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Developing mental toughness

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A positive mental attitude can reduce pressure and help you achieve your goals.

Pressure is an inherent part of modern life. In a profession where an “off day” can seriously affect a patient’s health, nurses know this pressure more than most. To thrive under pressure, rather than let it debilitate you, you must develop mental toughness.

Research shows mental toughness is the capacity to respond positively to multiple, and sometimes conflicting, pressures to consistently deliver high levels of performance. It is underpinned by four core skills: handling pressure; self belief; motivation and focus.

Identifying what is and isn’t within your control is key. Mentally tough performers accept there are factors in their performance environment they cannot influence, identify what they are, then focus on things they can control. So, you may not be able to control how many patients are on the ward when you start your shift, but you can control your attitude and emotional state towards it.

How you can become mentally tough

● Assess how you handle pressure. Think about what you can do to help yourself when in stressful situations

● What skills and successes have led you to where you are today? Remember these, and draw on them whenever you’re under pressure

● You started a career in the healthcare sector because you wanted to help people. Use this motivation every day

● Focus on your strengths and your goals rather than past failures

Keep any symptoms of stress, both behavioural and physical, under control by identifying factors that exacerbate stressful situations. Strategies such as getting plenty of sleep, eating properly and taking time out to collect your thoughts can have a demonstrable impact on performance.

It is important to identify and believe in your skills. There are reasons you have achieved what you have, which often get overlooked in tough times. Highlight evidence of professional and personal success, as well as successful relationships you have created and adversities you have overcome. Listing both tangible and intangible achievements can provide the building blocks to self belief.

Be passionate about your goals and believe you can achieve them. Goals that motivate you to achieve your expectations are vital but it’s also important to focus on the process that underpins the outcome - focusing just on the outcome adds pressure. Where do you ultimately want to get to in your career, and what little steps can you make every day that can lead to that?

Make your motivation work for you. Mentally tough people are energised by what they do, not desperate to succeed and scared of failure. Extrinsic motivation, such as pay and reward, is unquestionably a source of motivation for many, but internal motivation and working for an inherent satisfaction leads to more enjoyment and, consequently, less pressure.

If external distractions are not enough to disrupt focus, internal ones lurk menacingly. Thoughts of past failures and doubts about achieving goals are negative and can hinder your performance. Focusing on your past achievements and personal strengths will help you realise your potential.

Mark Richardson is a senior consultant at Lane4. Working in partnership with clients, he delivers development programmes to teams and leaders as a key part of organisational engagement and performance strategies.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think it is important to distinguish between mental toughness and mental strength . . .

    I look to Amy Morin LCSW as the authority in mental strength who authored "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do".

    She defines mental strength as:

    "Mentally strong people have healthy habits. They manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that set them up for success in life."

    It seems to me that mental strength might be a better term for this article.

    I was fortunate to interview Amy on my podcast and we discussed the importance of mental strength for nurses:

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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