The Key To Developing Mental Toughness
What actually is mental toughness?
According to Wikipedia...
"Mental toughness is 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."
No doubt, some people are born with a naturally higher level of mental conditioning than others, they can endure more without breaking - they can see through tough situations, hard times and push themselves that much further than others. But, just like building a physique - anyone can do it. Your neighbour may have a better starting point, a better base than you - but like all things, unless you're consistently training it you can't expect any growth or further development.
If you want to forge the mental fortitude of a Navy SEAL or the indisputable will of a Spartan endurance racing athlete you need to subject yourself to uncomfortable situations. You need to ensure today for the reward tomorrow.
You will never build an unbreakable mindset if you spend your days lounging around in-front of the TV with junk food. That's what Csikszentmihalyi describes in the book, Flow as being a pleasurable experience. If you want to become mentally tough you need to put yourself in enjoyable situations - situations that push you further than you're currently capable of. You need to jump in the proverbial deep end instead of paddling around in the safe, shallow waters of your everyday life.
How do you do that? Below are 10 techniques I recommend using to build that unbreakable resolve and continue developing mental toughness.
7 Tips For Developing Mental Toughness
Before we delve into the 7 tips instead of setting a New Years Resolution to 'become mentally tough' I recommend destroying any and all old, negative habits you've built and implement the following tips as habits in your daily routine. Perform them consciously for several weeks and then watch them integrate themselves into your daily life.
Tip 1 - Take Cold Showers
Cold showers are the ultimate mental toughness building habit.
Spending 3 - 5 minutes in the shower with the facet tilted as far to the cold side as possible can literally change your life.
It's mental conditioning, no one is making you stand under that freezing cold water except yourself - this builds mental toughness.
As you step under the freezing cold water your breathing becomes short and sharp, you jump and feel as if you can't handle the temperature of the water... but it's all in the mind.
Cold showers are fantastic for your health, from decreased symptoms of depression to boosting testosterone, improving the conditoning of your skin and hair as well as providing you with a surge of energy.
Start each day with a cold shower and any other task or event you encounter that day will be easy by comparison.
Tip 2 - Practise Stoicism
Stoicism, particularly the writing of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca are so powerful, yet so often read.
These two ancient stoics preached subjecting themselves to discomfort and placing themselves in unfavorable situations just to build the mental fortitude incase one day they were forced to live in those conditions.
If you're fretting over whether to quit your job and start your own business you should practise living out your fears, the most negative, worst case scenario possible. Think about it, discover what it is and then temporarily subject yourself to it.
Is the thought of losing your house the biggest roadblock preventing you from chasing those goals? If so, spend a weekend without your house - sleep outside, live out of a bag.
Is your biggest fear having your car repossessed because you can't meet payments? Spend a day walking - don't go near your car.
Our mind conceives these hypothetical situations to be far worse than they actually are.
99% of people will go forward and boldly take action on whatever it is they want to do after they replicate the worst case scenario... because they often find it isn't really that bad.
Tip 3 - Fast
Enduring hunger builds mental toughness.
Perhaps you're used to eating every 3 hours like a lot of the BS bodybuilding and fitness magazines out there tell you is the optimal time-frame between meals to build muscle and increase your metabolism. Switch it up, follow a intermittent fasting style diet.
Our body can do days and days without food, it's our mind that hounds us for a meal after we've gone a few hours without eating.
I recommend following an 8 hour eating window followed by a 16 hour fasting window approach to dieting.
Not only will you build mental toughness by denying your body calories the second hunger begins to kick in, but you'll also find yourself more energetic, more productive and might possibly find your workouts benefit from training in a fasted state too!
You can read more about the lies about meal timing coming from fitness magazines in my article on the topic here.
Tip 4 - Apply Progressive Overload In The Gym
A quote from a motivational training video I saw a few years ago really resonates on this one "You went to the gym today, but what did you do in the gym today?".
Any and every list out there detailing tips to developing mental toughness or becoming a stronger person mentally lists that you should exercise and go to the gym.
But just going to the gym and lifting a few light weights or doing a few miles on the treadmill won't do much at all for your resolve.
If you want to use the gym and exercise as a technique for developing mental toughness (which I recommend you do) then you're going to need to apply progressive overload in each and every workout, you're going to need to push yourself to the brink, to the point of no return when you ache, twitch and grunt as the dumbbell slowly rise in a shaking manner on those last two repetitions of your incline dumbbell bench press.
Each and every workout you must be going BEYOND what you did last time.
Progressive overload requires an increase in the tension placed on your muscles, this can be achieved via an increase in the weight you're lifting, an increase in the number of repetitions you're performing or a decrease in the rest period between each set. Record it so you know what you've got to beat next time.
Tip 5 - Take Part In Obstacle Races
Regardless of whether you're into cardio and endurance events, I feel as if everyone should put themselves through their paces in an obstacle run at least once.
Be it the Tough Mudder, True Grit or the Spartan Race - each of these events are built around a series of physical challenges that you would by no means ever encounter in your day-to-day life.
From high rope climbs, crawling under rows of barbed wire, diving through pits of mud and carrying boulders up and down a steep hill... by challenging ourselves and doing these things we're unsure of, that we don't know if we'll be able to achieve... that's what builds confidence and mental toughness.
Encountering a new experience and conquering it.
These courses may look like they were solely built for fitness, but they were actually constructed for developing that confidence and mental toughness.
The book, 'Spartan Up!', the biography of the creator of Spartan Race provides an amazing insight into the mental side of endurance and obstacle racing.
I can guarantee you you will not find an individual who's completed one of these events that's a mental wimp.
Tip 6 - Focus Only On What You Can Control
Another lesson from Seneca the stoic.
Mentally toughness comes from focusing on what YOU can control.
During tough times, when adversity strikes and things aren't going your way instead of wasting your depreciating energy on the situation itself (which you can't control) opt to expend your energy on that which you can control.
You can't change the direction of the proverbial wind of life, but you can adjust your sail to steer you into more favorable waters.
Tip 7 - Act On Fear
Fear is like a disease, it must be acted upon immediately otherwise it can spread throughout your life, leaving you paralysed.
Each time you encounter fear, you must conquer it immediately. Don't delay or falter as if you do that fear will haunt you.
When we back out of situations, when we make excuses or dismiss an opportunity, not because we don't want to do it but because we're fearful of the action or the outcome part of us is lost there. It's gone.
The takeaway point? if an opportunity presents itself and you begin to experience fear, do it immediately. The longer you allow the fear to set in the harder the thing becomes.
Just like jumping out of a plane, it's natural to be nervous as our body doesn't want us to do it, it's counter-intuitive....
BUT when you're first up there, preparing to jump, that's when skydiving is at it's easiest point. People that spend too long debating, trying to amp themselves up to do it, they're the ones that often end up coming back down to the ground in the plane, they allow the fear to set in, leaving them in what is essentially a state of paralysis.