5 Signs You’ve Got IT: How To Make Things Happen with Mental Toughness

Check your ability to commit, finish, and succeed with these 5 key practices for mental toughness.


Art Williams used to say that people can smell a phony a mile away.

I never heard anyone argue with that, in fact it seems to be universally accepted to be true. There’s something powerful about people who have “IT.”

What I’m talking about mental toughness: the ability to make things happen.  To go through tough times, navigate rough waters, unravel the nastiest situations—and in spite of everything, stay on course and achieve the goals that were set.

If you’re a leader of any kind of team or company, you better be aware of this fact because the people on your team or in your company all have an opinion of you and whether or not you have “IT” or not. People don’t want to follow a mealy-mouthed excuse maker. People want to follow and work for people that inspire them because they believe they can trust them during tough times. 

As a leader, you either inspire confidence or not. The great thing about “IT” is that “IT” can be developed. The “IT” factor comes from a list of characteristics and qualities that many have tried to define. It all comes down to the mental toughness and energy that is projected.

In my experience and in what I have seen in winners from all walks of life, it comes down to five essentials.

1. You Take the No-Parachute Approach


Athlete jumping over a hurdle with the will to improve

How do you approach new projects or goals? With caution and as many parachutes and safety nets as you can find? I first heard the term “no-parachute” from a speaker, Bill Glass, who presented to our high-school football team.

Bill was the first one who ever turned me on to the book Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. It was a life changer for me. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the concept of reality therapy, and that is running your life based on what you saw in reality versus your own opinion of how you thought the world should work.

Don’t ignore reality. Don’t explain away reality—recognize reality and adapt accordingly if you want successful results. 

Some people think of alternate goals as smart planning—and in most cases, that’s a great thing to have in the back of your mind.

Don’t ignore reality. Don’t explain away reality—recognize reality and adapt accordingly if you want successful results. Click To Tweet

There’s nothing wrong with having a Plan B to shift to. But I would not spend much time thinking about Plan B. Otherwise, you will subconsciously create a situation where you are more or less planning for your first choice to fail, and you’ll be beaten before you start.

Don’t spend so much time on Plan B that you create an easy way out when the going gets tough. If you aren’t careful, those “possible goals” will distract you from what should be your primary focus. 

Commitment and mindset are huge factors to your success. Make sure Plan A is what you really want, and then go for it! Forbes contributor, Sherri Edwards says “Make a decision about what you need to do, commit to it, then adjust as events occur. Commitment to your goal and acting on it is more likely to produce the results you want than sitting idly as you wait for things to change.”

Once you make a commitment, you stick with it. Finishing should be a point of integrity, a piece of your personal identity.

Now, occasionally, you’ll be heading toward a goal and discover that while you thought it was something you wanted, and wanted a lot, it turns out that it isn’t.

You aren’t excited about the result or where you’ll end up if you keep heading in this direction. In those—rare!—instances, make an adjustment to your path, leveraging the work you have put in so far to choose a better direction.

If you find yourself shifting directions often and not achieving most of the goals you set for yourself though, you’re aren’t committing. And that won’t get you anywhere good.

Ask yourself: Am I committed? What parachutes am I holding onto? Is one of my parachutes the thing I really want but am afraid to go for?

2. You Aren’t Afraid of the Grind & Practice Mental Toughness

Business man with muscular chalk arms. Room to improve.

Winners do the work that others aren’t willing to do. They have perspective and know grunt work precedes glory.

In other words, they have more of their focus on the end result and the excitement of getting there than what they happen to be doing at the moment. They also understand that grunt work is temporary, but the results will be theirs forever.

Winners do the work that others aren’t willing to do. They have perspective and know grunt work precedes glory. Click To Tweet

It’s a sign of their mental toughness, because they don’t want to do it either. They make themselves do it. They are masters of self-motivation and self-management. They focus on the payoff and what grunt work or the grind offers: experience, incremental improvement, and a series of small successes that build confidence over time.

Dr. Jim Taylor with Psychology Today directly correlates success with having a positive attitude about “The Grind.” Most people won’t find grinding to be fun—but seeing your progress is a blast! 

Ask yourself: Do I accept the hard work that comes with new goals and projects, or do I try to push it off on other people?

The correct way to look at this is that the quicker I can get the hard work done, the quicker I can get where I want to go. And the more time I spend trying to avoid it, the more time I’m postponing it being able to happen.

3. You Use Facts for Guidance, Emotion for Fuel

A primary difference between people who win and those who don’t is how they handle the obstacles that crop up. 

Usually, the more important the goal or project, the tougher the obstacles. The mentally tough get just as frustrated, annoyed, discouraged as the rest of us—but they don’t let those negative emotions overwhelm them and push them into bad decisions.

Man on Mt. Everest | Man learning to improve

They know that if they follow the facts, the emotions will eventually fall into line. They use their emotions as fuel to drive them onward, and they use facts for guidance. Emotions such as anxiety are described by Psychologist Robert Rosen as a necessary spark that drives us to change things. 

The facts almost always reveal that any obstacle is surmountable, that other people have dealt with similar obstacles and still succeeded, and that those people are often willing and ready to offer guidance or advice.

You’re good enough to get good enough to do good enough to win.

Ask yourself: How do I handle the big and small hurdles that come my way? Do I let myself become overwhelmed, or do I pause, take a breath, and then figure out what to do next?

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley

4. You Resist the Temptation to Cheat

Some people confuse mental toughness with win-at-all-costs thinking. Not the same. 

People balancing on a narrow path

Mental toughness is win-despite-obstacles-and-while-maintaining-values-and-integrity thinking. In fact, I think people who cheat, trick, or manipulate their way to what they want lack the mental toughness to really win—to come out on the other side of the struggle feeling good about themselves, what they’ve accomplished, and the legacy they are building.

Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t give up. Figure out how to climb it or work around it. Cheating is simply a way of ducking problems, and the mentally tough face problems, deal with them, and move on.

Ask yourself: How have I handled tricky ethical issues in the past? Do I go above and beyond to do the right things rather than build up a lot of skeletons in the closet?

Winners are people that have accepted the fact that there’s no such thing as a secret. Because of this, they don’t waste time creating future problems for themselves by trying to cut corners and take dishonest shortcuts.

As much as anything else, this creates the “IT” factor because the people who cut corners and cheat eventually always end up smelling like phonies to everyone else no matter how they try and cover it up. It’s like someone who secretly smokes and then puts a breath mint in their mouth thinking no one will know. It doesn’t work.

5. You Cover the Last 2 Percent, Consistently

Are you a finisher? It is the surest sign of mental toughness. The last 2 percent of any project or goal is often the toughest. You’re exhausted. You just want it to be over. You can see the finish line, but it feels just out of reach.

Woman walking up steps | Powering through mental toughness.

It’s easy to fall apart just before you earn the full return on your investment of time, energy, money, and other resources. But the people who finish regularly—serial winners—dig deep to find the necessary reserves of energy, motivation, and fight. They stay focused on the end result until they achieve it.

Ask yourself: What’s my record for finishing what I’ve started in the past year? Am I staying focused on ways to get the job done or looking for excuses to justify quitting?

Great news: mental toughness can be learned. Click To Tweet

Start with the questions I’ve posed above and then decide where you need to improve. Because that’s the great news: mental toughness can be learned. 

What most people say is that it just takes focus, effort, and the desire to improve and change your habits over time. What I say is that it comes from getting things done. Start accomplishing things step-by-step, move onto bigger things, and in the process you will become transformed. The “IT” factor comes from achievement, not from acting in any specific way.

What defines the “IT” factor for you and how are you developing those skills? Let me know in the comments!


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