Mental Toughness: “The quality of being adaptable, with the ability to bounce back despite significant adversity, and to remain focused on a desired outcome, regardless of the external situation, circumstances, or pressure.”
In the last blog, we discussed the concept of “Mental Toughness and Peak Performance” and the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to individuals, organizations and communities around the world. As a result, developing mental toughness has become more important than ever.
We define mental toughness as “the quality of being adaptable with the ability to bounce back despite significant adversity and to remain focused on a desired outcome regardless of the external situation, circumstances or pressure.” Additionally, we use the term synonymously with mental resilience, mental strength, stamina, strength of character, perseverance and grit.
Based on research, best practices and almost 30 years of professional experience across five continents, I have found that the following strategies and techniques will not only aid in the development of mental strength, resilience and grit, but will also aid in the achievement of long-term success, despite the endeavor. I call them “A Perfect 10 for People Who Win!”
1. Be intentional about who you are — Carl Jung was once quoted as saying, “The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.” Being deliberate about who you are involves taking the time to discover your purpose or calling as well as your core values. Your purpose answers the question, “Why do I exist?” It is the unique combination of your passions, talents and experiences that gives meaning and direction to your life. When you know your purpose, you can make decisions that align with your talents and passions, and this can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
Your core values are the beliefs and principles that guide your actions and decisions. I often refer to values as the behavioral compass (or guard rails) of your life. They are the things you believe so deeply that they form the foundation of who you are and how you behave, particularly toward others. When you are clear about your values, you are better able to make decisions that align with your beliefs and spend your time accordingly.
2. Be deliberate about where you’re going — The first step in this process is to determine your ideal life or a precise vision for your life within a specific timeframe. I usually suggest three to five years out. This vision should be very specific and include details about critical areas that are important to you, like family, friendships, finances, faith, career, health and lifestyle.
Once you have a clear vision of where you want to be in say, five years, you can begin to develop the goals and strategies you must execute to bring your ideal life into reality. Start by breaking down your vision into smaller, more manageable goals. Of course, all goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Finally, develop a plan of action to achieve each goal. This plan should include specific steps you will take, resources you will need and a timeline for when you will take each step. It’s also important to be flexible and adapt your plan as you go. Finally, hold yourself accountable for your goals by regularly reviewing your progress and making any necessary adjustments.
3. Choose your tribe carefully — Choosing the people you surround yourself with is crucial because they will have a significant amount of influence on your thoughts, feelings and actions.
The idea that you become the average of the top five people you hang around most is often referred to as the “law of association.” These people directly and significantly impact your mindset, habits and overall well-being. If you surround yourself with people who are positive, motivated and successful, you are more likely to adopt similar attitudes and behaviors. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with people who are negative, unmotivated and unsuccessful, you are more likely to adopt similar attitudes and behaviors.
It’s important to surround yourself with people who will lift you up and inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Seek out people who have the qualities and values that you admire and want to emulate, as well as those who will support, encourage and challenge you to grow and improve.
4. Win the battle between your ears — The biggest battle any of us ever wage is the one that goes on between our ears. Winning this battle, and thus controlling the narrative in our mind, is an important step in achieving personal and professional success. This refers to the ability to recognize and challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts, replacing them with more positive and accurate ones. It also requires a focused degree of self-awareness and mindfulness. One way to win this battle is to practice cognitive restructuring, which involves identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced and realistic thoughts. This can be done by questioning the evidence for and against your negative thoughts, looking for alternative explanations and challenging any assumptions or predictions that are not supported by facts.
5. Cultivate a growth mindset — A growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities can be developed through effort and learning, as opposed to a fixed mindset, which is the belief that one’s abilities are set in stone.
One way we do this is by learning from both our mistakes and our failures. Instead of viewing mistakes as a sign of personal failure, view them as opportunities for growth and learning. Reflect on what went wrong and what you can do differently in the future. Additionally, we can seek out new challenges and take on new projects, even if we feel unsure about our abilities. Embrace the uncertainty and be open to learning new things. It’s important to be mindful of our inner dialogue and pay attention to the language we use. Avoid using words that limit your potential such as “can’t” or “impossible,” instead use words that reflect a growth mindset such as “challenge” or “opportunity.” Cultivating a growth mindset takes time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it.
6. Learn to self-regulate and control your emotions — Becoming adept at emotional regulation is important because it helps us to manage our reactions to difficult situations and to respond in ways that are constructive and beneficial to ourselves and others. It helps us to avoid impulsive and potentially harmful reactions, enabling more thoughtful and rational decisions.
One way to self-regulate and control emotions is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can help to increase awareness of our emotions and to distance ourselves from them, allowing us to see them more objectively.
7. Choose to be a victor and not a victim — A victim mindset is characterized by feelings of helplessness and a belief that external circumstances are controlling one’s life. On the other hand, a victor mindset is characterized by a sense of empowerment and a belief that one has the ability to control one’s own destiny.
Shifting from a victim mindset to a victor mindset requires one to take responsibility for one’s actions and circumstances. This means acknowledging that we have the power to make choices and that those choices have consequences, both potentially positive and negative. It means recognizing that we are not passive bystanders in our lives, but rather, active participants in it.
Another way to shift from a victim mindset to a victor mindset is to focus on solutions rather than problems. Instead of dwelling on what’s gone wrong, focus on what can be done to improve the situation. Instead of worrying, focus on the actions we can take that could prevent that about which we are worrying. This requires a willingness to take risks and try new things.
8. Leverage the use of positive mental rehearsal — Positive mental rehearsal, sometimes called positive mental imagery, is a powerful technique that can help us overcome obstacles and achieve our goals by visualizing ourselves successfully navigating a particular situation. This technique can be used in any area of our life such as sports, work or personal relationships.
To use positive mental rehearsal, start by finding a quiet and comfortable place where you can focus on your visualization. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the situation you want to improve. See, hear and feel yourself successfully completing the task or achieving your goal. Make the visualization as vivid and realistic as possible. Try to include as many senses as possible such as the sounds, smells and emotions associated with the situation.
It’s important to repeat this exercise regularly; ideally, several times a day. The more you practice, the more ingrained the visualization will become in your mind and the more likely it is that you will be able to call on it in real-life situations.
Positive mental imagery can also be used to reduce anxiety, increase motivation and boost self-confidence. It’s an easy technique to learn and practice, and it can be a powerful tool in helping you to achieve your goals and overcome obstacles.
9. Get fit and stay fit, physically and financially — Staying physically and financially fit are both critical in the development of mental toughness. A base level of physical fitness is important because it helps to build resilience and improves our ability to handle stress. Regular exercise has been shown to increase the chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of well-being and happiness. It also helps to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve overall cognitive function. Furthermore, when we achieve a physical goal, it can give us a sense of accomplishment, which can translate to other areas of our lives.
Having a base level of financial fitness is important as it cultivates a sense of security and control over one’s life. Being financially stable allows us to focus on other important aspects of our lives, such as personal growth, career development and building relationships. Being financially stable also helps to reduce stress and anxiety, leading to better decisions.
10. Get outside yourself — Gratitude is the practice of being thankful and appreciative of what one has in life. It is important because it helps to shift focus away from negative thoughts and feelings and toward more positive ones. Cultivating gratitude allows one to appreciate the good things in life, even amidst difficult circumstances. This can lead to increased happiness, better relationships and overall well-being. It also helps to decrease feelings of stress, depression and anxiety.
One way for gratitude to prevail is for people to “get outside themselves,” and make the world a better place. This can include volunteering for activities, such as mentoring youth, building homes for those in need or working at a food bank. Giving of one’s time and talents can make a real difference in the lives of others and can be incredibly rewarding.
Giving more of our resources to those in need is another way to make the world a better place. This can be done by donating money or goods to charities, providing support to local organizations that are working to address social issues and supporting local businesses that are trying to make a positive impact. “Give more and you’ll live more” is a powerful reminder that when we give of ourselves and our resources, we not only help others but we also experience a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment in our own lives.