February 8, 2018
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you need to develop and practice mental toughness to last the long haul
Everyone faces problems at work; and sometimes they can seem so insurmountable that carrying on doesn’t seem worth it anymore. But the single most important difference that separates those who soldier on and the ones who cave and quit is how mentally tough the person is. We’re not, for a minute, suggesting that no matter what you’re going through, you need to carry on of course there are situations when you absolutely should cut your losses and burn some bridges, if you must. All we’re saying is, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you need to develop and practice mental toughness to last the long haul. Here’s how you do it.
Ask yourself, what it is that you’re working for? If you don’t have a clear, concise answer, it’s time to invest yourself in finding out. Finding your purpose, or goal, might sound altruistic, but it doesn’t have to be. A friend I recently met admitted that she’s been ‘content’ in a dead-end job with an awful boss only because she never let herself forget her end-goal – buying a house. Your goal could be anything – from career progression, to making a difference to the world. But having one is the only way to decide whether you’re giving up on something because you’re fed up of the problems or it isn’t taking you in the direction you want your life to go in. Even if you ultimately decide to throw in the towel at work, at least you’ll know you did it for the right reasons.
Decide your standards, then uphold them
When you’re facing trouble at work, or feeling dissatisfied with the way your career is shaping up, it’s natural to develop a sense of indifference towards your work. It’s easy to hold yourself to a high standard when you’re happy and fulfilled, but you will develop mental toughness by striving to define and maintain your standards even when tough times strike. When everything seems to be going against you, the ability to uphold high standards will help you hold your head high.
Have a moral compass
What is it that you stand for? What do you believe in? Your beliefs, when translated into action, define the person that you are and you will know instinctively the direction and the path you need to take, when things get tough. It’s easy to get lost, confused and muddled when you stand for nothing and are willing to take the path of least resistance. Don’t be the person who can be steered into any direction easily.
Know that you can’t control everything
True mental strength is in knowing and accepting that no matter how on top of things you are, not everything can be controlled. At each step of the ladder, you will have to relinquish some control – both to people above and below you – just so you can focus on what’s really important (your goals, standards and moral compass) and avoid petty, pointless conflicts and the need to show up those around you.
Be ready for change
It might sound like a cliché, but change really is the only constant in life. Being mentally strong, with a strong moral compass and defined goals does not mean you don’t allow yourself to grow and change – that only makes you rigid, not strong. True mental resilience is in battling your need to hold on to a belief system or a behaviour pattern that you know you or the environment you’re operating in, has outgrown.
Learn to distance your emotions from your problems
This is possibly the toughest part of mental toughness – the ability to remain emotionally stable while problems surround you at work. And unfortunately, the only way to learn this is by constantly trying. Take heart in the fact that this is something almost everyone struggles with, some just have to work harder at it than others. Having a high emotional quotient at work is important, but it is equally important to not constantly let your emotions get in the way of objective and practical decisions. The two are not the same. In fact, your emotional quotient – the ability to read people’s emotions – will be higher, if your mind is not clouded by your own feelings towards people or situations.
External appreciation in the form of praise, pay-hikes and success as defined by society are gratifying, no doubt. But just like you need a moral compass to define your trajectory, you need to validate your achievements by yardsticks that have nothing to do with anyone else. Once you’re able to validate yourself internally, you will find yourself able to take rude, unappreciative bosses and their curveballs in your stride much more easily.