Summary : On Mental Toughness by Harvard Business Review

1. The main obstacle to achieving “the impossible” may be a self-limiting mind-set.

2. You can’t stay at the top if you aren’t comfortable in high-stress situations. Indeed, the ability to remain cool under fire is the one trait of elite performers that is most often thought of as inborn. But in fact you can learn to love the pressure—for driving you to perform better than you ever thought you could. To do that, however, you have to first make a choice to devote yourself passionately to self-improvement.

3. People who are as self-motivated as Jack or Darren Clarke rarely indulge in self-flagellation. That’s not to say that elite performers aren’t hard on themselves; they would not have gotten so far without being hard on themselves. But when things go awry, business and sports superstars dust themselves off and move on.

4. Much of star athletes’ ability to rebound from defeat comes from an intense focus on long-term goals and aspirations.

5. The trick here is to meticulously plan short-term goals so that performance will peak at major, rather than minor, events.

6. Use the Competition - It’s common in track-and-field sports for two elite athletes from different countries to train together.

7. If you hope to make it to the very top, like Murray, you too will need to make sure you “train” with the people who will push you the hardest.

8. Smart companies consciously create situations in which their elite performers push one another to levels they would never reach if they were working with less-accomplished colleagues. Talent development programs that bring together a company’s stars for intensive training often serve precisely such a purpose. If you want to become a world-class executive, getting into such a program should be one of your first goals.

9. Shotton had an insatiable appetite for feedback—a quality I have seen in all the top business performers I have worked with. They have a particularly strong need for instant, in the moment feedback.

10. Celebrate the Victories - Elite performers know how to party—indeed, they put almost as much effort into their celebrations as they do into their accomplishments.

11.  I once worked with a professional golfer who, as he worked his way up the ranks to the top of his sport, would reward himself with something he had prized as a young player—an expensive watch, a fancy car, a new home. These were reminders of his achievements and symbolized to him the hard work, commitment, and dedication he had put into golf for so many years.

12. Indeed, our recent research has led us to conclude that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances.

13. In the late 1960s I was part of the team that discovered “learned helplessness.” We found that dogs, rats, mice, and even cockroaches that experienced mildly painful shock over which they had no control would eventually just accept it, with no attempt to escape. It was next shown that human beings do the same thing.

14. Strangely, however, about a third of the animals and people who experience inescapable shocks or noise never become helpless. What is it about them that makes this so? Over 15 years of study, my colleagues and I discovered that the answer is optimism.

15. We discovered that people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable. (“It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.”)

16. That suggested how we might immunize people against learned helplessness, against depression and anxiety, and against giving up after failure: by teaching them to think like optimists.

17. In the living laboratory of sports, we learned that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, which, paradoxical as it may seem, is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.

18. Body language also influences emotions. In one well-known experiment, actors were asked to portray anger and then were subjected to numerous physiological tests, including heart rate, blood pressure, core temperature, galvanic skin response, and hormone levels. Next, the actors were exposed to a situation that made them genuinely angry, and the same measurements were taken. There were virtually no differences in the two profiles. Effective acting produces precisely the same physiology that real emotions do.

19. All great athletes understand this instinctively. If they carry themselves confidently, they will eventually start to feel confident, even in highly stressful situations.

20. That’s why we train our corporate clients to “act as if”—consciously creating the look on the outside that they want to feel on the inside. “You are what you repeatedly do,” said Aristotle. “Excellence is not a singular act but a habit.”

21. We have found that individuals who adopt a “stress is enhancing” mind-set in their lives show greater work performance and fewer negative health symptoms than those who adopt a “stress-is-debilitating” lens.

22. We’ve identified four lenses through which managers can view adverse events to make this shift effectively.

23. Control. When a crisis hits, do you look for what you can improve now rather than trying to identify all the factors—even those beyond your control—that caused it in the first place? 

24. Impact. Can you sidestep the temptation to find the origins of the problem in yourself or others and focus instead on identifying what positive effects your personal actions might have? 

25. Breadth. Do you assume that the underlying cause of the crisis is specific and can be contained, or do you worry that it might cast a long shadow over all aspects of your life? 

26. Duration. How long do you believe that the crisis and its repercussions will last?

27. The first two lenses characterize an individual’s personal reaction to adversity, and the second two capture his or her impressions of the adversity’s magnitude.

28. Control Questions : 

  • Specifying: What aspects of the situation can I directly influence to change the course of this adverse event? 
  • Visualizing: What would the manager I most admire do in this situation? 
  • Collaborating: Who on my team can help me, and what’s the best way to engage that person or those people?

29. Impact Questions:

  • Specifying: How can I step up to make the most immediate, positive impact on this situation? 
  • Visualizing: What positive effect might my efforts have on those around me? 
  • Collaborating: How can I mobilize the efforts of those who are hanging back?

30. Breath Questions:

  • Specifying: What can I do to reduce the potential downside of this adverse event—by even 10%? What can I do to maximize the potential upside—by even 10%? 
  • Visualizing: What strengths and resources will my team and I develop by addressing this event?
  • Collaborating: What can each of us do on our own, and what can we do collectively, to contain the damage and transform the situation into an opportunity?

31. Duration Question:

  • Visualizing: What do I want life to look like on the other side of this adversity? 
  • Specifying: What can I do in the next few minutes, or hours, to move in that direction? 
  • Collaborating: What sequence of steps can we put together as a team, and what processes can we develop and adopt, to see us through to the other side of this hardship?

32. You won’t become more resilient simply because you’ve read this far and have made a mental note to pull out these questions the next time a destabilizing difficulty strikes. To strengthen your capacity for resilience, you need to internalize the questions by following two simple precepts:

33. Various studies on stress and coping with trauma demonstrate that the act of writing about difficult episodes can enhance an individual’s emotional and physical well-being. Indeed, writing offers people command over an adverse situation in a way that merely thinking about it does not. It’s best to treat the resilience regimen as a timed exercise: Give yourself at least 15 minutes, uninterrupted, to write down your responses to the 12 questions.

34. When you’re learning any new skill, repetition is critical. The resilience regimen is a long-term fitness plan, not a crash diet. You must ask and answer these questions daily if they are to become second nature.