A part of the definition of Mental Toughness is to consistently operate at your highest potential or, as some call it, your personal best.  This requires an existing capacity and the on-going creation of new capacity. The most common way to acquire new capacity is through learning new knowledge and skills. But, not just any knowledge and skills, it needs to be the knowledge and skills required for operating at the cutting edge between what is known and what is still unknown relative to your intention. 

You learn – you grow it’s that simple

Learning is often defined as a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences leading to enhancing or acquiring knowledge, skills, values and world views. I am not going to delve into epistemological and philosophical issues like what is knowledge or how do we know what we know? Let’s just move on from the starting point that assumes we need learning and the development of knowledge and skills to become mentally tougher.  You learn – you grow it’s that simple. 

From a success or significance perspective it is very useful if at least a part of your learning is through a formal education system so that it is becomes generally accepted that you have achieved it. I am aware that many successful people have acquired their knowledge and skills through self-teaching, but as a wise person told me: a qualification is like an access card. I agree; it helps to acquire an access card as well as commit to a self-learning process. We should choose to live in an “and” world. 

At this stage it’s useful to become aware of, or learn about, some concepts relevant to developing Mental Toughness competence. In no particular order they are; competence delusion, underlying problems, lifelong learning, effectiveness and efficiency, competence priorities, a deep approach to learning, appropriate research, reading, critical reflection, hedonic editing, confirmation bias and emotional intelligence.

Do you have competence delusion?

I recall having to consider whether or not my housekeeper was competent at housekeeping. The question of her competence had never entered my mind until she asked for time off work to attend a housekeepers’ training course. My immediate response was “Why?” I explained to her that I had no concerns about her ability or work ethic. In fact on reflection I thought she was rather good at her job and felt that training was completely unnecessary. I continued that she had the job and therefore why train for it? My positive affirmations about her ability were obviously not enough as she continued to pursue the line that she wanted to go for training. I capitulated. Consequently, she attended class once per week and had practical tasks to complete in between these class sessions. I was drawn into her learning experience as I had to check her assignments and rate her on-going performance. The programme lasted a year and it concluded with a joyous graduation. 

The reason I told this story is because I was wrong in my initial assessment of my housekeeper’s competence. I was a victim of competence delusion. This was evidenced by the obvious improvement in knowledge and skills that the course gave her. I won’t bore you with a long list of competencies that she acquired; suffice to say that her improvement was astounding. The point is that I was unaware of the huge competence gap in her abilities as a housekeeper before she went on the course. 

But can you maintain the standard?

My housekeeper’s new challenge, having achieved enhanced competence, is the maintenance of this new standard.  I find that most people and organisations are aware of the need to develop hard skills. They are good at going through the motions needed for improving how they do their work or sport. What they are not good at is developing the commitment that must go with these motions to maintain their improvement under all conditions.