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In 2002 the 4Cs model of Mental Toughness emerged*. This ground breaking work brought understanding to an aspect of personality that had long been known to be vitally important but was not well understood.  

Often known as fortitude, mindset, attitude, etc., because it was in the head, it was “invisible” and thus difficult to assess and develop. 

This changed with the 4 Cs model. Mental Toughness was found to be a concept consisting of 4 constructs.  

These were Control, Confidence, Challenge and Confidence. All are significant, all are independent of each other and, importantly, all can combine to produce a huge range of outcomes which explain how and why we are so individual. 

This post looks at the Control element. 

Control describes the extent to which an individual believes that have sufficient self-control over their lives, themselves and circumstances to feel they have a good chance of achieving what they need to achieve. 

It brings together two aspects of self-belief –  

  • self-worth – belief in themselves as worthy individuals who have an inner belief in themselves as capable individuals. 
  • self-control – belief that they can make decisions and take actions and that these aren’t dictated by an inability to manage their emotional responses. 

For example, it is possible to have two people who are very similar in terms of abilities, interests, background and qualifications, etc.  

When asked to take on a difficult task, one, the more mentally tough, might immediately say “Just leave it with me. I am happy to have a go”. The other might say “I am not sure. I don’t think I can do it. I might do it if ….”. 

The difference between them can explained by their mental responses. And it’s not that one is anxious about a difficult task and the other isn’t. Both can be anxious, but one will be able to manage their anxiety and the other wont. 

This can translate into wellbeing issues and performance issues as well as our ability to deal with challenge and change and to achieve our aspirations. 

It relates well to what we know about wellbeing and performance. 

We have known for many years that a major factor in stress is the extent to which a person feels they are control of their situation. Where there is little control, this is associated with the highest stress levels. 

It relates very clearly to Rotter’s idea of locus of control. He found those with a high internal locus of control see themselves as having personal control over their behaviour and are more to accept accountability. For example, “I did well on that task because I made the effort”. Those with a high external locus of control, on the other hand, see their behaviour as a result of external factors or luck. “I did well because the cards fell my way”. 

This indicates that a high locus of internal control is important for performance.

Covey then took this idea on a little further to create the idea of Circles of Control, Influence and Control which identified the cations that sat in each. This led to suggesting that personal growth could be managed by focusing on the inner circles and expanding them.

The Control construct provides an insight into why someone might have an internal or external locus of control and what might be needed in terms of mental toughness to lead to a change in behaviour.

Usefully we can understand the Control scale to a deeper level. Research shows that it consists of two factors:

Life Control – which is where the sense of self-worth sits. Sometimes known as “can do” this describes this sense of self belief in themselves as effective individual. The more mentally tough might not always know how to do a thing but that won’t necessarily hold them back from having a go. The more mentally sensitive can believe that the task is beyond them.

Emotional Control – where the individual experiences emotions. If more mentally tough, they can manage what they will show others and will channel their emotions to a productive end. The more mentally sensitive will allow their emotions to influence what they do and what they decide to do.

The two factors are explored in greater detail in separate articles.

Much of the development of the concept has been driven by practitioners as well as by academics. Apart from understanding in more depth these important psychological ideas it has also drawn our attention to some important implications. These include:

  • At first sight, the mentally tough will have an advantage. That might be true in general but won’t always be the case.

Those who more mentally tough when it comes to the Control construct, can, without self-awareness;

  • take on too much – thinking they can do it all.
  • lapse into micro-management if others don’t step up as quickly as they would like.
  • be blind to their own shortcomings in terms of knowledge and skills.
  • intimidate others even if they don’t mean to because of their ”can do” approach.
  • be intolerant of others who don’t respond in the same way.
  • appear insensitive.
  • confuse other with their poise – “its going wrong, you don’t look bothered”.
  • be difficult to read – “Do they like what I have done? They don’t look impressed”.

Those who are more mentally sensitive can bring useful qualities to the team if these are acknowledged. They can;

  • approach tasks with care – avoiding leaping into action.
  • be very aware of shortcomings in skills and knowledge.
  • be understanding of the way others feel and respond when under pressure.

Bringing a crucial dimension to development. All the factors in mental toughness can be developed. However, research consistently shows that training and development (and coaching) if it is not customised can be very ineffective and even harmful.

Although training can be individualised, it is rarely customised. There is still a tendency for “one size fits all approaches”. Solutions are generally drawn from a tool kit because they have been shown to work. Many do but they don’t all work for all people.

Development is a challenge and an opportunity like any other activity. The individual’s mental response will be significant in their capability to develop.  Understanding someone’s mental toughness profile addresses the challenge of customisation.

Self-awareness about your mental responses – those invisible responses – really matters.

This and many other aspects are discussed much more fully in “Developing Mental Toughness” Strycharczyk, Clough and Perry. Kogan Page 3rd Edition.

For information about becoming a licensed user of the MTQ measures contact:

The MTQPlus measure is available in fourteen languages.

Completion of the Licensed User Training program is recognised by EMCC and ICF for CPD purposes.

A set of downloadable posters for the Constructs and factors is available here