Mentally Tough vs. Optimistic

Mental toughness is something that is very near and dear to me.  I often speak of its value and the importance of practicing it as we continue to build our character.  I recently had my perspective twisted by some very impressive people however. I found that what I currently practice as well as preach may be a little off base. As a result, I need to share it here as I continue to reflect on how I can personally improve in this area.


I always viewed mental toughness as the ability to push past hardship that I may encounter along the way.  I took it as a manner in which I was able to steel myself against failure so that I could learn and continue on to success.  While I believe this is still clearly an important aspect of this trait, I heard a podcast today that made me reexamine the core of this belief and expand my perception for a more complete understanding of mental toughness.

Bob Burg‘s podcast, The Go-Giver, had on LaRae Quy on as a guest.  She is a former counter-intelligence agent for the FBI, prolific blogger and speaker, and has authored multiple books on the subject of leadership and mental toughness.  If you have never checked out either of these individuals you are selling yourself short. In short, LaRae Quy explains that mental toughness has to do with the ability to manage your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that set you up for greater levels of success in any situation.  She goes on to explain that there is a difference between optimists and positive thinkers. Simplified by me, LaRae Quy defines this as the idea that optimists believe that everything will get better while positive thinkers set a plan to make things better. They acknowledge how things are and then act to make them better.

never give up

I combine this information with my current beliefs to come to the following:

Success lies in front of everyone.  All they have to do is reach out and take it.  This may be more difficult for some than others based on a varity of circumstances, but the fact remains; mental toughness gives you the fortitude to withstand failure, come to an authentic acknowledgement of your current situation, and formulate and act on a plan to find success regardless.  The following quote has always been close to me and now seems more fitting than ever.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

–Theodore Roosevelt

As the leader of a school I continuously strive for action, improvement, and a better overall school environment regardless of the opposition I face.  I ask the staff in our building to continue to improve at what they do everyday. Most importantly we all ask students to continue making attempts at new knowledge, experiences, and becoming a better version of themselves regardless of how many times they fail.  To accomplish this, we must always remember to enter “the arena” we call school with a clear goal, strong character, and unwillingness to quit in the face of defeat. We all must remember to exhibit that mental toughness that allows or even pushes us forward to action in the face of obstacles and hardship.  While we can not all be guaranteed victory at every attempt, we can grow stronger with every experience. We all owe it to ourselves to never want to be one of those individuals Roosevelt refers to as, “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


In short I ask myself and those around me to be mentally tough, to push through difficulties and overcome the obstacles in their path.  I ask people to take action to improve their circumstances rather than waiting out the storm.

How do you develop and show your mental toughness?  How do you act in the face of adversity? Let me know by adding to the comments or reaching out via Twitter.

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