A pair of old-fashioned black lace-up boxing gloves, lying against a wooden background.

Four ways to find your ‘mental toughness’

What is the difference between winners and losers?

It’s quite a question, and one that Penny Mallory has devoted her life to answering. We’ve all heard stories of tough childhoods, but Penny’s separation from her mentally ill mother, years of homelessness, self-harm and crime makes her abundantly qualified on what it takes to beat the odds. After borrowing the money for a day at a rally school, she discovered her life’s passion and turned her life around, became a championship rally driver and subsequently found a career as a television presenter. She credits her ‘Mental Toughness’ as the driver behind her journey away from destructive behaviour and into the life she wanted.  

But what does she mean by ‘mental toughness’? “Mental toughness is the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that might prevent you from succeeding or excelling at a task, objective or personal outcome that you set out to achieve,” Penny explains. “So, the better you’re able to manage stress and pressure, the more enjoyable and successful your life is likely to be.” Mentally tough people view challenges, difficulties and setbacks as opportunities and are often focused, relaxed and optimistic in the face of hard times. It is particularly relevant now, as we navigate a changed world, that we should try new ways of thinking that can help us find daily wins. To understand what it takes to be mentally tough, Penny has ‘4 Cs’ that create a pathway that is clear and achievable.

1) Take control

“Some people believe they have considerable influence over their personal and their working environment,” says Penny. “They believe they can make a massive difference and change everything. But others, of course, feel the outcome of some events is just out of their personal or professional control.” Change can make us feel out of control, but instead of focusing on the external factors that are making you feel that way, it’s better to try to understand your response to those factors instead. Just this simple shift in perspective can give you a greater sense of control and leave you feeling better able to cope with what life throws at you. This equally applies to emotional control – how affected you are by your own emotions and those of others. Mentally tough people have a clear vision of what needs to be done and tend not to let the way others feel influence them. “This is the growth mindset that we hear people talk about. Believing that anything is possible, always open to possibilities and that we can steer destiny and results the way we want them to go.”

A woman with short dark hair, wearing a beige suit jacket, white top and a brown beaded necklace. She stands in front of a bright red, yellow and orange background.
‘Mental Toughness’ expert, Penny Mallory has frequently pulled upon her inner resilience and growth mindset to help her through the hardest times in her life.

2) Are you committed?

“How likely are you to persist with a goal or a work task?” asks Penny. “People love to set goals and to reach them. They stay focused and don’t get distracted. But some people set goals and do absolutely nothing about them.” Sticking to a goal is key to mental toughness, but commitment is all or nothing – it’s not enough to set the intention, you must reach your goal. It sounds like a lot of hard work but setting a commitment can be as big or small as you want it to be. Penny often sets her clients a challenge to commit to taking a two-minute ice cold shower every day for seven days. Sound awful? She promises that it will test and develop resilience and discipline immediately. “The truth is that you can do absolutely anything for two or three minutes,” she explains. And therein lies the truth of it. Her challenge sounds impossible, but it’s just exposing yourself to a few minutes of controlled stress every day. “Building discipline and resilience is about doing things that require you to practice tolerating discomfort. In a few days, your body will adapt. Your stress response will fall.” So, what could you commit to 100% today?

3) Challenge yourself

What do challenges represent to you? Are you the kind of person who sees problems and difficulties? “A mentally tough person will consider every challenge, setback or problem they face as an opportunity,” say Penny. “They get excited at the prospect of turning a challenge into something really exciting.” Seeking out challenges is a natural kind of optimism – it’s about learning something new, trying out different skills and turning problems into advantages. “Things aren’t always going to go your way, but there is always something to be learnt from whatever happens to you. And taking those learning experiences from everything that happens can be the most important thing.”

It’s your mental toughness that will set you apart from the rest and it’s going to play a much bigger part than anything else in you achieving your goals.

4) Feel confident

“You can’t see it. You can’t hold it. You can’t photograph it. But you can sense it and you can feel it. And most of us want more of it.” Being confident can be tough and even the most seemingly successful people in the world can suffer from bouts of Imposter Syndrome. But confidence can be a really important factor in how people respond to you and your level of confidence in any situation can come across loud and clear in seconds. This in turn can affect trust and perception of your ability. While some level of self-doubt is normal, Penny has seen people’s confidence levels drop during the pandemic. However, she believes it is possible and important to reframe your thinking, which will increase self-belief and counteract doubt. “You can have confidence in your ability – ‘I believe I can. I don’t need anyone to tell me I can’, but it’s also important to develop interpersonal confidence – ‘I can influence others, I can ask questions, argue my corner, speak up and speak out’.”

So, why do some people win, and some people lose? “Because winners have a deep belief in their ability,” says Penny. “They’re confident, committed, courageous and feeling in control. They manage their emotions and the emotions of others. They see every setback or challenge as an opportunity. They embrace change as a chance to learn and grow. They are mentally tough. What could happen if you were to bounce back from these tough times? What would happen if you developed your mental toughness?”

Penny Mallory was one of many inspiring speakers who took part in Canon’s ‘Make It’ Pro-Print Festival, which ran from the 8th to 17th June 2021. However, there’s still time to register and enjoy the on-demand keynote speeches, demos and more.

Written by Mark Lawn

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