Select Page

This is the fourth in the series of Mental Toughness role models.

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the Harry Potter stories, whilst” a rattling good read”, also convey some important subliminal and not so subliminal messages to the reader. And these resonate very strongly with the 4Cs Mental Toughness concept developed here at AQR and in collaboration with Prof Peter Clough and others.

The central characters, especially Harry Potter, are required to face Challenge and learn from those experiences, show Commitment to achieve important goals, have a sense of  Control – self belief and manage their emotional responses to setback and adversity and have the (self) Confidence and inner belief in their capacity to deal positively with whatever is thrown at them.

We know that for many, these qualities emerge through experience, self-awareness and reflection. We learn to be Mentally Tough or how to cope with our Mental Sensitivity.

One might suppose that Rowling also learned much of this on her journey to success. JK Rowling has demonstrated all of these qualities in her life.

Her story is now as well known as her books. Working for Amnesty International in 1990, the idea for the Harry Potter books occurred to her while on a delayed train from Manchester to London. However, the seven-year period that followed saw the death of her mother (from MS), birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband and culminated in relative poverty in Edinburgh.

At that point Rowling thought herself as a failure and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Her marriage had failed, jobless with a dependent child, nevertheless she described her failure as liberating and allowing her to focus on writing. A perfect example of turning a negative position into a positive one.

Determined to complete her first book (on an old manual typewriter), whilst on state benefits, she would often go to a café to write because the walk enabled her daughter to go to sleep and gave her time to focus on her goal.

Having written it, her work was initially rejected by 12 publishers. It took 12 months for it to be accepted. The rest is history.

So where do we find clues to the importance of a resilient and positive mindset in her books and her sayings.

On Control – “can do” and managing our emotions

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” ― Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

As Professor Peter Clough often says “We can think ourselves in or think ourselves out of action”. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, its whether you make the most of the ability you have that really matters.

On Managing her Emotions, she says: “I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that”.

On Commitment, she speaks about having goals

I believe in free will. We can choose. The things go largely like you want them to go. You control your own life. Your own will is extremely powerful”

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she writes “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” illustrating the power of visualisation as well as reflecting that we all see reality and opportunity differently.

On focus and achievement, she adds: “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”

Challenge – dealing with the unexpected and with having to dig deep to deal with challenges – is where the Harry Potter stories are particularly strong. No doubt reflecting Rowling’s own journey through life.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix she writes “Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human … the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.

And on learning from experience and not shying away from difficulty she is quoted as saying “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive”.

And finally, on Confidence she simply states “Anything is possible if you have enough nerve”.

All great artists draw on their own experiences and their observations of the world around them. You can read the Harry Potter stories at a number of levels. They are enjoyable stories but they are also stories which carry powerful messages based on her life experiences and the lessons she has learned.

Her own story and her written stories neatly illustrate that one of the most important goals in life is “to be the best that you can be”. And for that, the way you think matters – Mental Toughness matters.

For information about MTQ48 and the Mental Toughness Concept – and how you can you use it – e-mail: