A Test of Mettle: Are you Mentally Tough?

by Beverly Lewis
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When the pressure is on, mettle is tested. Plenty of weekend warriors test their mettle through physical competitions like American Ninja Warrior, Tough Mudder, and Spartan contests. I just met someone who completed the Disney Dopey Challenge. Perhaps you haven’t viewed Dopey as a mentally tough character, but it seems he has experienced some personal development. The Dopey Challenge is a 4-day series of races that cover a distance across Walt Disney World Resort of 48.6 miles. Run the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon. Back to back. Disney bills it as “fun”. I have mettle but that’s not my idea of fun. I’ll meet you in the park for a river ride on the Jungle Cruise, thank you. So, what’s the deal with the drive to test your mettle?

The drive to test the limits of physical endurance is certainly not new. People have been rock climbing, mountain climbing, jumping out of airplanes, and planning extreme adventures for years. The tests of mettle we choose are loaded with lessons. But what about those we don’t choose? When you’re working alongside a whine-bag, dealing with a tyrannical boss, striving to unite a fractious team, or weathering a natural disaster – it’s easy to lose sight of the opportunity to strengthen your mettle.

Mettle is a person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited or resilient way.  It is the courage to carry on and display tenacity – perhaps even audacity! The word originated in the 13th century and is related to the homonym metal: as in a hard, shiny, strong substance. Simply defined, it means strength on the inside that shows in our character.

Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania uses the term “grit” to describe mettle. She has found that grit is a long-term predictor of success and the ability to reach one’s goals. Her research among West Point Cadets, Ivy League undergraduates, and National Spelling Bee champions revealed that IQ was not the advantage for success in any of these scenarios. Mental toughness was the key to high performance.

Now how does that apply to daily life? Your work? Thought leader Seth Godin writes:

“Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset. But only when we want to. The hard part, then, isn’t the changing it. It’s the wanting it.”

Mettle can be developed. Mental toughness can be a choice. I used to think that it was only by navigating the difficulties thrown your way that you could get stronger – a kind of Russian roulette without metal bullets. Now we know mettle can be intentionally cultivated.

The Four Pillars of Mettle:



Leaders find their “why” and it drives them from within. Psychologists call it an internal locus of control. I call it a heart plan. A heart plan provides a personal map that allows you to stay motivated in spite of detours or delays. Couple that with the mental discipline to maintain positive expectancy when negativity is rampant, and you have the makings of mettle.


Coping with pressure.

Stress is inevitable in all of our lives. Leaders learn not only to manage stress but to actually leverage it as a springboard for growth.


Maintaining focus and remaining steadfast while encountering events that are unexpected is paramount for strong leaders with mental toughness. Resisting the distraction of chaotic circumstances while focusing on solving problems and moving ahead is a hallmark of mentally tough leaders.



Having an unshakable belief in your ability to achieve goals and overcome obstacles is a sure sign of mettle. What a person believes about their own abilities is more important than talent, according to research by Albert Bandura, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. His work has shown that people who have perceived self-efficacy (that is, the belief that they can accomplish what they set out to do) perform better than those who don’t.

MTI (Mental Training, Inc.) offers a thought-provoking online test on your mental toughness aptitude. This five-minute quiz is an opportunity to test your mettle and gain some insight on some strengths and weaknesses.

When the pressure is on, that’s when character counts and the mettle of a leader is exposed. I’m on a mission to awaken and challenge leaders to embrace the refinement process of becoming a person with mettle. It is a powerful thing when leaders respond to the high and noble calling of service in the marketplace and society.

If you are called to develop your leadership, you can facilitate the process by aligning yourself with a tribe ascribing to excellence and continual growth. There’s a proverb that says, “Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.” Being accountable to others you respect and positioning yourself to hear from those who will speak truth into your life will put you on the path to leadership mettle. You become like those you spend time with and there are habits that identify leaders. Life-long learning, physical fitness, reading, and building relationships and connection are just a few of the commonalities those with mettle share.

Beverly supports an online leadership team with her strengths as a light-bearer and mettle-sharpener. Investing in yourself is also an investment in others when you’re a leader. If this resonates with you, you can learn more at BeverlySpeaks.com.

Beverly Lewis
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