On Mental Toughness — How To Develop and Why You Must

A 10-minute read.

How many times have we been told to push harder? “Never quit”. “No pain, no gain”. But do you know how to actually become a person who never quits?

People become complacent when things go wrong. “I earn less because I didn’t go to college”. “I don’t have friends because I’m shy”. It’s easy to have excuses. Few hold the belief that we can become whoever we want to be in life.

We just need to take charge. We just need to lay one brick at a time and soon enough we’ll have a strong wall of success. People usually believe that being tough means pushing harder. But sometimes, we need to zoom out and focus on the bigger picture. We need to ask ourselves a very basic question – ­ “What is my purpose?”

The strongest are those who win battles we know nothing about.

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How To Develop Mental Toughness:

(I’ve used many Navy Seal references because I was mind blown after watching a YouTube video about how they undergo training and how much determination they require. I Googled up quite some information about the Navy Seal training, their lifestyle and needless to say, I’m more inspired than ever.)

1. Purpose

Mark McClusky, head of Business Development at WIRED, mentions that “Overall, exercise performance is ultimately limited by perception of effort rather than cardiorespiratory and musculoenergetic factors.”

I can’t stress on this enough. Everyone ­from Oprah to even Kim Kardashian has a sense of meaning in their lives. So if you want to excel at something, make sure it means something to you. Otherwise, you’ll give up when the going gets tough.

That’s right! Why do you want to succeed at a job if you don’t even like it? Oh, you have the excuse already ­ “I have bills to pay!”. Well, everyone has responsibilities. In that case, save some money or take a loan to pay for your expenses and work on your dream life no matter what!

Every person has a set of values which gives them a sense of purpose. For instance, your purpose might be “to become an MMA fighter” if you were always getting into backyard brawls as a teenager. Or your purpose might be to “test your abilities” if you’ve seen rejection for quite long.

Whatever your purpose is, make sure that it is not about impressing others. Research has proven that intrinsic goals overshadow extrinsic goals. When you do something to fulfill an inner desire, you’ll be able to grind harder than others.

If you can’t seem to find your purpose, here are some questions you need to ask yourself.

  • What do I value most in life and in others? Do I embody my values?
  • Who inspires me? What do I like about them? These people could be athletes, movie stars or somebody you know personally.
  • What do people thank me for? How am I different than others?
  • What is my vision for the future? Am I moving forward towards that vision?

These questions will help you know yourself and lead you to the right path.

2. Self­ Awareness

As I mentioned earlier, strength is not only about pushing harder. Sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. According to Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander, “self­-awareness is a place to start building what I call your unbeatable mind”. When you know what you’re capable of doing, it is easy to soar high.

If you want to learn more about yourself, start keeping a journal. Write for only ten minutes a day, but be consistent. Find a quiet place, take a deep breath, and start reflecting on your life in general.

The great thing about self-­awareness is that it provides us with specific solutions. For instance, you might learn that you work better in the evening and so you decide to make it your ‘do not disturb’ time of the day.

But as Bruce Lee once said, “knowing is not enough, we must act”. That is why we must have goals!

3. Goals

Once you have found your purpose, set goals. Have your daily and monthly goals in place. But also allocate enough downtime. When your work is meaningful, your goals will energize you instead of suffocating you.

If you’re buried in doubt, setting small goals is a good way to fight the darkness. Accomplishing small goals will give you the much-needed drive and build momentum.

In Navy SEAL training, even making your bed in the morning is considered an important goal. Because it gives you a sense of pride and makes you feel ready for the tasks ahead.

But nobody can accomplish great things on their own. We need to learn from others. We need constructive criticism to work on the areas where we can grow.

People need to have a vision. That way they know where they are headed and this is a good recipe for winning.

4. Team Support

It is human nature to find strength in relationships. Always have someone who has your back and always be willing to return the favor.

Navy SEAL training is perhaps the toughest thing to go through in life. According to Mark Divine, team spirit is integral to survival in SEAL training.

His advice is to “find a group of like-minded others who will support you. This is how you not only get on the path but stay on the path.”

As humans, we have learned to live in communities. We find strength amongst each other. It is easier to go that extra mile when your team is counting on you and supporting you through each thick and thin.

While having people there for you is essential, it all comes down to preparation.

5. Preparation

UFC Featherweight champion Conor Mcgregor says that “My confidence comes from my work ethic. Nobody works harder than me. They don’t think like I think, they don’t talk like I talk.”

Conor is the cockiest fighter in UFC. In his own words, “They think that all I do is talk, but guess what, I back it up!” And it’s true. One of his famous victories was with Jose Aldo who had never lost a fight in 10 years. Conor knocked him out in just thirteen seconds.

It is obvious that Conor’s confidence stems from his preparation. Therefore, it is about the preparation as much as it is about the mindset. One cannot just say things confidently without actually doing them. When we grind hard every day to master our craft, confidence comes naturally.

Here are some hacks to optimize your preparation.

  • a) Visualization

Our minds cannot differentiate between a real experience and our imagination. Hence, visualization can be a good tool in your arsenal. But when you visualize, be natural and realistic. See the negatives as much as you see the positives. Because if your visualization is unrealistic, your mind will not believe it deep down. And to harness energy, you must believe what you see deep down.

When people fail, their brains automatically visualize everything going wrong. But when you become conscious of your visualizations, you learn how to handle each hurdle that might get in your way.

When you’re visualizing, you’re also attracting the things you want into your life. This is evident in Jim Carrey’s address at Maharishi University. He said, “We’re not the spectators, but also the creators of our own lives”. We create the future by visualizing, saying, believing, and doing things.

Daniel Coyle, featured in The Best American Sports Writing, explains how American Special Forces prepare for a challenging mission.

“…they spend the entire morning going over every possible mistake or disaster that could happen during the mission. Every possible screwup is mercilessly examined, and linked to an appropriate response: if the helicopter crash­lands, we’ll do X. If we are dropped off at the wrong spot, we’ll do Y. If we are outnumbered, we’ll do Z.”

Visualization sounds interesting, right? But you can crank it up a notch! But how? The answer is

The answer is simulation. I’ve written an entire post about Visualization. Be sure to check it out!

  • b) Simulation

Simulation is the closest you can come to your challenge before actually facing it. For example, if you have to give an important presentation, practice it at the same venue in front of your friends.

Note that all fear is fear of uncertainty. And by being in the same situation, you are eliminating most of the uncertainty.

When the SEALs invaded Osama Bin Laden’s premises, they used simulations too. They built the exact same replica of the premises. Then they went through the exact same obstacles that they would face in the real invasion.

While visualization and simulations can help hone your skills, perfection shouldn’t be your primary aim.

6. Improvement, not perfection

A common thing that brings people down is perfection. Everyone wants to win the trophy fast and nobody has the patience to keep honing their skills.

When you are thinking in absolute terms, you put yourself in a win or lose scenario. But when you think about improvement, you can measure your progress and be proud of it.

An important part of improvement is to focus on your weaknesses. While it’s okay to celebrate progress, improvement comes from eliminating your weaknesses one by one. Focus on what went wrong the last time and try to fix it next time.

Navy SEAL commander, James Waters says that “On almost every real- world mission I was on – even the most successful ones – we spent 90% of our post ­mission debrief focusing on what we did wrong or could have done better”.

Most people get disheartened from failures. But the strong ones know that failures can be our teachers, telling us exactly what we need to do. So every time you fail, analyze what went wrong and how it can be fixed.

When you hustle day and night, it is possible to feel low at times. Here’s what you need in those times.

7. Positive Self-Talk

We often worry about what others think about us. But we seldom think about how we talk to ourselves. As a matter of fact, we say 300 to ­1000 words to ourselves per minute. If we are constantly hard on ourselves, we’ll never have the energy to focus on our goals.

Let us examine how Navy SEALs talk to themselves. A common SEAL drill includes controlling your breath underwater. Imagine being underwater with an oxygen mask. Your instructor comes behind you, removes the regulator out of your mouth and ties your oxygen lines in a knot. An ordinary person would say “I am going to die”, but Navy SEALs have to say “I can handle it”.

To talk positively to yourself, remind yourself the following:

1. Action brings change while overthinking brings suffering.
2. All pain is temporary.
3. Focusing on what I can control will bring positive change.
4. Take a deep breath to calm your mind and focus on action.

But toughness is not all about hard work. You also need to open your heart and celebrate.

8. Celebration

Last but not the least, celebration is something that should be done every day. Talking and laughing with your loved ones is as important as the hard work. The time we spend with our family reminds us that the struggle is worth it.

Finding joy in the simplest of things is essential to have a tough mind. That is because happiness gives us the energy boost to push harder in our endeavors. Savor your coffee in the morning instead of just sipping it mindlessly. Lose yourself in music with your friends. Happiness is self­-made.

Always celebrate the small wins. Be proud of making your bed in the morning. Be proud of completing that small goal on your to-­do list. When you look back at your hard work, it gives you the motivation to go even further.

A study done by Nelson and Meyvis in 2008 proved that many small pleasures make us happier than a few big pleasures. So, find joy in the little things.

Be grateful for having a good conversation with your colleague. Laugh like a child, crack silly jokes and let go every once in a while. As human beings, we all want to express ourselves creatively. So always express your love for others and don’t hesitate to shake a leg.

Summing it up —–

1. Purpose

This is the most important step of attaining mental toughness. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to do what I’m doing?”. If yes, then why? For instance, your purpose may say “I have to provide to my family” or “I have to test my abilities”.

2. Self Awareness

Toughness doesn’t always come from pushing harder. By journaling and ­reflection, we can cultivate self­-awareness. It helps us find creative solutions to our problems. For instance, you can learn whether you’re a morning person or a night owl.

3. Goals

Goals help us measure our progress and serve as an anchor to our dreams. Small goals are especially helpful for getting motivation and building momentum. Always make a to-do list in the morning with 3­-to-5 key tasks.

4. Team Support

As human beings, we always find comfort by being a part of a community. It is necessary to seek help from others and associate with like­-minded people. You may go fast when you’re alone, but you’ll go far when you’re not.

5. Preparation

When all’s said and done, what you sow is what you reap. Prepare hard, learn from your mistakes and improve every day. To get an edge over others, use techniques such as visualization and simulation.

6. Self­ Talk

Our inner dialogue is very important. We need to remind ourselves that hardships are temporary. Everything will be fine if we focus on what we can control.

7. Improvement, not perfection

A rookie mistake is having a winner or loser mentality. We should rather focus on improving ourselves every day. Small improvements every day add up to powerful transformations over a long period of time.

8. Celebrate

While grinding hard is essential, always spend some quality time with your loved ones. We should learn how to laugh, sing and dance without a reason. And we should celebrate small wins every day.

Feel free to ask any questions or share your ideas in the comment section below. Alternately, I’d really appreciate for you to share this content on your social media platform if you found it useful so that others can benefit from it too. If you have any doubts or want a personal clarification, send me an email on eclipsedwords@gmail.com. For more inspiration, fun, and smiles, follow me on Instagram

Happy Blogging! ♥♥♥

Thank you for reading. Love you for that! ♥

—–Have Hope. Keep Faith—–

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12 thoughts on “On Mental Toughness — How To Develop and Why You Must

  1. I’ve always like the statement that tough times never last, but tough people do. My grandfather was a perfect example. He came from Lebannon at the beginning to the 1900s. Couldn’t read, write, or even speak English. He didn’t have a penny to his name, and the highest he ever went in his education was the third grade.

    When he died able to speak four languages, his native tongue of course, English, Spanish, and Navajo which is one of those languages you just don’t go out and learn. He’d been in the house of representatives, lectured on small business at University of New Mexico, Stanford, and Harvard. had honorary degrees from all of them, and died a multi-millionaire.

    Then I have to stop and wonder what’s wrong with some his descendants who “Can’t” find a job.

    1. It’s like to think I have, but in a different was. Almost everything I set out to do, with the exception of walking on the Moon, I’ve done. Then there’s a lot of things I didn’t plan on that I did like hold political office, face incredible dangers, or travel all over the globe (the only place I haven’t been is Antarctica, and I would love to spend the winter down there. Probably won’t happen). I don’t speak Navajo, but I do speak Spanish, Russian, and German, and I could probably get around the Middle East without offending too many folks. I think the thing I learned from my Grandfather was that if you want to make your dreams come true, you’ve got to be willing to work at them, and to step out of your comfort zone.

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