Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Mental Toughness, Resiliency, and Endurance

"Mental Toughness" is a concept that's talked about in terms of sports and physical challenge, but it's also a character trait that seems important for a lot of life obstacles - personal or work-related setbacks, academic or job-related disappointments, and perseverance to run the long race and meet one's goals.

So how to do it? These days, emphasis of personal self-esteem and immediate happiness seems to potentially work at cross purposes with an ethic of personal denial or sacrifice, and without just nagging the kids, how can we encourage students to be tougher, more resilient, and to endure?

We came across It Takes a Parent by Betsy Hart in the book store, and though there are spots that are sure to get some people fired up, she scores a lot of direct hits.

Sure we want our young people to be happy and confident about themselves, but we also want them to be mentally tough, take risks, shrug off and learn from disappointments and failures, and persevere for long term goals.

Hart has this nice excerpt from an interview Columbia psychology professor Carol Dweck has with Education World:

"EW: Why is it that many students who succeed throughout their elementary school years suddenly seem to fall apart when they get to junior high or middle school?"

Dweck: Many students look fine when things are easy and all is going well. But many students, even very bright ones, are not equipped to deal with challenges. When they hit more difficult work, as they often do...they begin to doubt their intelligence, they withdraw their effort, and their performance suffers....The students who blossom at this time are the ones who believe that intellectual skills are things they can develop. They see the more difficult schoolwork as a challenge to be mastered through hard work, and they are determined to do what it takes to meet these challenges."

There are many different factors which can help a child be come more "mentally tough" and it doesn't have to mean become stoic. Check out the picture below which shows how resilient college students were better at 'letting go' of negative images than their non-resilient counterparts. When viewing negative pictures, resilient students reacted the same as the non-resilient - the difference was in how they were able to stop the negative emotional reaction after it had been seen.

Resiliency can be modeled for young people, and it's never too young to begin praising effort and perseverance more than accomplishment, to encourage risk-taking and boldness, and to allow kids to fail, but being ever ready with unconditional emotional support, context (failure is one of the best ways to learn), and redirection toward the future.

Resiliency and fMRI
Well being and affective style


  1. Mind.Forth artificial intelligence is getting tougher and more resilient all the time, based as it is on a theory of how the brain works.

  2. Thanks for the reference, as a father of young children, this is valuable stuff.

    Thanks for sharing your knoweldge.

    This sounds somewhat related to Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel's new book, "One Nation Under Therapy,". Having heard the authors (but not yet read the book) it sounds like typical approaches in our schools are that of reducing the challenges and stress that face children.

  3. Another great post. Your blog is a wonderful resource for me.

    "Resiliency" (or at least resilient thinking strategies)is going to be a significant cultural wave in the next few years as a better understanding of network theory begins to permeate other fields.

    Some sites that deal with " Resilience" that may interest you:



    A couple of posts from my blog on " resilience" vs. " consilience"



  4. Thanks a lot, guys, and thanks for the links too. Took a quick look at some of them and they look great. Have to go back and really read them when we get a chance. Lots more to talk about.

  5. I love this article and couldn't agree more. Mental Toughness needs to be taught in childhood so kids are emotionally equipped to thrive in a permanent white-water world. -Steve Siebold, www.mentaltoughnessblog.com