The 3 Components of Mental Toughness

posted on: October 21, 2016
author: Brian Lomax

stencil-default-26In recent days, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Mental Toughness and what it is and why we struggle with it. I have concluded that there are 3 high level components to Mental Toughness, and athletes need to be proficient in all 3 if they are to realize their best performances on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, most of us are deficient in one or more of these. The 3 components are Philosophy, Character Traits, and Actions.

While considering Mental Toughness, you probably relate more to Character Traits and Actions as that’s what we can see (actions are based on one’s character traits). However, one’s Philosophy on competition, adversity, challenges, etc. is also important and this is where athletes normally are weakest. Let’s dive into these 3 components to understand them better


The term Philosophy probably prompts you to think of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or Confucius and Lao-Tzu. Perhaps it reminds you of a boring class you took in high school or college. Whatever it is, you are probably not excited about this subject (kudos to you if you are!). What do these philosophers and other great thinkers have to do with mental toughness and being a great competitor? Quite a lot actually.

Philosophy helps us create a mental model of our world which we use to determine what is important and what isn’t. From that, we develop mindsets and perspectives that allow us to develop the necessary character traits and actions that we need to become our best.

An example: From Stoicism, we learn that obstacles are actually the path to improvement rather than something to be avoided. Obstacles and adversity challenge us and therefore force us to be better if we are to be successful. If we adopt that philosophy, we can change our viewpoint on adversity and therefore handle it better in the future. Perhaps we even learn to embrace it. Putting this philosophy into action in competition enables us to face adversity in a calm and confident manner. It’s normal. It’s expected. It’s what we need in order to be better. Powerful stuff!

That is simply one example. There are literally dozens more that we can apply to competition and life that would enable us to develop our optimal character and optimal actions. Make a commitment to developing your philosophy and you will see improvements in your performance in all areas. Here are some books to get you started on your journey as a philosopher:

The Four Agreements

The Greatest Salesman in the World


The Obstacle is the Way

Character Traits

When thinking of Character Traits, I believe it’s helpful to separate them into 2 categories: Ethical and Individual. Ethical traits represent how we treat and relate to others. Examples are integrity, respect, fairness, gratitude, and honesty. Individual traits represent how you relate to yourself and examples include focus, discipline, creativity, confidence, persistence, resilience, love of learning, ambition, etc. Of course, there are many more examples in both categories and it’s important to consider which character traits you want/need to develop in order to be a great competitor. Can you see how developing a Philosophy on competition could help you improve your definition of these character traits? The character trait of Resilience is directly related to the example in the Philosophy section above. It’s much easier to be resilient if you view adversity as a normal and necessary component of improvement rather than something to disdain.

As human beings, we all have strengths and weaknesses and that applies to character traits as well. To discover your character strengths, visit and take the free VIA Survey. Once you have your results, look for ways to use those strengths on a regular basis in competition and in your life. Maximizing strengths is a great way to take yourself to the next level.

Actions & Behaviors

The third piece of the Mental Toughness puzzle is where the magic happens: Action. Your philosophy and character go nowhere if there is no action. In order for action to be effective, it must be both intentional and with purpose. As human beings, we’re taking “action” all day long, but does every action have a purpose? Are we acting with intention? This is the basic difference between activity and accomplishment.

In my work with students, I train them on the “actions of mental toughness.” These are the actions that mentally tough athletes do in practice and competition regardless of how they feel. They also do them regardless of whether their competition is doing them or not. Examples are bouncing up and down, shaking out your arms to remove tension, breathing mindfully, having set routines, walking with confidence, etc. These actions need to be trained with the same diligence as the technical aspects of sport. Their purpose is to help your mind and body function better together which will help you to perform well on a more consistent basis. It’s amazing what you can do when your mind is clear, your muscles are loose, and you feel confident and in control. Contrast that with how you feel when you compete. There is probably a difference, or you may not even be aware of your mind and body.

Of course, there are actions outside of competition and practice that can assist with overall performance, and this is why we study the process of performance. Making incremental improvements in different areas of the process will add up to big impacts in competition. For example, committing to 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night will have an impact on the quality of your days. Changes don’t have to be huge, but they need to be consistent. Think of some small changes you could make in your life that would have an effect on how you compete.

As you continue on your competitive journey, use the 3 components of mental toughness as a framework to make changes and improvements. The solutions to all of the performance barriers that we have are within these 3 components. For example, if you are struggling with nerves:

  • Examine your philosophy/perspective on what you are getting nervous about
  • Determine the character traits needed to succeed in this situation
  • Commit to taking action that will be based on the first 2 components

This 3-step formula can help you overcome any barrier in your competitive career and make you the great competitor that you want to be.

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About the Author

Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.

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