10 Ways to Develop Mental Toughness


First, let’s define physical toughness. Physical toughness is physically based. It is the ability to keep working when you are tired. Physical toughness is dealing with pain during a problematic challenge knowing it is good for you and will help you grow. You get physically tougher by what you do each day to get bigger, faster, and stronger. Physical toughness does and will affect mental toughness. When you are physically tired, you will not perform at your highest mental state. Most mistakes in a game or match occur due to physical tiredness. Skills and techniques that you performed effortlessly for hundreds, if not thousands of reps, do require “effort” when you are tired. We make physical mistakes like the proper execution of a double leg takedown or “marking a player” when we are tired. Those simple tasks become mentally challenging. So how do we affect mental toughness?

1. We get as physically tough as possible. The more physically prepared we are, the longer we can go in a game, match, or contest performing what we practiced without the fear of making a mistake because we are tired. Our teammates have a part in our mental toughness by competing each day in practice, doing the right things, and holding each other accountable. When your teammate is taking short-cuts, not working hard or not following directions, it is your responsibility to help them to become physically and mentally tougher.

2. We do things that get us outside our comfort zone often. The reality is we make the most growth when we do things that are difficult for us. It could be a tough workout. It could be having that “hard” talk with a teammate. It could be making a speech to an unfamiliar audience. But, the fact remains that the more often we do something uncomfortable, the stronger we become.

3. We “Feed the Positive Wolf.” Descartes said, “I think; therefore, I am.” The more we train ourselves to think and see things positively, the more things we will see in a positive light. We are conditioned to be negative from our parents, teachers, coaches, media, etc. Our fight or flight response is part of our genetic make-up. When we sense danger, our internal alert system is activated. “Get ready!” However, the programmed internal alarm system is there for a real threat like a lion trying to eat you, not for a math test or a tough opponent. We change our internal dialogue with consistent positive self-talk. Positive self-talk needs to be done consistently to be effective. If we wait till that stressful or challenging situation to feed the positive wolf, it is too late, and the negative wolf will take over.

4. We change our definitions and vocabulary. Words and phrases are powerful. “This is difficult, or this is hard” immediately send a message to your internal alert system that I am going to suffer. Changing the phrase to “this is challenging” instead of “hard” alters the perspective of the situation. It makes it less intense or even viewed as an opportunity for growth. When we see challenges as opportunities for growth, the activities become something good for us instead of painful. For me, I have changed my definition of Fun. “Fun” to me means anything that makes me better. The reality is that the things that “make me better” require hard work and effort. As a result, viewing difficult or challenging situations (workouts, speeches, life’s demands) as Fun and an opportunity to get better changes my view of something useful instead of something fearful.

5. We use empowering physiology. When you are nervous, stand tall, puff out your chest, and pull your shoulders back. Stand and move like someone who has confidence. There is a ton of research out there that shows how we move our body to affect our moods and self-confidence. When you are in a bad mood, smile big and often. It is challenging to be angry or grumpy when you are smiling. When you are tired, sit-up, move, talk faster, and louder. As Tony Robbins says, “emotion is created by motion.” Our physiology can drastically affect our outlook on things. Small physical changes can improve mental toughness.

6. Model people that are doing the things we would like to become. If you want to be a better math student, model the behavior of the best student in class or the best player on the team. What are their habits? What do they do that makes them successful? Study the people who are successful in your field and find out what is causing them successful. Listen to interviews or ask them questions if they are people in your everyday life. What is their mindset? What are they thinking? Model the people doing the things you want to do, adopt their behavior and habits, and study and apply what you learn to yourself.

7. Be grateful. Being grateful for everything in your life is a massive mental shift. It is on the same playing field as feeding the positive wolf. It is impossible to be both grateful and negative at the same time. You think, therefore you are. Having a mindset of gratitude puts you in a productive state to do your best work. I like to spend my car ride to work each day just thinking about things that I am thankful for. My family, loved ones, opportunities for growth, and fitness, to name a few. When I catch myself having a negative mindset, I immediately stop and focus on what’s right in my life. What are things that are giving me a feeling of gratitude? Being negative is a habit. Being thankful is a habit, as well. You need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

8. Surround yourself with people who make you better or bring out your best self. Success coaches tell us that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. I am not sure if that is true, but I do know if you are wasting your time with people who are always whining and complaining, it brings you down. It makes you tired. Consequently, it makes you unproductive and lazy. Choose to spend your time with people who are trying to be better. People who push themselves each day and holds themselves accountable. People who are enthusiastic and have a positive mindset. Enthusiasm is contagious. You know what, the opposite is true as well. You hang out with turds. You will be a turd. It is contagious, as well.

9. Learn, grow, and be inspired. Read, watch, or listen to people who are doing great things. Make it a habit to each day to read, watch, or listen to something that can increase your mental toughness and improve your mindset. 10. Take full responsibility. When you take full responsibility for everything in your life, your life will change, and it will change for the better. Taking full responsibility is holding yourself accountable and knowing that you have complete control over the effort you put into things and your attitude about it. It is not making excuses and blaming others for what is not going well in your life.

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