How to Become Mentally Tough at Work

By Nan Nan Liu-Maffetone | Strong Female Leaders | Reading Time: Five Minutes
Work can be stressful, especially for a knowledge worker like you. Among all of the things that you cannot control, including absurd deadlines, demanding team members, and gruelig workload, there is one thing that you can control, and it is becoming mentally tough. In today's article, you will gain an understanding of what it takes to be mentally tough at work.


Work can be stressful.
Especially for today's knowledge workers, who are continuously connected, often distracted, and constantly under pressure. Taking work home is the norm; yet still, you can barely keep up. There are many factors that are out of your control; however, there is one thing that you can control, and that is becoming mentally tough.
Lucky for you, mental toughness can be cultivated and built over time. It takes a while to fully grasp, so let's get started right away. Below are a few ways, including daily rituals and habits, on how to become mentally tough at work:
1. Concentrate on making improvements.
When projects go awry, emotions tend to boil. While most of your team members are feeling anxious, angry or confused, you have an opportunity to step up as a leader by helping everyone move forward. Instead of looking at everything that went wrong, how awful the consequences will be, or how upset you feel, focus on how to improve the situation. This may be difficult to do during high stakes situations, but if you have the mental toughness to focus on the positive, you can certainly push through the agony.
To prepare yourself to gracefully push through any ardous situation, each morning, make the choice to keep cool all day. Committing yourself to taking on a cool, collected and take-charge persona, first thing in the morning, sets the tone for the rest of the day. If it helps, stand in front of a mirror and look yourself in the eye. Then, say the words, "You are a leader. You will focus on making improvements. You are mentally tough." This ritual may sound strange, but it works, because saying those words crystalizes your commitment.
2. Find meaning during adversities.
The ability to find meaning during difficult times and emerge a stronger person says a lot about your character. In fact, great female leaders like Oprah Winfrey and Eleanor Roosevelt emerged during the most trying of experiences. Instead of giving up, they stood up to adversities by creating a narrative around the challenges, looking at the situation from an educational angle, and viewing obstacles as problems to solve.
Again, it is all about choice. Great leaders make the choice, the commitment, to interpret adverse experiences as opportunities. If you do the same, you will find that there is nothing you cannot conquer. So the next time you are faced with adversity, ask yourself, "how can I learn from this?"
3. Learn to be contextually intelligent.
Mental toughness is often known as the "survival of the fittest," which depends on your ability to adapt to difficult situations, by applying creativity to transcend adversity.
If you want to adapt well and do it quickly, you must learn to be contextually intelligent. Contextual intelligence is defined as "the ability to understand the limits of your knowledge and to adapt that knowledge to an environment different from the one in which it was developed." It requires exposing yourself to different environments and being open to new ideas.
An easy way to learn to be contetxtually intelligent is to ask questions, and with the intention to learn. Truly focus on the person's answer, and see things from his or her point of view. A little empathy and undersanding goes a long way. If you are open to new ideas, opinions and solutions, you not only develop contextual intelligence, you become a voice of reason.
4. Seek Feedback.
Feedback leads to concrete improvements. As you move further in your career and gain more influence, you will be exposed to more critiques. Why not start a habit of seeking for feedback early, so you can train yourself to accept criticism graciously.
Actively seeking feedback provides opportunities to learn and make improvements. So be proactive about it and truly listen to the underlying issues that frame the feedback. By the way, nonverbal cues such as body language and micro-expressions also count as feedback.
The more accepting you are to others' opinions, the tougher you become.
5. Shoot for small wins.
Mentally tough people understand the power of small wins. While they make ambitious goals, they achieve these goals by making marginal, systematic and incremental improvements. Shooting for small wins relieves the pressure of having to achieve overwhelming goals, and allows you to focus on specific and manageable advancements.
Each small improvement may feel insignificant; collectively, however, small improvements create powerful progress. Before you know it, you have already accomplished that big, overwhelming goal.
Parting Thoughts
To be mentally tough in the workplace, you need to both commit to and practice for it. When you feel frustrated, pressured and anxious, take a moment and revisit the points above. Focus on the positives and try to turn challenges into opportunities. Your ability to thrive from adversities can be your super power, with which you can use to strengthen yourself and everyone around you.

1) Build resilience with HBR's 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness


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