Mental Toughness

by Doug Strycharczyk

Measures of Mental Toughness

You can make informal assessments of someone’s Mental Toughness by observing them. This is clearly a subjective approach, since the observed behaviours will be filtered by the observer, according to their own standards. There is also a formal questionnaire approach, which is mentioned below.

Informal measures

Mental Toughness is a quality which impacts on

  • Performance
  • Behaviour
  • The ability to learn
  • Well-being.

Where you see individuals change in any of these areas, then their level of Mental Toughness could be a contributing factor.

Typical behaviours associated with high and low Mental Toughness are described in the table below.

MT Component People with low MT People with high MT

  • Low self worth
  • Poor time management and organisation
  • Unable to do more than one thing at a time
  • High feeling of self worth
  • Very good at handling lots of things at the same time
  • Good at time management

However, sometimes these people can take over and will do things that should and could be delegated. 

  • Avoid challenge, change and variety
  • Don’t respond well to shocks
  • Often fear failure
  • Avoid making an effort – it’s not worth it
  • Respond very well to challenge and to change
  • Provoke change and variety
  • Prepared to take risks

However, sometimes these people will generate too much change and variety – the classic initiative overload.

  • Intimidated by goals and targets
  • Give up easily
  • Won’t do something if it looks hard
  • Easily distracted from key activities
  • Motivated by goals and targets
  • Only need to know what the goal is to get going
  • Very focused

However, sometimes these people will manage by numbers – they will tell others what to do, but not how to do it.

  • Give up when the going gets tough
  • Won’t do something if it looks hard or difficult
  • Poor at expressing themselves – will often sit quietly even though they could be making a contribution
  • Less tenacious, even with ordinary activities
  • Setbacks make them more determined to succeed
  • Keep going
  • Assert themselves  and express their ideas Have a strong sense of self belief
  • Stick at things until they are achieved

However, sometimes these people can be intolerant of others who are not as positive or gung-ho as they are – and show it! This can sometimes emerge as bullying behaviour.

The above are indicators that you can apply to others and to yourself.


Behaviours associated with high Mental Toughness can be associated with problems and issues – most often in the way the individual who is highly mentally tough impacts on others. There is often valuable insight to be gained and development required for individuals at all levels of Mental Toughness.

Formal measures

There is a psychometric measure of Mental Toughness – now available as a commercial measure – MTQ48 (see Want to know more?). This is a 48-item normative measure which identifies an individual’s score vis-à-vis a normal working population in terms of the four components (and the subscales) of Mental Toughness. This is important because it benchmarks an individual’s Mental Toughness. On the basis of the completed questionnaire, three reports are generated:

  • A development report – providing the individual’s scores, an explanation of what those scores might mean and between four and eight development suggestions for the individual to consider if the need to develop Mental Toughness is felt.
  • A coaching report – a mirror to the above report, it provides the individual’s scores, an explanation as to what those scores might mean and between four and eight coaching suggestions for the manager or coach to consider when helping the individual develop Mental Toughness.
  • An assessment report – completing the portfolio of reports, this provides the individual’s scores, an explanation as to what those scores might mean and between six and ten behavioural interview questions to enable a manager or coach to probe an individual’s scores. This has applications for recruitment as well as coaching, counselling and people management.

It is useful to note that Mental Toughness is now understood to be a personality trait, and that MTQ48 is a trait measure. Nevertheless, an individual’s Mental Toughness can vary over quite short periods of time as they have different experiences. It is now better understood that traits are not necessarily as fixed as one thought. Major setbacks, such as bereavement, loss of job, sustained exposure to stressors and so on, can influence Mental Toughness significantly over the short term. Research shows that this is particularly true of the confidence scales.

Mental Toughness measures can be very effective, therefore, in identifying why and how sudden changes in performance come about (and in many cases what can be done about it).

The upside is this: if Mental Toughness can diminish because of circumstances, it can also be developed with suitable interventions.