How to become mentally tough
Mental toughness means different things to different people. In the military, it can mean forcing yourself to do things that scare you or having the resolve to keep pushing your body despite pain and fatigue. In business, mental toughness can mean having the strength of will to make unpopular decisions, like laying off staff. With fitness, mental toughness could be the difference between doing a workout or heading home for a relaxing night in front of the TV.
While there are different interpretations of mental toughness, and some people are born with more of it than others, it is also something that you can develop. Mental toughness is a valuable resource, and the more you have of it, the better.
Here are three ways to make sure you have all that you need.
Practice being uncomfortable
Muscles don’t get stronger if you lift light weights. In the same way, you won’t get fitter if you only ever jog a mile or two. If you want to be fit and strong, you need to overload your muscles and cardiovascular system. There are no shortcuts.
The same is true for mental toughness. If you want to develop it, you need to put yourself in positions where you need to use your determination and willpower. Exposing yourself mental, physical, and emotional discomfort will build toughness. Coddling yourself won’t.
Look for ways to bring a little discomfort into your life. Then, as you get used to this level of discomfort, turn things up to make you even tougher. Practical examples include:
Live on a very tight budget for a couple of months
Turn off your heating and hot water
Walk to work every day for a month
Eat just one meal a day
Commit to working out for 30 days straight
Sleep only four hours per night
Go on a long solo hike over several days
It doesn’t matter what you do so long as it takes you outside of your comfort zone and challenges you. You’ll want to quit, but that’s the point. Use your mental toughness to stay on track. Challenge completed? Do something harder.
Positive thinking is a big part of mental toughness. The belief that you will prevail is often enough to keep you going, despite adversity, barriers, and even pain. Positive actions start with positive thoughts and words.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to let negative thoughts undermine your mental strength. Phrases like “I can’t” can really take the wind out of your sails. Replace negative thoughts with positive alternatives. For example, every time you are tempted to say “I can’t” say “I can” instead.
“I can’t do that” becomes “I CAN do that.” Say it often enough, and you'll start to believe it. The moment you find yourself thinking that you are unable to do something, flip the switch and say you can instead.
Learn from your mistakes
Mistakes are part of life. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference between mentally tough people and those who lack mental toughness is how you choose to deal with mistakes. Mentally tough people accept mistakes, take responsibility for them, learn from them, and then do their utmost not to make them again. This is a conscious process.
In contrast, those with less mental toughness will blame mistakes on others. They’ll dwell on those mistakes, playing them over and over like a bad home movie, and then they’ll make them all over again.
Remember this acronym: FAIL – it stands for First Action In Learning. You can treat mistakes as disasters or learning opportunities. The next time that life doesn't go your way, just take it on the chin, shrug it off, learn from your experience, and move on. After all, that’s what a mentally tough person would do!