Mental Toughness: What It Is and Why It’s So Important

Bob KnightPretty much everything I write about on this site is focused on building mental toughness. That’s because the older I get and the more studies I read, the more convinced I am that your success and happiness in life is ultimately determined by how mentally tough you are.

But what exactly is “mental toughness”? We hear the phrase often, but is it anything more than a buzzword used by coaches, athletes, entrepreneurs, and military leaders? Does focusing our time and energy on building mental toughness really pay off?

The value of mental toughness can best be summed up by legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, who once said: “Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one.”

That’s how important it is to be mentally tough.

EVERYTHING follows your mindset. And mental toughness is the ability to make your mindset work FOR you instead of against you. Most people have no idea how much their own mindset is working against them.

I recently came across this data from Pat Williams, the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic…


Several years ago, I came across some eye-opening statistics that I jotted down and saved. They came from a study on how the mind thinks. It pointed out that we average 60,000 thoughts a day. Of those thoughts, 40 percent focus on the future and 99 percent of those thoughts dwell on worrying about future concerns that never happen.

The study also found that some 30 percent of the thoughts are about the past, which we can’t change or do anything about. Another 12 percent are thoughts filled with doubt, and an additional 10 percent are worries about our health.

In other words, the study found that 92 percent of our thoughts are not pictures of our reality.

Ninety-two percent.

That left only 8 percent of our thoughts about things that were really happening. Those are staggering statistics, and it should tell us something.

When we waste our thoughts like that, we waste our time. And if we’re not careful, we can waste our lives.


– Pat Williams, from his book Extreme Winning

When you realize that, for the average person, more than nine out of every 10 thoughts are either complete wastes of time (at best) or negative thoughts that are hurting your career, your loved ones, and your health (at worst), you realize just how important it is to make building mental toughness a priority in your life.

You don’t become mentally tough by accident. You have to make a concerted effort to control your self-talk and overall outlook.

You must make it a priority to plan for and visualize positive future outcomes. You must eliminate pointless worries and focus on your Responses instead of the Events you have no control over. You must recognize that your attitude is a choice; it drives everything you do and how well you do it.

Once someone starts paying close attention to their own self-talk, they’re usually astonished by how negative it is. They tell themselves they’re not good enough, that everything is going to end up badly, that the world is out to get them. They tell themselves to quit and look for an easy way out. They focus on all the reasons they can’t do something instead of all the reasons they can. They talk to themselves the way they’d NEVER talk to a friend—or even an enemy, for that matter.

It takes discipline and effort to change this negative mindset. It isn’t easy. As the statistics in the above study show, more than 90 percent of our thoughts are the opposite of what we want them to be. Fighting against that trend requires toughness. Mental toughness.

That’s what mental toughness is all about and that’s why it’s so important that you make it a priority in your life.

You can’t passively allow your mind to talk to you the way the outside world has “programmed” it to. By the time you’re an adult, your mind has been conditioned to talk to you way too negatively. You have to reverse this. You have to take charge and take ownership of your mindset.

It requires courage, discipline, and continuous effort, but building mental toughness is worth the effort.

Take mental toughness seriously. It’s not just a popular self-improvement phrase. It’s essential to a happy and successful life.