Mental toughness has been getting more attention in the media these days, especially with all of the Navy Seals writing books. I read a great statistic recently—83% of coaches say that mental toughness is critical for “determining competitive success.” Personally, every time I’ve achieved a goal—big or small—I’ve had to coach and motivate myself to make it happen. But it’s still a mystery for a lot of people.
Those who have taken the Serial Winner assessment are struggling with it:
- 63% indicated that they get overwhelmed by doubt and it keeps them from going after the things they want.
- 60% indicated that they aren’t very good at mastering their negative emotions.
The statistic about coaches came from Scientific American.* In the article, they list some highlights of decades of research. In my mind, the most important is that we develop mental toughness “as a result of repeated exposure to a variety of experiences, challenges, and adversities.”
The good news is that it is something you can develop over time. The bad news is I can’t tell you how to develop mental toughness overnight. Not possible. It’s a muscle that you have to keep working out if you want to get stronger.
Learning how to coach yourself through good times and bad is how you develop mental toughness.
Start with these three approaches.
1. Eliminate things that weaken you.
You’re making a cake every day. If it comes out lousy most days, you need to change your ingredients. I always start by looking for what I can eliminate or reduce.
What’s wrong? What’s frustrating you? What’s distracting you from more important things? What makes you fall apart? Are you overcommitted? Are you having relationship problems at work or home? What is weakening you, keeping you from finishing what you start and taking the right risks in your life?
As long as you’re mental strength is being depleted by solvable problems, you won’t make much headway. Take an honest look at what’s going on in your life and choose a problem that you can tackle to reduce the distractions in your life.
2. Add things that strengthen you.
The human brain (and therefore our mental state) thrives on focus, simplicity, clarity, and positive feedback. Give your brain what it needs to be strong.
- Work on being more organized, including a better schedule, less clutter, etc.
- Surround yourself with positive, mentally tough people who model self-motivation, self-discipline, and self-management.
- Find support, whatever kind of support you need.
I can’t tell you how often that last point limits the success of otherwise smart and capable people. They want to be a one-man show, or they don’t want to admit that they need help, or they’re frankly too cheap to hire or pay for the support they need.
As I wrote in Serial Winner, it will be hard to overcome obstacles if you don’t have the right kind of support. Make it happen, even if it’s just hiring a maid service or a part-time virtual assistant or making time to talk more with your pastor or other church leader.
3. Build strength and confidence with simple, achievable targets.
To build our mental toughness, we have to successfully navigate different kinds of challenges. You don’t want to start, if you can help it, with giant challenges.
Set simple, achievable targets. Work toward small improvements or incremental progress. With smaller goals come smaller challenges that you can cut your teeth on. With each success and each obstacle, you’re confidence in your abilities to handle what comes will grow.
No matter how successful you are, you can always work on improving your mental toughness. You don’t know what level of challenge or adversity you’ll face with your big goal this year, so build your strength now.
*Scott Kaufman, “Are You Mentally Tough?” Scientific American, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/are-you-mentally-tough/