Mental Toughness, Leadership and the Long Distance Runner

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In the first of a series of articles relating to Mental Toughness, Jason Skelton of AQR Coaching gives an overview of the principles of Mental Toughness and how they help to distinguish between those who achieve success and those who fall short, those who out-perform their perceived potential and those who fail to fulfil it.  Future articles will go into more detail on the individual components of Mental Toughness and how they contribute to superior performance.

Mental Toughness is often referenced when describing successful sportspeople but it is also often confused with resilience or vaguer terms such as determination, willpower or character. At least there is recognition that the mental side of things is a major differentiator in elite level sport and increasingly, it is acknowledged that mentally strong people tend to be over-represented at the top levels of business.

One of the key differences with Mental Toughness compared with willpower or character, is that it is measurable and can be increased, to drive increased performance. There are 4 key components to overall Mental Toughness, known as the 4 Cs of Mental Toughness:

Challenge

Commitment

Control (incorporating emotional control and life control)

Confidence (incorporating confidence in abilities and interpersonal confidence)

So how do these relate to endurance running and in turn, leadership? Well, let’s start by describing these terms to illustrate the similarities, and then I’ll give a personal example of how Mental Toughness helped me in my toughest challenge to date…

Long distance running: hour after hour of potentially unrelenting pain, an often solitary experience, with opportunities to give up every step of the way

Leadership: day after day of unrelenting responsibility, often in very challenging circumstances and often accompanied by a sense of loneliness or isolation, particularly at the very top.

To succeed at both, it’s clear that you will need resilience, which we can think of as an ability to cope with all the bumps in the road, the setbacks that you will invariably face, the pain or stress of the journey.  But this is a rather passive and reactive state – things happen to you, rather than you making them happen – and it is rare to find either a runner or a leader that hasn’t gone looking for their particular challenge.  So, we can start to infer that mentally tough people actively seek out challenges to test themselves in difficult situations.

Furthermore, they are happy to take on such challenges – in fact, they get a real buzz out of them – as they have an unshakeable belief in their ability to overcome whatever obstacles are
put in their way – they have confidence in their ability to perform and to succeed.  Having this confidence also allows them to have the necessary commitment to see things through – they commit to making it to the finish (of the race, the project etc) without getting discouraged and giving up, almost irrespective of the pain or sacrifices required.

When the going gets tough, mentally tough people remind themselves that they set the agenda, that they have actively put themselves in this situation and that they’re not passive “victims of circumstance.”  They exhibit high levels of life control and take responsibility for their situation and their actions.

All of the above can be applied equally to business leaders and to endurance athletes and we work with CEOs, MDs and board level directors to improve their effectiveness and the performance of their people and businesses, through the application of the Mental Toughness techniques.

What about Mental Toughness and how it helped me recently? Well, I’ve just finished my first ultra-marathon, running 100km non-stop at the iconic Race to the Stones, completing it in a very respectable 14 hours and 15 minutes.  Given that the furthest race I’d previously entered was a half marathon (21.1km), and I only entered with 8 days notice, it was only my high levels of mental toughness – particularly challenge, commitment, confidence in my abilities and life control – that enabled me to deliver a good performance.  My darkest time came around 80km when my legs had basically gone and I had to dig deep to summon the energy and strength to keep going and actually accelerate towards the finish.  I am convinced that my understanding of Mental Toughness and my work in developing it over recent years made the difference between me and better, stronger runners who underperformed or pulled out.

Mental Toughness does really make a difference to performance and if you’d like to find out how it can help you and your business, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

AQR Coaching: Pete Wortley / Jason Skelton

08443 577 350

www.aqrcoaching.co.uk  / @aqrcoaching