Change is ever present in education. Mentally tough individuals tend to crave change and can become easily bored with routine. Embracing the opportunities that change and, sometimes, even chaos provide is at the heart of a mentally tough individual.
Often people are surprised at the failure of their new initiatives. However they tend to spend all their effort on expounding its virtues whereas we believe you need to prepare the ground for seeding. Anxiety and doubt are the killers of innovation. If an individual is focused on the “what if” rather than the “why not” even the best idea will not grow.
When operating at an individual level, openness to change has a slightly different flavour. The educator's role is to develop, or change an individual and this can only be achieved effectively with someone who wants to change. This is illustrated by the classic joke “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is “Only one—but they have to want to change”. Mentally tough individuals are always looking for a new way forward and are not threatened by new ideas. They may robustly disagree with some of them, but only after proper consideration. Kurt Lewin (1951) the “Godfather” of change theory talked about the need to unfreeze behaviours to allow change to happen. This can be done by either inspiring or by frightening. The former is ideal, but is perhaps less common. Both the approaches are about moving an individual outside their comfort zone. The mentally tough have a much bigger zone to start with and are only too willing to expand his empire of change tolerance.
So what of the sensitive?
Throughout this chapter we have talked about the mental toughness advantage. We believe that this is both real and tangible. But, and it's a big but, we are not advocating that everyone needs to be mentally tough. It is clear that senior positions and good grades are held by the tougher individuals in most instances. We do not believe that this reflects any greater abilities; rather it shows that these individuals are best at jumping the hurdles they have faced. These can be transitions, exams, interviews, and many other life obstacles.
The sensitive amongst us have a harder road to travel, but they have potentially very valuable things to offer the world. We need different thinkers and quickly. It's rather depressing that without help and guidance they may never be able to be in a position to put these ideas into practice. Most of us are averagely tough. This seems to be of little hindrance to progression. Whilst the very tough may have a slight advantage, their very nature may bring into play the downsides of being tough. The real challenge lies with the sensitive—about twenty per cent of the population.
Some of us are born tough, some of us become tough and all of us can behave tough (at least at times).
There are simply two approaches. These are complimentary and can be run together. First, we can provide the sensitive with a toughness toolkit. This does not necessarily mean that their fundamental approach to the world changes; rather it provides them with an operating system for the “real world”. It's a stepladder model. If you can't reach the top shelf you can wait until you get taller (which might not happen) or work on getting taller (better nutrition, better posture etc). Or you could just stand on a tool box. We are entering an exciting time with our research. We believe we can help people “behave tough” but we are investigating if this is a skill set enhancement or a fundamental personality change. To the end user it probably does not matter. They can deal more effectively with pressure. Another very important aspect when discussing the sensitive is identifying them early. Tough and sensitive are fundamentally different. The sensitive are “of the clouds” the tough are “of the earth”. They require different support models and different educational practices. The tough prosper despite their environment, but the sensitive are perhaps less lucky. They are easily setback by poor and/or inappropriate teaching. Our research has shown they have a greater need for emotional support and a caring attitude. We need to provide a truly egalitarian environment where the sensitive and tough have an equal opportunity to become the decision makers of the future.