11 critical secrets of mentally tough people, according to psychology

Mental toughness is one of those things that’s difficult to quantify but which is obvious when you see it. Most of us know someone that we admire (or at least respect) for their mental toughness.

Often, that can leave us looking at them and wondering how they do it. We ask ourselves, “What’s their secret?”

If you’ve been asking this question then you’re in luck, because we’re about to lift the lid and take a closer look at the critical secrets of mentally tough people. Let’s get started.

1) They’re resilient

Mentally tough people are resilient, which means that they’re able to bounce back from adversity.

This is important because we’ll always face setbacks in life, and the true test of who we are as people comes down to how we react to those setbacks.

The people that we admire for their mental toughness are usually resilient, and that resilience often came about by necessity. In other words, they’re resilient because they’ve been forced to be resilient by the events that have shaped their lives.

And so if you want to act more like those mentally tough people that you look up to, it’s a good idea to start by rethinking the way you approach failure.

2) They’re adaptable

This point is interesting because adaptability is usually driven by resiliency.

In other words, people who are resilient have learned to adapt because when they’ve been confronted by failure, they’ve been forced to adapt and to pivot.

This tendency to adapt and overcome is what makes people so tough, and we shouldn’t be surprised by that. There’s a reason why the United States Marine Corps has taken on the unofficial mantra of “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.”

And they don’t come much tougher than the marines.

3) They set goals

People who don’t set goals find it difficult to understand just how powerful they can be.

When we set goals and hold ourselves accountable for them, we force ourselves to be tough. We know that we’re going to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

On top of that, goals help us to get tougher. For example, I’ve recently started running, and I’ve been working on increasing the distance that I’m able to cover. I do that by setting goals, achieving them and then setting another one.

I also think that running is one of the most popular hobbies for mentally tough people, but perhaps I’m biased.

4) They display gratitude

Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally to people, and so if someone is able to display gratitude towards people then it’s a pretty good indication that they’re mentally tough.

That’s because it takes a certain amount of inner strength to ask for help, and it takes even more inner strength to acknowledge when that help has been given.

A lot of people kid themselves into thinking that they’re mentally tough, but then when they receive help along their journey, they’re so embarrassed by it that they refuse to acknowledge it.

It takes true mental toughness to say thank you and to display gratitude towards the people who’ve helped you.

5) They find solutions

Weak people find problems. Tough people find solutions.

Let’s look at an example. In the workplace, a weak person might go to their manager and say, “My job is too stressful and I can’t do it anymore.” A strong person would say something like, “My job is super stressful, but here are some ways that we could make it less stressful.”

It’s pretty clear how finding solutions is a trait of mentally tough people. It takes a lot of strength to confront a problem head on and to find a way to fix it.

The good news is that this ability to find solutions is one of the things that makes mentally tough people so valuable to have around in the first place.

6) They learn from their mistakes

We all make mistakes from time to time. What’s important is how we respond to them.

Not everyone has the mental toughness that’s required to own up to a mistake and to figure out how you can learn from it. It’s often easier to bury your head in the sand than it is to face failure head on.

The problem is that if you don’t take the time to look at the mistakes you’ve made and to find the lessons that are hidden within them, you’re not going to be able to get stronger.

Mentally tough people are tough because they’ve been put to the test and made it out through the other side. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

7) They’re disciplined

Discipline is a pre-requisite for mental toughness, because toughness is grounded in discipline.

You can see this just from looking at the other points that we’ve talked about. For example, setting goals won’t get you anywhere unless you have the discipline that’s needed to follow up on those goals and to achieve them.

The same is true for running, my own pet passion. Running requires mental toughness because you’re constantly at war with yourself. Every single step requires a continued commitment to moving forward.

And let me tell you, it takes a lot of discipline to get out of bed and to go for a run when it’s 5 AM and it’s raining outside.

8) They have a support network

As we covered earlier, mentally tough people know that they need help from time to time. That’s where their support network comes in.

A support network is essentially the collection of people that you surround yourself with who you know you can turn to when times are tough. Most support networks begin with immediate family members and branch out from there to close friends and then acquaintances.

Some people will try to act as though having a support network makes you weak, because it means that you rely on other people to help you out. But if you ask me, that’s a strength.

Poet John Donne famously said that no man is an island. In other words, we all need other people if we want to get ahead in life.

9) They have solid time management skills

Time management isn’t the most glamorous or exciting of subjects, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.

In particular, mentally tough people tend to be good at time management because they use it to hold themselves accountable and to make sure they get things done.

You need a lot of mental toughness to make that happen, and for fairly obvious reasons. Let’s say you have a personal training session booked at 7 AM. You need a certain amount of mental toughness to drag yourself out of bed and to the gym.

In fact, this is one of those interesting factors that works both ways. Mentally tough people tend to have solid time management skills, and people with solid time management skills tend to develop mental toughness.

10) They have a healthy lifestyle

The interesting thing about this point is that the healthy lifestyle in question comes about because of the mental toughness.

It takes a lot of toughness to live a healthy lifestyle because it’s often so much easier to take the unhealthy options. For example, if there’s a choice between going for a run or lying on the sofa and watching TV, it’s easy to stay at home.

The same is true when it comes to our diets. Fast food, ready meals and processed snacks are a lot easier and more accessible than the alternatives. Some people also live in food deserts which make it even harder to live healthily.

All of this means that if someone’s able to live a healthy lifestyle despite the challenges, they have to have a decent amount of mental toughness.

11) They embrace competition

Mentally tough people embrace competition because they know that it makes them stronger.

At the risk of repeating myself, you can see this in action with runners. True, every runner is trying to beat their own personal best, but they can also be pushed to run faster if they’re competing with a friend or trying to overtake people with a sprint finish at the end.

The same is true elsewhere, from healthy competition in the workplace to the way that people tend to compete with other people on their street to have the best set of Christmas decorations.

When you’re mentally tough, a little competition doesn’t scare you. It just inspires you to rise above it.


Now that you know some of the traits and secrets of mentally tough people, you’re better placed to spot them out in the wild.

Meanwhile, if you hope to increase your own mental toughness, you also have a checklist of areas to focus on. And let’s face it, why wouldn’t you want to do that?

Mental toughness is like physical toughness in that it takes time and repetition to develop. The more you practice, the tougher you become.

And so perhaps it’s time for you to start practicing. Good luck.

Dane Cobain

Dane Cobain is a published author, freelance writer and (occasional) poet and musician with a passion for language and learning. When he’s not working on his next release, he can be found reading and reviewing books while trying not to be distracted by Wikipedia.

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