In these times more than any other a leader needs to be mentally tough enough to withstand the stress and pressure that comes from all directions to test our resolve and positivity.

Whilst I practise and endorse the Clough and Strycharczyk 4C’s mental toughness framework I enjoy reading and reflecting on how others define and experience mental toughness .

In this post below Steve Leonard, a former senior US military strategist and now a career writer and speaker ,reflects on his early experiences with resilience .

In a weathered file folder tucked away on a closet shelf in my office, there are three well-worn pieces of paper. The edges are threadbare, about what you’d expect considering they’re 44 years old. I’ve read them so many times over the years that the words are burned into my memory. In their lifetime, they’ve been tacked to walls, taped on whiteboards, and used as bookmarks. Those three pieces of paper changed my life.


In the summer of 1976, when the rest of the country was focused on celebrating the bicentennial, I was humming “Afternoon Delight” and honing my meagre basketball skills at George Raveling’s camp at Washington State University. During my time at Cougar Cage Camp, my game definitely improved. We played at least three full scrimmages each day, with drills in between focused on individual skill development. But it was the session with Coach on the last day of camp that left the most enduring impression.


When Coach Raveling spoke to us, the subject wasn’t basketball. Instead, he talked about life. He was a contemporary of the legendary John Wooden and had a remarkably similar philosophy – he considered himself an educator first, a coach second. He was the first black basketball coach in what was then the PAC-8 conference. He was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day he told the world “I Have a Dream” and kept an original copy of the speech. He was a prolific reader and was widely known to give away as many books as he read.


On that summer day in 1976, Coach handed out three pieces of coloured paper. On one, President Calvin Coolidge stoked the virtues of persistence with “Press On.” On another, poet Walter Wintle evoked the spirit of positivity with “Thinking.” On the third, writer Elbert Hubbard invoked the necessity of loyalty to effective teamwork. That summer, I learned the meaning of resilience. I learned what it meant to be mentally tough. And I carried those lessons with me everywhere I went from the day Coach Raveling handed me those three pieces of paper.


1.     Believe in yourself. Confidence is a state of mind. It’s more than daily affirmations; it’s mentally committing to a path and trusting that you have the ability to complete the journey. The mental toughness that grows from your confidence will set you apart from others and inspire your followers.

2.     Embrace failure. No matter how confident you are, you’re still going to make mistakes. From time to time, you’re even going to fail. But failure is just part of the journey. Mental toughness grows from your ability to learn from your mistakes and overcome your failures. Greatness comes from your willingness to embrace failure and wisdom you gain from experience.

3.     Never quit. The first sentence of Coolidge’s “Press On” is echoed through popular witticisms such as “when the going get tough, the tough get going,” and “keep your nose to the grindstone.” Life is like a game of Australian Rules football; mental toughness is what gets you through a game of footy. And persistence and determination are the cornerstones of mental toughness.

4.     Maintain an even strain. Admittedly, this is one of my favourite lines from “The Right Stuff.” But it also defines how important controlling your emotions is to maintaining focus, determination, and mental toughness. That doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by your emotions; it means that you don’t allow those emotions to control how you respond to a situation or how you make decisions.

5.     Shut down the haters. “Haters gonna hate.” There’s nothing you can do to stop your detractors from trying to tear you down, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them. When confronting an especially toxic individual, do so rationally and calmly. Don’t let them get the better of you. Lean on facts and logic rather than passion. Part of being mentally tough is knowing when to walk away from your detractors.

6.     Just say “no.” Too many times, we say “yes” when we know inside that we should say “no.” Someone wants your help on a project. An overwhelmed coworker asks you to do something you don’t have time for. A friend thinks it would be great if you volunteered with them. Your first impulse is usually to say “yes.” But, taking on more than you have time for only leads to stress and burnout, while putting the things you should be doing at risk. It isn’t personal. Just say “no.” You’ll be happier in the end.

7.     Stay flexible. Helmuth von Moltke is often quoted for saying, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” While that isn’t exactly what he said, the idea is sound – few things work out exactly as planned, so you need to remain flexible. Change is going to happen, whether you want it to or not. Deal with it. Embracing change is a core principle of mental toughness. If you plan for it, you’ll find that life tends to go a lot smoother for you.

8.      Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is essence of Stoicism – differentiating between what you can and cannot control in life and learning to let go of those things over which you have no influence. In Epictetus’s Discourses, he states, “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” Focus on what you can control, where you can make positive change, and avoid yelling at clouds.

9.     Take care of yourself. The Performance Triad is one of the simplest ways to improve your physical and mental well-being. Get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a well-balanced diet. It’s not rocket science. I like to eat Five Guys as much as the next person, but before I do, I’m going to earn some sweat equity on the treadmill. Taking care of yourself isn’t difficult. Just do it.

10.        Always look at the bright side. I am a firm believer that there really is a silver lining in every cloud. Sometimes, it just takes a while to find it. That kind of perpetual optimism has allowed me to stay mentally tough even in the worst of times. It is so ingrained in my personality that bad news rarely flusters me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel stress or even get a little depressed when things don’t go my way. Instead, I see temporary setbacks as that – temporary. I know from experience that keeping a positive outlook allows me to work through the hard times while waiting for the bright side to arrive.

For access to Steve’s original post click here

Paul Lyons is an experienced CEO and master mental toughness practitioner throughout Australia and Asia Pacific. For more information please contact Paul on +61 419 224 875 or via or learn more about mental toughness at

Thanks to Marivi Pazos for sharing their work on Unsplash.