By Paul J. Boston

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Unknown

I sometimes find myself smiling at these types of motivational quotes. Kept in context, they can serve as a source of motivation and perspective when we incur challenges in our lives. I have been fortunate in both my professional and athletic life to have learned firsthand what it takes to be world-class, and how to put in your best performance each and every day. I know how important motivation is and how it can affect daily performance. Like a good athlete and a business professional, I understand the importance of metrics, looking at what is working and what is not, and addressing those challenges.

One recent metric I am astounded by is the cost of workplace mental illness. The numbers are in, and it is estimated that mental illness is costing the North American economy well over $100 billion a year and that figure is expected to continue growing. Can you imagine a high-performance team (business or sport) incurring this type of performance challenge?

To become good at anything, discomfort is certainly part of the process. In fact, a “certain” amount of discomfort is required for humans to grow and develop both mentally and physically. Here is the modern day reality: suffering is no longer optional–it has become the norm.

The big question we need to ask ourselves with the increase in mental illness-is it a symptom of a bigger problem? More than likely yes however, this symptom is so enormous that it has suffocated many high performers over the last decade, and in order to bring a feeling of human performance back to the workplace, the mental health challenge needs to be addressed.

I often get asked about workplace performance skills related to mental illness, and the one skill that has been overlooked is what we call mental toughness. Mental toughness is not what we see in Hollywood movies where you see the character unexpressive and able to withstand any hardship. Let’s face it, those types of “mentally” tough people only have to keep that up for the duration of the movie.

Real-life modern-day workplaces require a multitude of new and not so new human performance skills. Here are just a few to help you gain a modern day perspective on mental toughness for the new world of business.

Recovery Time

All great performers know the importance of recovery–whether you have just completed a project working 60-plus hours a week for the last month, or you are an elite-level athlete who has just finished a very challenging workout. Recovery is the time when the body repairs, grows, and becomes stronger; this includes the physical body along with the mind. Without proper recovery time, we leave ourselves susceptible to becoming burned out, which can manifest itself in the form of mental illness.

Intentional Leadership

Whether you lead a team, or you are just in charge of you, intentional leadership is a skill and an attitude that creates mentally tough teams. This can be as simple as being present in everyday conversations. Your mind is not wandering, you are fully engaged in what people are presenting and saying to you. This not only helps build mental toughness within a group, but also allows people to fully appreciate what really motivates each other to perform at their best.


Given any challenge in life, being resilient is a key ingredient to help you prevail. What I have noticed about people who are consistently resilient is that they are masters of self-care. They know and practice getting seven to eight hours of sleep, exercising regularly, and eating right. Personal wellness plays a big role in staying resilience and mentally tough.

Yes, pain and discomfort are inevitable, and suffering is only “optional” when we know and practice the performance skills that allow us to keep growing and performing at our best.

BostonP120About the Author
Paul Boston is the president of Actus Performance Inc., a high-performance development firm. Paul started his professional career working in the fast-paced and demanding world of marketing and advertising with Fortune 500 companies and organizations around the globe. At the same time, he started racing at the elite level of triathlons and qualified four times for the World Triathlon Championships. At that time, he discovered similarities between the approach to performance in his athletic and professional career. He then went back to school to study adult training and development, specializing in workplace performance skills. As an organizational high-performance development specialist, Paul works with clients to help them understand the fundamental performance values, attitudes, and skills people, teams, and organizations need in our ever-changing modern-day work world. Paul has published numerous articles and spoken to professional organizations across North America on 21st century workplace performance skills. For more information, please visit