View the past as just training. Reflect on what went wrong, learn the lessons so that next time, you make sure it does go right, and then let it go.

3. Celebrate The Success Of Others

Many people think there’s only so much success to go around. When someone else shines, they think this diminishes the light from their star. But resentment is a huge energy drain and distorts the personality. This energy is far better applied elsewhere.

Where success is concerned, birds of a feather tend to flock together, so draw your successful friends and business associates even closer to you. Celebrate success wherever you find it, and in time you'll find even more of it yourself.

4. Never Allow Yourself To Whine, Complain Or Criticise

Our words have huge power, especially over our mental state. Whining about our problems always makes us feel worse, not better. So if something is going wrong, don't waste time complaining. Put this mental energy into working out how you can find a solution to make the situation better. Talk about how you're going to make things better, even if this conversation is only with yourself. And do the same with your friends or colleagues. Don't just serve as a shoulder to cry on. Friends don't let their friends whine; friends help friends to make their lives better.

[shareable cite="Denyse Whillier"]Words have a huge power over our mental state. Complaining makes our problems seem worse, not better.[/shareable]

5. Practice Gratitude

Take a few moments every night to think about what you do have and give thanks. We have a lot to be thankful for. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major reason those affected in the terrorist attacks on September 11 found huge reserves of resilience.  Recognising all you have to be thankful for – even when we’re facing difficult times in business – helps to foster resilience.

Join the Conversation

Question:  What helps you to stay mentally strong?  I love to hear your thoughts, so please let me know in the comments box below.

Explore These Additional Resources

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Who has grit and persistence in spades is Paul Sullivan, who runs a London based digital marketing agency specialising in the FinTech industry. We’re going to be discussing  how to grow your business through inbound marketing on Blab this evening.

How To Grow Your Business Through Inbound Marketing is the latest in a series of Blabs I co-host with my 2 #BBFs, Christina Jones and Emma D'Arcy, on Monday evenings.

About Denyse

Prior to becoming a business consultant and coach, I have 25 years’ experience in business, including 8 years as a former CEO. This experience is backed up by training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. With experience in business planning, financial management, risk management, building strategic partnerships, product development, marketing (including PR) plus leading and developing staff teams of up to 150 people, there’s very little I haven’t had to deal with or experienced.

You can find out more about working with me HERE. Or alternatively email me on to arrange an informal chat over coffee. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching or business consultancy would be a good fit for your business, the results you can expect and how to get started.