Mental Toughness: Bringing Your “A-game” On and Off The Pitch

Dr. Ryne Sherman, Chief Science Officer at Hogan Assessments explains why the concept of ‘mental toughness’ has application beyond the sporting world.

Mental toughness is a concept often discussed in sports. Coaches and athletes attribute a great deal of weight to the term, often citing it as a crucial ingredient in the recipe to success. Mental toughness may separate the winners from the losers on the sports field, but it does not end here. According to Hogan Assessments, this measure can also be used to predict success in other spheres of life, like education and the workplace.

But what exactly is mental toughness?

Well, when taking part in a mental toughness assessment, candidates will typically be asked to agree or disagree with statements like “I have unshakeable confidence in my ability”, and “I am committed to completing the tasks I have to do.” So, mental toughness encapsulates a degree of self-confidence, emotional control and competitive orientation.

Furthermore, recently published research carried out by Hogan Assessments in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences found that mental toughness is inherently linked to our personality and can be observed across several traits. By asking 500 candidates – including current and former athletes – to take part in an assessment of mental toughness, followed by a selection of personality assessments, Hogan Assessments established a strong link between mental toughness and personality.

As part of this research, Hogan Assessments used machine learning technology to reproduce scores on the mental toughness measure using scores from personality assessments like the HEXACO-60, the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), and the Hogan Development Survey (HDS). For example, on the HPI, the core components of the Ambition scale – Competitive, Self-Confident, Accomplishment, and Leadership – were strongly associated with mental toughness scores, while on the HDS, a combination of subscales stemming from Excitable, Cautious, Bold, Imaginative, and even Dutiful were most related to mental toughness.

Once we begin to unpack the concept of mental toughness, and the personality scales it corresponds with, we can see how this can also be leveraged in the workplace. When scoring a candidate on Ambition, for example, we are measuring their competitive drive, perceived energy and goal orientation, but also how “leader-like” a candidate is. Those scoring highly here are driven, energetic and not afraid to take initiative. These candidates will likely excel not only on the playing field, but also in their professional lives when scaling up promotions and directing teams in leadership positions.

Similarly, candidates scoring highly on scales such as bold on the Hogan Development Survey will also thrive in certain areas of the professional sphere, such as managerial and leadership roles. High scorers on the Bold scale are assertive, self-promoting and self-confident, which – in the right dosage – will lead to great success in their careers.

Mental toughness is certainly an invaluable asset, on and off the playing field. While it is often used in sports to predict players’ performance, it can also be applied in the workplace to achieve similar results. And, given that mental toughness is proven to be linked to personality, companies can unlock great potential by leveraging valid, data-driven personality assessments, such as those developed by Hogan Assessments, to identify candidates scoring highly in personality scales associated with mental toughness.