”The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible”   

~ Arthur C. Clarke ~

If we look at the achievements of all the people who have made a difference in our lives, from Edison to Bill Gates, we will find the one trait they all have in common is a high degree of mental toughness.  They and others who have continued to keep moving toward their goals; while enduring ridicule from many naysayers and doubters who lacked the ability to appreciate what they are attempting to achieve.  Despite this, persevering until accomplishing what they had set out to do.  Mental toughness is not something we are born with, as many believe, it is a set of characteristics we can all develop.

Here are some habits that mentally tough people have developed.

Ability to Manage Their Emotions

Mentally tough people have learned when, and with whom, it is safe to share their feelings.  While they are able to share their feelings and be vulnerable, they do this with people they can trust and count on to be supportive. They have developed the ability to control their emotions and impulses in situations where this would be seen as a sign of weakness and could be used against them.  Their finely tuned senses allow them to accurately perceive who they can trust and depend on.  


In order to attempt something outside of the scope of what most people do requires a high degree of self-confidence.  Mentally tough people are not born with more self-confidence, they acquire this by continuously pushing their boundaries and moving beyond their fears.  This expands their capacity to take risks and deal with the inevitable setbacks and failures that always come before a major breakthrough.  Knowing when they eventually will achieve a breakthrough, it will further increase their stamina, resilience and mental toughness.

Choose Those They Associate with Wisely

Mentally tough people hang out with other positive thinking individuals with whom they share common goals and aspirations. They support one another and celebrate each other’s achievements. Negative people are an energy drain.  When around negative people, they manage to tune out the negativity and limit their interaction.  In this way, they are able to abstain from negative people taking up their valuable time and energy and to refocus pursuing their goals.  

Face Their Fears and Do it Anyway

When faced with a calculated, necessary risk to reach their objectives, mentally tough people are able to find ways to overcome their fears and go for it. They know any worthwhile achievement involves risk and the possibility of failure. Considering the worst case scenario, they decide they can withstand it and keep going and never let fear stop them. For them failure is not the worst of possibilities, rather the thought that they may have missed out on some potential achievement because they listened to their fears.  These are people whose worse case scenario is having regrets at the end of their lives about the things they didn’t attempt.

Maintain Their Boundaries and Say No When Necessary

Many people say yes when they don’t want to do something, just to please others. They often regret this after and complain they should have said no.  Mentally tough people are able to say no without taking on the burden of feeling guilty about it afterwards.  They are able to say no without hedging their answer or making excuses for why they are unable to or willing to do something.  This shows others around them they are not pushovers and should not be approached with unreasonable demands on their time and energy.  


Mentally tough people also have a great deal of self-discipline and adhere to a strict regime regarding their own health and wellness habits.  They seldom take the easy way out by not adhering to their exercise, eating and sleeping patterns.  Knowing that physical fitness, health and adequate rest are necessary for their overall well-being, they doggedly stay true to the habits and patterns that give them the energy they need.

Independent and Don’t Compare Themselves to Others

Those who have developed mental toughness do not pay much attention to what others think of them or compare themselves to others. They have well defined goals in life which motivate and drive them.  While they are open to the opinions of others they respect, they ultimately take total responsibility for their decisions and outcomes and do not blame others or circumstances for their failures. Their self measure of achievement is recognizing if they are a better person now from the person they were before, rather than competing with and comparing their achievements of others.  They are forever striving to do better than they did the day before.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com.  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.