9 signs someone is mentally tough, according to psychology

Look, none of us like to think of ourselves as weaklings.

But there’s no denying that some people are just tougher than others.

And when I say that, I don’t mean that they should be heading their own blockbuster action movie franchise.

No, I’m talking about mental toughness.

That means the ability to control your emotions. The ability to be resilient and handle the challenges life throws at you. The ability to keep going, even when you want to quit.

There are mentally tough people everywhere. But you may not spot them at first. Because often, just like with physical toughness, mentally tough people don’t brag about how tough they are.

They don’t need the validation of others to know what they’re capable of. Often, it’s only in hard times that they show how tough they really are.

Still, if you know what to look for, there are some signs of someone with a high degree of mental toughness. Keep an eye out for these signs that show you someone who is mentally unconquerable.

1) They have a high stress tolerance

One of the most obvious signs of someone who is mentally tough is their ability to handle stress.

When things go wrong, they don’t panic. They don’t look for others to blame. They don’t try and weasel their way out of a bad situation.

Instead, they stay calm and try to think their way rationally out of the problems they encounter.

Often, this makes them especially suited for leadership roles or other high-pressure jobs.

“A person with mental toughness faces challenges directly and is effective in solving them,” writes psychologist Gary Seeman. “Someone who’s mentally tough has a combination of willpower, skill and resilience.”

And this combination allows them to deal with stress better than most other people. After all, when you know you can deal with the problems you face, it’s a lot easier to summon the toughness to approach them without fear. 

2) They control their emotions

We are all emotional people to one extent or another. And when things go wrong, it’s easy to give into our emotions, especially the negative ones.

It’s natural to worry when things don’t go our way. It’s normal to be afraid to lose the things that mean the most to us.

But one key trait of mentally tough people is that they don’t let those negative emotions hold them back.

“One of the best ways to deal with our negative emotions is through acceptance,” says counselor and coach Elaine Mead.

“Once we do that we can really begin to change how we might respond to them and develop behaviors that are meaningful and bring value to how we express ourselves and engage with others.”

In other words, the key to controlling negative emotions is not to try and fight them, but to accept that they are a natural and normal reaction to circumstances.

And when you do that, it becomes easier to control them.

You can’t stop yourself from feeling something. But you can choose how you react to those feelings. Being mentally tough means staying calm and not allowing the way you feel to dictate how you act.

3) They persevere

One of the more obvious signs of someone with mental toughness is that they just keep going.

After all, it takes extreme mental resilience to persevere, especially when everything seems be going against you.

No matter what you try to do in life, whether it’s starting a new business, beginning a new exercise regimen, or trying to create a work of art, you are guaranteed to face resistance, both from yourself and from the people around you.

Often, the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is how willing they are to embrace the hard times and keep going in pursuit of their goals.

“Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality,” writes psychology professor and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth.

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

To put it simply, the world belongs to those who persevere. So if you know someone who never gives up on the things that mean the most to them, there’s a good chance they are extremely mentally tough.

4) They are self-confident

There are lots of different ways to cultivate mental tough. But often, it comes from hardship and suffering.

People who have been through a lot in life know their strengths and weaknesses better than most. They also know that they can survive hard times, if only because they have done it before.

This gives them the self-confidence to face new challenges.

“High self-esteem is associated with better health, better social lives, protection against mental disorders and social problems, healthy coping, and mental well-being,” writes researcher and author Courtney E Ackerman.

“Self-esteem is also strongly linked to happiness, with higher levels of self-esteem predicting higher levels of happiness. High self-confidence has even been found to increase the chances of survival after a serious surgical procedure,” she explains.

So not only is self-confidence linked to being mental tough. It can also improve your physical toughness, too.

5) They’re flexible

I don’t need to tell you that we live in an imperfect world. No matter how hard you try, things don’t always work out.

And even when they do, you often find that what you wanted from life doesn’t look the way you thought it would once you achieve it.

That’s why flexibility is another clear sign of mental toughness.

Being flexible makes you more resilient. Being able to change your opinions and your actions depending on new events makes you more adaptable and more able to stay focused on your goals.

Often, we think of being tough as being uncompromising and rigid. But actually, being able to change with new information makes you far tougher mentally than people who can’t change at all.

6) They are problem solvers

Having a high level of mental toughness often makes someone a good problem solver.

That’s because mentally tough people are able to take their emotions out of the situation. While other people panic or get upset, they focus on the facts and look for solutions.

“Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards each day,” writes best-selling self-help author James Clear. “They don’t let short–term profits, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision.”

This makes them exceptional problem solvers. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, they will focus on how to fix it, which is why they tend to be ideal in leadership roles.

7) They are disciplined

Sometimes, you have to be tough on yourself.

It’s not easy to go to the gym when you’d rather sit on the couch. It’s not easy to get up and make yourself a salad when you would rather just order delivery. It’s not easy to spend years studying in college when you could have just taken an easier job.

But we do those things because we believe that the rewards they offer are worth the effort we put in.

Still, it requires discipline to make yourself do the smart thing. And that’s something mentally tough people have plenty of.

Being mentally tough means having the ability to make yourself do things you know are good for you, even when you don’t want to. So if you know someone with exceptional self-discipline, they’re probably also very mentally tough.

8) They are realistic

Lots of people believe in the power of optimism. On the other hand, lots of people tend to take a more negative worldview.

But people with a high level of mental toughness tend instead to be realistic.

They don’t try to make things seem more positive than they really are. But at the same time, they don’t give in to fear and negativity.

Instead, they approach things realistically. That allows them to come up with the best solutions to their problems and persevere when others give up.

9) They focus on what they can control

So many of us spend so much of our lives worrying about things that are out of our control.

War. Famine. Disease. The economy.

Even our own health, although we can influence it, is something that we can’t fully control.

Mentally tough people know that it’s a waste of energy to think about things you can’t change. Instead, it’s always better to focus on what you can.

“They say that the only thing constant in life is change,” writes life coach and mental health expert Michelle Ribeiro. “By accepting that which you cannot change, it allows you to focus on the things that you do have control over.”

Signs of mental toughness

As a general rule, someone who goes out of their way to tell you how tough they are probably isn’t. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t brag may well be tougher than they look.

Keep an eye out for these signs of mental toughness. Because if you see them, it’s a good sign of somebody with a very strong and resilient mind.

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Hack Spirit! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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