The Art of Mental Toughness

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At the 2008 Olympic Trials I came in as the 10th seeded thrower in the competition. My training had been going very well, and I anticipated that I was capable of placing in the top 5 or even top 3. 

Upon entering the ring for my first throw, my legs wobbled underneath me, and I uncharacteristically fouled my first throw. Instead of putting it behind me, I couldn’t get the first failure out of my mind, my second was under my best, and my final attempt while far enough to place me where I wanted was out of bounds. 

I had shrunk from the challenge and it was all mental.

When faced with a challenge or a challenging situation do you find that you can stand up and face it or do you shy away?

I think that every person reading this would WISH to say that they are the type of person that stands up and faces a tough situation. The best version of ourselves is not more intelligent or more talented, the best version of ourselves is a more mentally tough version of themselves.

What is mental toughness?

Each year 1300 cadets enter the United States Military Academy at Westpoint. The first summer is known as “Beast Barracks” and is engineered to test the will and ability of those new cadets.  Many cadets drop out in this first summer.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at Penn, and the author the bestseller Grit, studied these cadets to see who would be most successful. She looked at SAT scores, athletic achievement, and a rating to give them a mental toughness score (called a grit score).

What she found was that the intelligence, and physical ability of these individuals didn’t matter. What mattered was grit, or mental toughness. Individuals with a higher grit score were 60% more likely to finish.

Duckworth even looked at competitors in the national spelling bee, an area where almost certainly the best would those that had a higher IQ. Again, however, it was grit and mental toughness that was a better predictor of success.

How do you get mental toughness

In the last year I decided that I wanted to be a better competitor and began meeting with a sports psychologist, Dr. Rob Bell. In our meetings Dr. Bell helped me dial in  things that would help me develop better mental toughness;

1.Mental toughness is primarily measured in consistency.

Showing up really is half the battle. By being consistent in what you are doing you are winning the battle.

2. Even when you are trying to be consistent you will face obstacles.

In the book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield reminds us that during anything great we will have battles with the metaphorical “RESISTANCE,” it can take it’s shape in the feelings of not wanting to go to the gym today, or your best friend calling you out of nowhere to go out and derailing your training, but the resistance is everywhere.

Pressfield even says “the danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight” Recognize it and you can maintain your consistency.

3. You must define what mental toughness is to you.  This will be a measure of your consistency.

    • This month I will go to the gym 3x per week.
    • This month I will turn any work assignments in 2 days early
    • I will drink water before every meal.
    • I will meditate 10 minutes every morning.

Whatever it is, commit to it, Mental toughness is abstract, actions are not.

4. “Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing

The quote above is from Peyton Manning, but relates so well to Mental toughness. When the rubber meets the road and you want to perform your best the only way to do so is to rely on what you’ve done leading up to then. Each rep, each workout, each presentation prior, was practice and you must remember that you know EXACTLY what you are doing up there. When that happens the pressure melts away.

As you can see mental toughness will take some time, but maintaining consistent progress even in the face of obstacles will lead you to that big goal.

In Health,

Wil

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