Mental toughness is a skill most people wish they had, but few are actually building.
In order to achieve what most won’t, we have to do what most won’t, like investing time to build mental toughness.
So what exactly is “it” that we’re building?
IMO, mental toughness is one’s ability to remain in control of their emotions and make the next best decision in the heat of the moment.
When all hell breaks loose, a mentally weak person panics and rides the emotional rollercoaster (fear, worry, anger, etc) while a mentally strong person will focus on what’s still in their control and make the next best decision they can given the moment.
So how do we get better at it?
1. Identify one thing that would make us mentally tougher. Is it…
- Going a month without alcohol?
- Running every single day for a month?
- Writing 500 words every morning until the book is done?
- Working out by yourself without music?
.. and do it. Pick a challenge that would be beyond your current comfort zone and challenge yourself to do it, knowing that if you complete, you’ll be more mentally tough.
2. Practice Reframing.
Reframing is the skill of choosing to view a situation from a different perspective.
- “This sucks, I got laid off.” –> “I really disliked that job. What opportunities can I find in the meantime for income while I pursue a job doing something I enjoy?”
- “I messed up that interview.” –> “Each interview is a learning experience. Next time, I can be better prepared to lead the conversation by doing ‘x,’ ‘y’ and ‘z.'”
- “I can’t get to the gym this week.” –> “I have a great opportunity to build my mental toughness by training alone in my garage or running (which I don’t like) since I’m unable to make the gym.”
The better we can reframe our internal story toward a productive story, the more we have the opportunity to build our mental toughness because we go from our default of “this sucks” mindset toward “how can I make this better” one.
3. Identify the Next Best Move
We can’t change what happened then, but we still have power over what we do next.
It’s natural for our default to be negative when something adverse happens to us. We lose an opportunity, bomb a presentation, or mess up a lift. In these moments, we are given the opportunity to improve our mental toughness by focusing on what we control and identifying (then making) the next best choice. When it happens…
- Catch your breath – and take a deep one
- Ask yourself “what’s still in my control?” (Hint: changing the past isn’t it. Identify what you could do next).
- Identify the best available choice you could make.
- Make it.
Take back control of your default response during adversity to train it toward your desired response.
- Threw an interception? Identify how the defense tricked you and then focus on executing the first play when you get the ball back.
- Messed up that talk with your coworker? Identify where you misstepped and then gameplan a) how to repair the relationship with the coworker and b) the next best choice to make in the future?
Anyone can respond emotionally with their default. Mentally tough people train themselves to respond with their desired.
You aren’t instantly mentally tough because you’ve made the decision to be. You build mental toughness one small choice at a time.
Choosing to honor your commitment to your diet over that donut builds a bit of mental toughness.
Responding productively to a disappointing client meeting builds a small touch of mental toughness.
Not giving up in a workout because you were tired builds a smidge of mental toughness.
All of our small choices to “be mentally stronger” in the moment stack up over time to build a mentally tough mindset that can handle anything