10 Tips to Improve Mental Toughness

Getting Your Head In The Right Place

So you work in a creative industry. You are neither a warrior nor an athlete. Yet, your ability to survive and advance often hinges on adaptation and perseverance. They require guts/moxie/vigor/fortitude/mettle/spunk/grit/pluck/hardihood/backbone and several other descriptive synonyms of  “mental toughness”.

Woody Allen said “90% of success is just showing up”.  If that’s true, the other 10% hinges on mental toughness. Anyone can be mentally tough. Certain challenges require extreme mental toughness, while others simply require that we stay out of our own way and perform. Let’s confront the former: the tough challenge, the big pitch, the presentation where the account is on the line; or away from business, in a competitive golf or tennis match.

These tips apply, use them at your own risk:

1. Stay In the Present — You’re only as good as your last win and you’re only as bad as your last loss. But what does NOW require? The future is a seductive temptress, but it distorts the task at hand. Now and what you are doing now supersedes all.

2. Trust Your Talent — It’s all you really have. It transcends your relationships, money, power, and tactics. You can only control one thing: your mind. If you don’t believe in your talent, your skill, your ability to do something when it counts — then you should do something else.

3. Don’t Beat Yourself Up — This tip is related to #1 but extends the thought. Learn to let things go (bad things especially). It’s not life and death. It’s not cancer survival. It’s advertising, tennis, golf, or whatever. Small failures should embolden you and make you more determined.

4. Maintain Unwavering Faith — Borrowing from “Good to Great” — reject cynicism.  Think good thoughts. Visualize success in the moment. Accept the bad breaks, there are more bad breaks than good breaks — they don’t “even out”. You cannot fail if you do your best.

5. Love the Process — Be ritualistic. Have a routine. Stick to it. Stop worrying about results. Love the process. Love to compete. Creativity is rumored to be the opposite of routine — it’s a bad rumor. Accept victory and defeat with equal dignity.

6. Be Yourself — To be yourself, you have to know yourself. Get to know yourself better. The best way to do this is to put yourself in unfamiliar situations. Don’t accept in victory what you would not accept in defeat. If you’re going down, go down as the person/player you are. Don’t try to be someone else — or what others want us to be.

7. Overcome Fear of Failure — Yes, fear is the mortal enemy of creativity (thanks Alex). It’s actually the mortal enemy of everything. Most psychiatric disorders and dilemmas are grounded in FEAR. There are literally hundreds of phobias — they all begin with “fear of…”. So how does one overcome fear?  Let go of all the stuff you can’t control (your opponents, public opinion, your relationships).  Stop trying to control EVERYTHING ELSE and start controlling the one thing that you can control: YOUR MIND!

8. Practice “Up” — Whenever possible, upgrade your competition in practice. This will elevate your level of play when it really counts. Hold your work up to higher standards. Get better every day. False confidence is nearly as dangerous as fear of failure.

9. Be Patient — Sometimes it’s best not to force the action, let the challenge come to you. Never panic. Wait for your opponent to panic, then pounce.

10. Find Someone That Believes In You — We all need a coach, a mentor, a partner in whom we trust with our goals and fears, a confessor, a counselor. Someone who can challenge us to be our best, or pick us up when we are down, or remind us not to sulk or whine, or just say nothing and support us with quiet confidence. Find them, they will help make you mentally tougher.


About the author: Mike Palma

Mike Palma

In 2006, Mike launched The Palma Group as a hybrid ad agency headhunting/rainmaking firm which made for big news: Ex-BBDO Atlanta Exec Opens Palma Group. He has helped deliver hundreds of accounts and talented people to clients since.

This article was first published by Mike Palma

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