Whether you are an athlete on the gridiron or in the boardroom, a certain quality is always found in the guys who remain standing when the storm winds blow. When rejection hits these guys it bounces off them like spitballs off of a battleship. They chuckle at groundless criticism. They bounce back quickly from setbacks. They feel energized to try even harder after a defeat. That special quality these warriors are showing is something called “mental toughness”. Wikipedia defines this as “a term commonly used by coaches, sport psychologists, sport commentators, and business leaders – generally describes a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances (such as difficult training or difficult competitive situations in games) and emerge without losing confidence.” (Emphasis added.)
Each of us will receive a gut shot at some point in our lives that knocks the wind right out of us. It’s not a matter of whether you will be struck by disaster, but when. In my first book, Voyage of a Viking, I describe in detail many of the challenges I faced through my life. I’ve faced my storms and I know that I have more storms awaiting me. I also know that you do as well. Rather than sitting around moaning and complaining when we are being pelted by chunks of hail the size of golf balls, we can put on a suit of armor to deflect whatever life throws at us. That suit of armor is your mental toughness.
You can’t measure mental toughness; you measure its effect. You can’t measure what’s going on inside a leaders head, but you sure can measure their behavior! You see it when they lose their biggest customer one month, and it ticks them off just enough to go smash a sales record the next month. You can see mental toughness when someone is running a marathon and they are gasping for breath, and the only thing keeping them putting one painful footstep in front of the next is their strength of will. You see it when someone is totally exhausted, yet they keep throwing hundreds of shots into the basketball hoop to perfect their free throw (like my awesome daughter Mya!). In fact, Mya had to make 1000 free throws; in order to reach that goal, she had to shoot a couple of thousand. She wanted to quit many times during that experience, but she had committed to a number of people that she would reach her goal. It’s amazing how a twelve year old girl will follow through on her committment more effectively than most adults. Mental toughness is courage in action. When you’ve got it, you cope better than your opponents with the demands you face.
How do we develop mental toughness? Here are a few principles to get you started:
Principle #1: Realize Mental Toughness Can Be Developed.
Some people might be born with a certain personality, like a “Choleric” or “D” personality type, and maybe this personality type handles adversity a little more effectively than others. But that’s not always the case, and either way, anyone can develop this side of their personality. Don’t cop out on yourself by selling yourself any victim thinking, like “That’s just the way I am.” Brothers and sisters, you can CHANGE. How do you build mental toughness? The same way you build muscles in the gym: by pushing yourself to new limits and increasing the pressure or resistance you are pushing against.
Principle #2: Mental Toughness in the Gym Correlates to Mental Toughness in life.
The gym is the ultimate proving ground for “tough guys” and “tough gals”. You really find out what you’re made of when you’re doing hack squats or leg extensions. Most people get into the gym, start doing bicep curls, and as soon as it starts to get uncomfortable, they say, “Okay, I’ve done enough for now,” and they stop exercising. This is actually the exact wrong thing to do, if your goal is to develop your muscles. You see, when it starts to hurt, that’s the lactic acid burn in your muscles screaming, “Great job! Keep going! You’re making progress!” But when most people start to feel discomfort they choose to ease off.
You don’t become successful at anything by letting your foot off of the gas pedal when the going gets tough. This includes the gym, your marriage, and your business. When it hurts to do even one more rep of an exercise, that’s when the real muscle development starts! (By the way, I’m not talking about pushing through pain when you are actually injured; I’m referring to the normal discomfort we feel when we are tearing down our muscles during a workout.) If you throw in the towel on the bench press, you train your brain to quit when things get tough. When you force yourself to keep pushing the weight even when you want to give up, you are training your brain to keep pushing.
Principle #3: Champions Fall in Love with Discomfort
Winners know that the path to success is steep and rocky, and the path to defeat is like a sign pointing at a waterslide that says, “Slippery, Fun and Easy to Reach the Bottom in a Jiffy!” Bad habits are easy to slip into, like a warm bed when you’re exhausted. Good habits are pretty much guaranteed to feel tough for most people because you end up denying yourself luxuries and pleasures. You must learn to do what is uncomfortable for you. To develop the psychological edge, you must have extreme discipline to give up the comfort zone that you train and live in. Delaying immediate satisfaction is the ultimate sacrifice that all warriors must choose.
God Bless, Tim Marks