How to Build Mental Toughness

What really is mental toughness anyways? What does it look like? Is it someone that keeps going better than you in a terrible workout? Or are they just fitter than you? How do you know if you are mentally tough? How do you know when you are being mentally weak? It is not an easy question to answer, in fact I think it is all a trap.

The title of this document will lead you to believe that I am about to expose you to some serious knowledge bombs. Maybe I’ll free you from every fear about pain you have ever had or even give you the courage to stomp it in the face when you are encountering it? None of that is true. I simply want to address a shift in mindset or perspective.

There are positive thoughts and positive thinkers and there are negative thoughts and negative thinkers. You don’t need to hear about negative self talk like “this is hard”, “I’ll never finish this”, “I’m going to slow”, “this hurts so bad”, “I’ll never make the time cap, I should just stop”, “I’ll never PR this lift, my progress is so slow”. You don’t need to hear more about this because we all already do this too naturally and too much. Why? Well that can be another document about what our society teaches us about insecurities and comparing ourselves to others, but let's not go there.

I’m going to use myself as a brief example. As an athlete I never really considered myself all that tough, but I’d always watch my peers give up before me in training, in a game, in a competition when things got really bad physically. Why? My friends all thought it was or called it just “being tough”. The older I got, I realized it has nothing to do with being tough. In my mind as things went bad, as things hurt physically, I simply continued to tell myself that “I can do this”, “come on one more” (which would lead to 2 more, or another 1 more….you get the idea), “this is where you get better, lets go”.  Each time that I had one of these experiences and I finished and had success it built more confidence it made it easier and easier the more frequent I put this into practice. Essentially through these self cues I was building a buffer from ever quitting or even questioning my ability. Each time I could look back and see that the experience didn’t kill me, in fact it eventually tricked me into believing I could do anything. I have certainly had many failures in sports and in life, but I’ve never quit anything. When I had losses it never made me question my effort and it still doesn’t today. There are only a certain group of things that we can control in our life, effort is one that is tied strongly to our self talk. If we practice positive self talk, you will eventually grow in your ability to persevere, to be mentally tough.

Through your time training you will encounter many challenges, you will have many doubts, you will have many “sub par” or even “bad days”. Always remember that not every day is sunny day. If every day were a sunny day, then we would no longer love the sun, each day would only be a day. Accept the good with the bad. As you train, as you go through the grind of heavy weights, skills you can’t master, conditioning that you want to quit.....remember what you THINK what you say internally is going to dictate the outcome. Each time you finish, each time you persevere mentally you allow your body physically to reach the adaptations that you need to be a better version of you. For many of you coming to us now looking for improvement, the mental language and self talk is where you will need to focus the most to truly breakthrough to seeing who you are. Always remember you are capable of much more than you think, when things get uncomfortable learn to love it, it is where all the gains happen.

So how do you become mentally tough? Practice. And when you don’t know where to start with positive language, fake it until you make it!

Below are a few great references I recommend:
Podcast: The Body Achieves What the Mind Believes - Brute Strength

Carol Dweck “Mindset”
Mark Divine “Unbeatable Mind”