Mental toughness and sports psychology

Dr Graham Jones studies elite performance in both high archives in both sports and business. Jones’s work as a sports psychologist to British Olympic champions and later a business-performance consultant believes that there are significant parallels between achievement in both areas. Those that reach the top are made, not born. He believes that the main obstacle to success is a ‘self-limiting mindset’. Jones states in his 2008 Harvard Business Review article that the one defining trait both sets of performers share is mental toughness; they manage pressure, are goal-oriented, and self-driven. 

Elite performers in both arenas thrive on pressure; they excel when the heat is turned up. Their rise to the top is the result of very careful planning—of setting and hitting hundreds of small goals. Elite performers use competition to hone their skills, and they reinvent themselves continually to stay ahead of the pack. Finally, whenever they score big wins, top performers take time to celebrate their victories.

Dr Graham Jones

Behaviours of elite performers

  1. Love the pressure
  2. Fixate on the long term
  3. Use the competition
  4. Reinvent themselves
  5. Celebrate the Victories
  6. Will to win

High performers are comfortable with high-pressure situations as they are focused on their excellence and what they can control while compartmentalizing everything else; they can also switch off by having other focuses in their life. Meticulous short term planning is used to achieve long term goals in small steps, mapping out exactly what is needed in each area that affects performance and reach the ultimate goal. 

Elite performers seek out and train with others that push themselves and challenge others to new levels of effort and output. They require constant constructive feedback to assess where they are and where they need to improve their performance. 

High achieving individuals recognize the importance of celebrating their wins and spend significant time analyzing the positive and negative elements of their performance to build confidence and expertise, repeating what worked and adapting what did not. They have cultivated a deep desire to compete and win that drives them to pick themselves up after things don’t go to plan and get back to training.

How to develop mental toughness

  1. Set a big long-term goal, create an outline of how you will get there, and then meticulously plan the next steps.
  2. Have a firm answer as to what this goal is essential to you, and use this to develop a deep will to do what is needed to achieve it.
  3. Focus on self-improvement in the areas that will help you achieve the goal and keep your mental energy in these areas.
  4. Find ways of receiving constant feedback on your performance in the areas you identified as critical, spend extra effort on where you are falling short, and recognize and repeat what is working.
  5. Have a reward in mind for achieving the long-term goal as a symbol of the work and commitment put in to achieve it.