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What is Mental Toughness?

Guide to Mental Toughness: Secrets to Business, Military, and Sport’s Most Elite

Welcome to what top athletes, coaches and business professionals are turning to as the internet’s best mental toughness resource.

My name is Ben Newman and I am a MENTAL TOUGHNESS EXPERT, TOP PERFORMANCE COACH, and YOUR VIRTUAL MENTAL TOUGHNESS COACH.

First, I want to tell you why I am 100% qualified to educate you on mental toughness and how we have driven results by connected individuals like YOU to a deeper level of commitment to their PURPOSE and PROCESS that will drive YOUR next level success.

I recently shared the digital stage with Dabo Sweeney, Tony Robbins, Andy Andrews, Tamika Catchings, Lewis Howes, Michael Hyatt, and other great speakers to kick start Jon Gordon’s Power of Positive Summit.  Performance coaching and mental toughness is my life!

My current performance coaching clients include the following:

  • Hall of Fame NFL players, All-Pros & Super Bowl Champions
  • National Championship NCAA Football Programs
  • Division 1 NCAA Basketball Programs
  • UFC World Champions
  • Fortune 500 CEOs
  • Top 1% Financial Advisors in the World

I don’t tell you this to impress you, but to impress upon the point that I am qualified to help YOU, and that is what I promise to do.

One of first rules of sports psychology, mental toughness is a requirement to achieve peak performance. To get mentally tough it’s not just about physical abilities. Your success will center on changing the way YOU think. It’s about disciplined thinking to help you become the person you are destined to be.

The biggest challenge for most individuals is tripping on what’s behind them. Anyone who goes through change in their life will experience turmoil, even when change is positive. It happens to every person. To get mentally tough you’re going to be uncomfortable, but this is a critical piece of building mental toughness.

While I love working with athletes and CEOs, I’ve found great pleasure in applying the same principles to people in all walks of life, which is the driving reasons I created YOUR Mental Toughness Playbook and our Mental Toughness Academy.

This article was written to help each one of you understand the amazing resources available to improve your mental toughness.  We have spent thousands of hours training our clients on mental toughness around the world, and have compiled the best articles, most relevant examples, and most importantly, the resources that have contributed to our success.

100% proven mental toughness concepts.

Success depends on your commitment to mental strength training

I challenge those I work with to view this journey as continuous mental strength training… a path to building their mental muscle. It’s about how they respond to adversity to achieve greatness and performance; how they attain belief in themselves. We too often hold on to things we can’t control. You have to learn over time to connect with a process to drive results and alleviate pressure.

Yes, building mental toughness is very much learned, and we’re going to cover ton of details here and provide YOU with some amazing resources to get started.

  1. What is Mental Toughness
  2. Best mental toughness courses you can take
  3. How to develop mental toughness
  4. How professional athletes use mental toughness in their daily routines
  5. Discuss if and how mental toughness is taught
  6. My favorite mental toughness quotes and books
  7. Mental toughness exercises to help you everyday
  8. Most importantly, how you can increase your mental toughness starting today!

Are YOU ready to take it to the next level, to get mentally tough?

Mental Toughness Training

What is Mental Toughness?

It depends on who you ask to define mental toughness.

I recently read an article from a respected industry leader, and she had come up with almost 20 ways to define mental toughness. All were solid suggestions; it would be hard to argue with any of them.

But, something bothered me, so I tried to put myself in the shoes of a person reading that article. At first glance at the list, my initial thought was, “wow, I’ve got to master almost 20 unique skills in order to be mentally tough.”

That was my non-mentally tough response. However, my sense was that most people would react the same way to this long list.

Journey to building mental toughness is intoxicating

What if a teaching golf professional told new players to the game, at the start of their first lesson, that they had to master 20 skills in order to be successful at golf.

How many would stick with it?

Not many.

However, the few that would take the challenge would understand that while they don’t today have many of the skills, the challenge of building mental toughness by achieving some or, maybe, all of those skills would be an intoxicating journey they simply could not turn down.

That’s the person who will be energized; someone who refuses to believe they can’t define mental toughness for themselves. They looked at this long list of attributes to get mentally tough, and realized most of the challenges will be above the shoulders.

It’s the difference between good and great. It’s the power of positive thinking. It’s calmness under fire.

Legendary Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi put it simple:

“It is a perfectly disciplined state of mind that refuses to give in.”

Peak performers—pro athletes, business leaders, coaches, high school athletes—don’t settle just to achieve one goal. They are constantly trying to raise the bar of achievement.

Accept the truth and get mentally tough

I believe your success will be measured on your ability to get up when knocked down. There are five core things that I live by that will provide you the foundation:

  1. Accept the truth. Realize and identify the person you are. What is truth of your situation? You have to be honest with yourself.
  2. Speak the truth. Putting it out there. Often, that means working with a coach or a mentor that will push you to peak performance. I’ve had business coaches for more than decade to help me get to next level. To this day I use my coaches to help me reframe when times are tough.
  3. Breathe through the truth. Being calm in the face of pressure or stress in not just mind over matter. I’ve learned a breathing technique called 6, 2, 7: Inhale for six seconds, hold for two, and exhale for seven. It is an amazing technique for athletes, but it works in any situation of high stress.
  4. Process the truth. You have to process truth where you currently are. Don’t expect to be perfect. Take your time. Old behaviors will often come into your realm as you attempt to make this change. To get mentally tough, you must silence the voice on your shoulder telling you to stray from where you are. You have power to silence that voice.
  5. Create a plan based up truth. Take look at past successes, whether in the boardroom or on stage. What were your behaviors like? What made you successful? Think big. Think of mental strength training as something you have to work on every day. Create your plan based on where you currently are.

How to Develop Mental Toughness

Building mental toughness is often confused with working hard. Or, working long hours. Or, taking on more projects than you can realistically handle.

A head fake if I’ve ever seen one.

So, what is mental toughness? Mental toughness isn’t about putting yourself in stressful situations. Building mental toughness is about how you handle stressful and difficult situations. It might be losing your job. Or, losing a big client. It could be losing someone close to you.

Foundation for developing mental toughness spans all walks of life

I’ve scoured the Internet learning how others teach mental toughness. While their lists of 4,5 8, or even 18 things always have a unique twist or two, the foundation is the same.

  1. Think positive. Athletes often say, “I hate to lose.” We all know what they mean by that, but I see that as negative thinking that does not put them in the best place for developing mental toughness. I’ve seen others call this visualization, and that’s a great term as well. Golfers visualize the flight of their ball. Business leaders visualize how they will influence those by a presentation. The great ones focus on what they are going to do, not what they aren’t going to do.
  2. Learn the power to reframe. Whether it was my mother reframing her life to focus on her family, not her disease, or Coach Bill Belichick reframing how the New England Patriots were going to play in the second half of the 2017 Super Bowl, greatness is often defined by those who find ways to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A nature photographer friend once told me some of his greatest photos came when he simply turned around on the trail or on the mountain. He reframed, literally and figuratively.
  3. Continually test yourself. Mental toughness is by and large learned and to master it means you have to do mental strength training every day. Every day! I have goals for my activities. I strive to exceed what I’m asked to do, however that’s not a goal. Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is the athletic equivalent of moving the high jump bar 6 inches above your personal best. That will test your ability to think positive.
  4. Be where your feet are. This concept is amazing in so many ways. Stay in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing and knock it out of the park. For most of us, our days are filled with activities… often over-filled. We lose sight of the forest for the tress, doing our best to get the activities completed rather than get them completed spectacularly. When you’re at the gym, be there 100%. When you’re with your family, be there 100%.
  5. Believe in Yourself. Identifying with the person you are today is the first step to becoming the person you want to be. Great salespeople view sales they couldn’t close as simply opportunities their clients weren’t ready for. They don’t see it as failure; they see it as part of developing mental toughness. Belief in yourself comes through speaking the truth about yourself. Only then can you begin the journey to a new you.

Here’s the good news: how to develop mental toughness is 100% within your control. You just need to get fired up and attack the process!

Building Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness for Sports

A large portion of my business involves athletes at all levels, from the NFL to the NCAA to the smallest of the small just starting their sporting career in middle and high school.

What’s great about how I teach building mental toughness is that the foundation is identical for a 6-year-old playing baseball or a 10-year veteran in the NFL.

I love this quote from Eddie Jones, coach of the England International Rugby Team in an interview with The New York Times

“Mental toughness is your ability to keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing regardless of a situation, regardless of whether you’re physically or mentally fatigued. High-level sport is uncomfortable. We try to teach the players to be to be comfortable at being uncomfortable.”

That is the essence of how to build mental toughness, not just in sports, but in every facet of your life.

While there are many, many different definitions of mental toughness for sports, I found an excellent, to-the-point summation from Andrew Hamilton:

  • “Achieve relatively consistent performances regardless of situational factors;”
  • “Retain a confident, positive, optimistic outlook, even when things are not going well, and not ‘choke’ under pressure;”
  • “Deal with distractions without letting them interfere with optimal focus;”
  • “Tolerate pain and discomfort;”
  • “Remain persistent when the ‘going gets tough’;”
  • “Have the resilience to bounce back from disappointments.”

What I like about Hamilton’s list for how to build mental toughness is its emphasis on behavior and how it impacts achievement. He focuses on how athletes respond when, as he calls it, “the going gets tough.” It’s not so much about what happens to an athlete; it’s more about how they react. For example, how do you react to what you perceive to be a bad call by an official? Or, how do you react to being behind in a tennis match? Much of this answer goes back to your mental strength training.

Hamilton goes further on mental toughness for sports: “Most top athletes and coaches believe that psychological factors play as crucial a role as physical attributes and learned skills in the make-up of champions,” Hamilton writes. “When physical skills are evenly matched – as they tend to be in competitive sport – the competitor with greater control over his or her mind will usually emerge as the victor. Mental strength is not going to compensate for lack of skill, but in close contests it can make the difference between winning and losing.”

How to Develop Mental Toughness in Sports

What I love about what I do is that I work with so many amazing athletes in the NFL, MLB, NCAA and PGA. Each sport requires specific skills and conditioning, which makes my job both challenging and extremely satisfying. I wanted to dive deeper into a few sports that, collectively, I think will provide you an excellent framework for how to develop mental toughness in sports.

Running, mental toughness is about mindset and visualization

World-class runners have mastered the physical piece of the sport. Where winners are separated from the rest is their mental strength training. Following are five tips from Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter to help you get and maintain a mental edge:

  1. “Create your performing edge toughness mindset. For the proper toughness mindset, the right internal state must be created first. The appropriate internal state can bridge the gap between what you think you can accomplish and what you actually achieve.”
  2. “Build a mentally tough outlook. Direct your focus to what is possible, to what can happen, toward success. If you want to be a mentally tough runner, focus on what you can control: Your thoughts, emotions, training form, and how you perceive each situation. Positive energy makes peak performances possible.”
  3. Visualize mental toughness every day. Take 10 or 15 minutes each day to mentally rehearse your running mental toughness goals. Put yourself in a relaxed state through deep abdominal breathing. Then, as vividly as possible, create an image in your mind of what you want to achieve in your running. You can produce a replay of one of your top mentally tough performances in the past. Then carry all those positive feelings of self-confidence, energy and strength into your mental practice for an upcoming event.
  4. “Create a relaxed focus. Work toward maintaining concentration for longer periods of time. You can tune into what is critical to your performance and tune out what is not. You can easily let go of distractions and take control of your attention. As you focus more on the direct task in front of you (your stride form, how you are feeling, etc.), there will be less room for the negative thoughts.”
  5. “Use power words for mental toughness. Try repeating these phrases for your running mental toughness before your next event:
    I stay positive and mentally tough no matter what happens
    I project confidence and energy
    Going fast feels effortless
    I am in my element; I am fully engaged in my running
    I am tuned into what I am doing each moment
    I fully enjoy every part of my workout
    I am physically relaxed and mentally focused
    I am a strong, mentally tough runner”

Practice mental toughness, golf training is just as difficult

Is there a more frustrating and difficult sport than golf? Those that don’t play can’t understand how hitting a ball that doesn’t move can be so hard.

Golf has brought the best of us to our knees, both physically and emotionally.

Mental toughness golf definition: Act like a winner.

In her article for Let’s Reach Success, Lidiya Kin hit on a critical element of mental toughness: Act like a winner. Her point focused on body language and how it can affect your mental state in building mental toughness. “Act strong and you can convince your mind that you are strong enough to deal with the pressure,” Kin wrote. “Acting strong is not the same as being a bully or being unapproachable on the golf course. It means:

  1. Straighten your back. A fine posture reduces the release of cortisol. It automatically helps you shrug off stress and progress like a champion. Walking the tour talk only means straightening your back, squaring your shoulders and smiling often.”
  2. It’s okay to be afraid. Bravery isn’t lack of fear. It’s overcoming fear. Take that churning gut, understand it and use it to your advantage. Knowing what you fear helps you prepare against it.”
  3. Make it a habit. Mental toughness is not developed overnight unless you find it the hard way. On the golf course, you have to toil every day to build this mindset. Once you develop the mental strength for golf course, you will be able to summon it even in life. So, go on, break the wheel of doubt and feel liberated on the golf course as in life.”

Mental toughness, tennis inseparable

It’s easy to lose sight of strategy in tennis when it moves so fast. And, that pace of play requires significant mental strength training to be able to handle situations that can change in seconds.

In an article in Optimum Tennis, the author provides several excellent tips to help players of all levels manage the mental game:

  1. “Positive Self-Talk (during the match). Talking to your self during a match can improve mental toughness. For example, if you are not following through on your strokes during matches, you might say to yourself “Don’t stop. Follow through”. Experiment with phrases until you’ve discovered ones that work for you in overpowering your negative subconscious inner voice, which is controlling your mind, and your play.”
  2. “Staying in the Moment (Be where your feet are). Often, particularly during a significant match, we dwell on the errors we make, the points we miss. We focus on what we’re doing wrong in a match and end up frustrating ourselves even more. We, in essence, mentally beat ourselves up until our concentration falters, and we are no longer functioning to our ability. But with a minimum of 120 points per match, why worry about each one missed? You can’t change previous shots, so forget about them, and play one point at a time.”
  3. “Never Give-Up Mentality. Adversity will occur in just about every tennis match you play. The best act of mental toughness for tennis is to never surrender, never retreat — that is, keep playing with a winning, positive attitude, point by point, until the last point has been played. Don’t let negative thoughts of defeat cloud your judgment and affect your play.”

Mental Toughness Sports

Baseball, mental toughness, both built on focus, patience and confidence.

The great thing about teaching mental strength training in sports is that the principles apply at all ages. Baseball is a sport kids start at a very early age, and often they are well-coached on the mental aspects.

Author Bill Cole, who was the Sport Psychology Coach for the Stanford University baseball team when it was ranked #1 in the nation, uses five simple, but powerful strategies to drive mental toughness in players:

  1. “Learn to Control Your Focus:The most important part of baseball mental toughness is attentional control. Where you place your focus, in what way, and for how long is key. You need to learn how to choose the appropriate attentional cues so you keep your mind tuned in, not out.”
  2. “Keep Your Mind in The Here and Now:Good baseball is played one pitch at a time. Do that and your mind stays in the moment, the now. One way to facilitate that is to have breath focus. The mental game of baseball helps you learn how to find your breath, track it, and allow it to center and focus you.”
  3. “Stay Poised and Patient:You want to play aggressive baseball, but you also need to remain self-aware, and tuned in to what is happening around you. This is vital to being a plugged-in player who makes things happen. The mental game of baseball helps you develop this fine-tuned personal awareness.”
  4. “Develop Confidence and Self-Belief:If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Everyone around you can tell you how good you are, but if you discount this encouragement, it will never enter your head and heart. The mental game of baseball helps you build an inside-out foundation of self-approval so your confidence flows.”
  5. “Use Mental Rehearsal:Get a competitive advantage with your mind by playing the game in advance, using visualization. Go to the movies in your mind and mentally rehearse what you will be doing in competition. You can plan for contingencies, problems, or map out your strategy and see yourself winning before you actually do it. The baseball mental toughness game helps you use your imagination to great effect.”

Not surprisingly, the tips and techniques used across sports are, for the most part, identical.

Can Mental Toughness Be Taught?

Absolutely, some just embrace it more than others.

It’s taught every day all around the world by parents, business leaders, coaches, squad leaders, and just about anyone who faces a daunting task or leads a team toward a lofty goal.

But, mental strength training is not teaching in the traditional sense. Teaching math, for example, is built on known concepts that apply to many of life’s opportunities. We can figuratively touch and feel the impact of math. For the most part, it’s a straight line between two points.

Football team shows us all how to get mentally tough

Building mental toughness… it seldom happens in a straight line. I was watching a college football game recently and the home team was up 31-7 in the second quarter over a team most thought was evenly-matched. I was guessing the final score might be 70-7 in the end. Well, two hours later the visitors kicked a field goal to win 38-37, on the road in front of 60,000 fans rooting against them.

What we heard the next day was that near the end of the first half the players came together as a unit and “agreed” that how things were going wasn’t going to cut it. What we saw from that point to the end of the game was a different team. Were the Xs and Os that much better? Did the coaches have some secrets tucked away that they were holding back? No.

This was a motivated group of young men digging deep into themselves and summoning all they learned from years of mental toughness drills both on and off the practice field. They played like the winners their coaches have told them they are many times.

Could this comeback reflect of what they’ve been taught from many coaches over the years? 100%.

Is there a textbook I can send you? Unfortunately, no.

Can mental toughness be taught? With football players, no question about it!

Building mental toughness through grit is a differentiator at West Point.

Another mental toughness expert I often follow is James Clear, a behavioral psychologist who specializes in personal improvement and building mental toughness. The article—The Science of Developing Mental Toughness—concludes that research has shown that intelligence accounts for only 30% of personal achievement. What makes the most impact on achievement is mental toughness, what he calls “grit”.

Clear used results from a study by Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania on incoming cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Each year the academy accepts approximately 1,300 new cadets. During their first summer on campus they must complete a number of difficult tasks, some you might consider extreme. One of them is called “Beast Barracks,” a test that stretches individuals physically, emotionally and mentally.

Looking across two classes of 2,441 cadets, the research found that the “Grit Scale”—the perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals—was the ultimate determining factor in whether or not they finished Beast Barracks.

Here’s what she found according to Clear:

“It wasn’t strength or smarts or leadership potential that accurately predicted whether or not a cadet would finish Beast Barracks,” Clear wrote. “Instead, it was grit — the perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals — that made the difference.

“In fact, cadets who were one standard deviation higher on the Grit Scale were 60% more likely to finish Beast Barracks than their peers. It was mental toughness that predicted whether or not a cadet would be successful, not their talent, intelligence, or genetics.”

What I would love to know is the backgrounds of those cadets who finished Beast Barracks. I would wager they had a long history of mental strength training and an up close and personal knowledge of mental toughness drills.

Can mental toughness be taught? I’d say the U.S. Military is doing something right!

Mental toughness quotes inspire and provide direction

Our generation didn’t invent mental toughness. The thought of being more than you think you can be, to achieve beyond your wildest imagination, has been at the front of great minds for centuries.

As I’ve studied how the mind can do wondrous things, I’ve run across many truly insightful quotes on mental toughness. Let’s look at some of my favorites.

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

We all know who Eleanor Roosevelt was, but there’s not enough room in this article to list all she accomplished in support of women’s rights, civil rights, human rights and, yes, politics. She actively pressed the United States to join the United Nations and became our first delegate. There are many great role models for how to get mentally though … she is near the top.

“Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.” — T. Harv Eker

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.” — T. Harv Eker

After losing millions in the demise of a chain of fitness stores he founded, T. Harv Eker looked deep inside himself and others who had failed in big fashion, to develop the theories he speaks about today. Eker believes we each have a “financial blueprint” that is the roadmap to accumulate wealth. Eker writes that many people play the role of a victim and deny that they have control over their success.

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, did so many things to help our country better understand itself in its early years. Beyond all the writing, lectures and sayings, what I find most intriguing—and most revealing—about Mark Twain was that many years after having field for bankruptcy, he made a second fortune and repaid every creditor back.

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” — Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Edison must have spent a lot of time astounding himself. His unlimited imagination was central to what we now call the Industrial Revolution. He was one of the first to apply mass production concepts to inventions. He didn’t just invent, he produced.

It’s inspiring to read quotes on mental toughness that go back centuries. Just goes to show you how strong of a foundation mental toughness has been at every point in our history.

Why Mental Toughness is Important

To be successful. To be happy. To be fulfilled.

I recently read an article from Mental Toughness Partners where they reported research on the impact of mental toughness on individual performance:

  • “It explains up to 25% of the variance in individual performance.:
  • “Mentally tough people have better attendance, handle stress better, are less likely to develop mental health issues, and they sleep better.”
  • “Mentally tough people are “can do” kinds of people. They respond positively to change and stress, they gladly accept responsibility and volunteer for new assignments and activities.”
  • “Mentally tough people are more aspirational. Simply put, they are more ambitious and are better prepared to handle risk.”

Harvey Mackay wrote recently about the definition of mental toughness from a study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology: “There are many characteristics that contribute to mental toughness. It all starts with training and preparation. If you aren’t prepared to do your job, you have no chance.

“The will to succeed is preceded by the will to prepare.”

Nothing happens without a plan when building mental toughness.

Spending much of my business career in sales, I have heard this statement a lot: Nothing happens without a sale. While true, it oversimplifies the point I think it was trying to make, which is: Nothing happens without a plan.

Your desire to get mentally tough begins with a plan. It’s not enough to say you will “be successful.” Or, rich. Or, smart.

One of my favorite sayings captures the importance of the point about a plan: If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.

Phelps and Spitz: Personification of how to get mentally tough

I’m positive Michael Phelps’ goal was not to win a gold medal in swimming. His goal was to win 15 or 20 (he won 18), and to be considered the greatest swimmer of all time.

Mission accomplished!

In an interview in 2008 in the New York Daily News, when asked the outcome of a duel with Phelps in his prime, Spitz said this: “I think the relationship between people that are great is they have a common thread of knowing how to beat their competitors and they know how to constantly be in shape and in top form. If that’s the case, I’d know everything about how to beat Michael,” Spitz said. “He’d also know everything to beat me. We’d have to tie.”

At the time, Spitz was 58.

Can mental toughness be taught? Olympic swimmers seem to have cracked the code.

And, it sounds like he hasn’t lost a bit of his mental toughness at 58.

Mental Toughness Training

Mental Toughness and Navy SEALs

The Navy SEALs are the role model for how to get mentally tough. They have to endure unbelievable stress, both physically and mentally, to complete their jobs. And…

They put themselves in harm’s way (as do all of our military people)!

Much has been written about the physical hurdles a man must endure to become a SEAL. What struck me as I dug under the hood of SEAL training is that repetition under highly-stressful situations is at the core of being able to physically withstand situations the rest of us can only imagine.

Practice, practice, practice. And, then practice more and practice harder.

Adding stress to training will help you get mentally tough

I found recently a very interesting article by Stew Smith on military.com. Stew is a former Navy SEAL, a well-known strength and conditioning specialist and an expert on building mental toughness. He wrote an article focused on Navy SEAL mental toughness that I thought captured the reality of what it takes to become and survive as a Navy SEAL.

“I believe that in athletics especially, that through tough workouts you will build mental toughness. Physiologically your body will start to buffer lactate better IF given the stimulus to do so – meaning we will physically adapt to get in better shape and our muscles will fail later and later and later until you can surpass perceived limitations,” Stew wrote. “In a military environment, this method has been known to work, BUT adding training under stress, hunger, and fatigue will only enhance performance on the battlefield.  I guess the only saying, “The more you bleed in training, the less you bleed in war” applies to this philosophy.”

Stew went on to write about the role of Navy SEAL mental toughness conditioning, always straddling that fine line between pain and injury. He would do high reps of pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, dips, and running and swimming for miles to help him create increased energy levels.

“You really have to get the body to know what pain is before you can endure it longer” Stew wrote.

Building mental toughness is mind over matter.

I found another fascinating article on navyseals.com that was re-published from Men’s Health. The title was “Fear and Mental Toughness”.

The article concluded (and supported what Stew was saying) that the more you’re exposed to something you initially fear, the less you will fear it and ultimately become immune to it… you’ll get used to it and significantly raise your chances to get mentally tough.

“This is mind over matter situation,” Sergeant Bill Cullen of the First Battalion of the Fourth Marines said in the article. “Essentially, you’re bending the body’s software to control its hardware. It works standing over a putt on the 18th green. It works shooting a final-second free throw. It works banging down a door with a bad guy on the other side.”

Navy SEAL’s primary weapon systems today are people’s heads

The next quote probably won’t surprise you.

“Graduating as a SEAL is not all about being physically fit,” Lieutenant Commander Mike H of executive officer of SEAL Team 10, said in the article. “Today, our primary weapons systems are our people’s heads. You want to excel in all the physical areas, but the physical is just a prerequisite to be a SEAL. Mental weakness is what actually screens you out.”

Mental weakness is what screens you out!

So, while the physical component has to be there, the overriding conclusion I came away with was that ultimate success as a SEAL or as an Olympian or as a corporate CEO is more about decision making and how that allows you to do your job at the top of your profession.

Can mental toughness be taught? I’d say most people would agree that the seals continue to write the teachings for mental toughness.

Mental Toughness Exercises

There is no magic recipe—no specific mental toughness drills—to “train” for mental toughness. In my research, I found interesting and very different ways a well-known strength and conditioning expert and a 23-year veteran of the FBI approaches her clients.

LaRae Quy spent 23 years in counterintelligence with the FBI working in what she described as an environment of risk, uncertainty and deception. She spoke with writer Justin Bariso in an article titled “An FBI agent’s 5 steps to Developing Mental Toughness” for Inc. magazine.

  1. “Develop emotional awareness. You have to understand what makes you tick and learn to control it. Anger can be positive, but not when it ends in a fit of rage. She said law enforcement officers are trained to observe people around them whether in a store, restaurant or at a sporting event. Their challenge is to figure out their stories: their occupation, what they’re thinking and even their mood. This simple focused-awareness drill as she calls it can work in any environment to help you better understand the person or group you want to reach.”
  2. “Push through your limits. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Change is not always bad. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong or bad with your situation, tell yourself it is just temporary and see the benefits.”
  3. “Control your mind. We become what we think. And, for many people, what they think is often self-limiting and only serves to wire your brain in the wrong way.”
  4. “Focus, focus, focus. My favorite. This is about focusing physical and mental energy. Athletes at every level use this to raise their game to a higher level. They practice with a laser-focused goal (shouldn’t we all be doing that?) but they do it with structure:
    • Break down tasks into their key parts.
    • Spend extra time on actions you find especially difficult.
    • Get feedback, and adjust accordingly.
    • Put your ego on the backburner.
    • Keep your goals in front of you.”
  5. “Pursue growth. The mentally tough are learners. They are voracious readers. They are constantly in a mode of continuous improvement. They realize mistakes are not failures, but simply opportunities to learn. And, ultimately, to become supremely confident.”

Motivation at the heart of building mental toughness.

Sean Hyson is a well-known strength and conditioning coach, and an expert on building mental toughness and mental toughness drills. For a story in Men’s Fitness magazine, Sean spoke with several experts and compiled an interesting list of ways to improve your mental toughness.

  1. “Be a self-starter. “The root of building mental toughness lies in motivation,” Sean writes. He highlights two opposing mentalities that can drive a person to be tough. Both exist in us all, but we likely lean to one. First are those dominated by motivation to succeed… they excel when great opportunity lies ahead. The second type are those motivated to avoid failure (this is not my favored type). These folks get going when their egos are threatened. Either way, your ability to motivate yourself is critical to mental toughness.”
  2. “Find your zone. World-class athletes respond to race stress with a reduction in brain-wave activity similar to meditation,” said Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., a strength conditioning coach and triathlete. “The average person responds to race stress with an increase in brain-wave activity that borders on panic. The great athletes, or business people, or school teachers are able to ‘get in the zone’—a cool-headed state that allows them to perform optimally, even in high-pressure conditions. They train their brains.”
  3. “Be positive. This is mind over matter. If you even think you can’t finish a marathon,” Cosgrove says, “you can’t. Cosgrove recommends creating a mission statement—a goal or objective—that gets you pumped up. Take the time to consider why you’re running that marathon, gaining 10 pounds of muscle or whatever it is that you’ve challenged yourself with. If you have a powerful reason why, you can get through anything.”
  4. “Talk to yourself. Be your own coach. If you’re running that marathon, tell yourself you’re going to give it everything you have, says Cosgrove. “Learning to talk positively to yourself when the going gets tough takes practice, but you’ll get better at it. Then, on race day (or whatever your particular challenge is), you’ll be able to talk yourself into a second wind.”
  5. “Visualize. I am a huge believer in visualizing, no matter if you’re an athlete or a speaker,” said Joe Stankowski, C.P.T., a former powerlifting and strongman competitor: “Your set should be mentally done. Imagine the steps you’ll take to get into position and the way your body will look performing the movement, and rehearse each repetition in your mind. Think about how all that will feel to you. Because it’s already been done in your mind,” says Stankowski. “All you have to do is repeat it with your body.”
  6. “Meditate. Many of my clients find this very hard to do,” Stankowski says. “Find a place where you can clear your mind and relax to mentally prepare for your upcoming challenge. If you struggle I suggest you reach out to an expert.”
  7. “Get uncomfortable. Routines are the enemy of getting uncomfortable,” Sean writes. “If you’re trying to be a tougher runner, then a couple of times a month you need to practice running a little longer or faster than you’re used to. These workouts should be at random—put your running shoes on one day and decide you’re going to take it to the limit. The same logic applies to the weight room and life in general.”
  8. “Be prepared. Success doesn’t always come to the best athlete,” Sean writes. “Endurance athletes have a saying: ‘Nothing new on race day,’ Meaning if you’ve prepared yourself for everything, you’ll be ready for anything. You should know well ahead of a race what you are going to eat, wear, and even think about that day. Naturally, you can’t be prepared for every eventuality, but try to be anyway. Anticipate any problems that could arise, and have a solution in mind.” Cosgrove, the great runner, says: “Knowing you have done everything possible to get to your goal will help you mentally. When it comes to the event you are training for, you can go into it with peace of mind. Once you have that, you’ll be surprised by just how far you can go.”

Can mental toughness be taught? Again, practicing the exercises we just reviewed is proof that if you put in the time and work, yes, mental toughness can be taught.

Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness Test

Unlike sports, the game of building mental toughness does not have a scoreboard.

It is not an absolute.

Testing “abilities” such as aptitude, intelligence and personality traits is a slippery slope. Mental toughness falls into this type of measurement in the field of psychometrics.

We’re not the only company to develop a mental toughness test, but ours is one of the easiest and quickest to complete in order to give you an instant look at your level of mental toughness. Plus, it’s free and you can get results immediately.

The test is very quick. You rate yourself across 8 categories and assign yourself a score between 1 and 5. Once complete, you add up your scores which classify you in the following levels.

  • Peak Performer
  • Mentally Tough
  • Opportunity for Growth

Based on your mental toughness pre-assessment, our course walks you through the exact steps you need to take to improve. These are the same concepts we use while working with our clients in the NFL, NCAA and PGA.

Other tests that measure mental toughness

There are some other organizations that have dug deep into the subject as well, one of those being AQR International in the United Kingdom.

Numerous case studies from around the world show that Mental Toughness is a major factor in:

  • Performance: explaining up to 25% of the variation in performance in individuals
  • Positive Behavior: more engaged, more positive, more “can do”
  • Wellbeing: more contentment, better stress management, less prone to bullying
  • Aspirations: more ambitious, prepared to manage more risk

According to the AQR, most psychometrics focus on the measurement of behaviors (how we act) and attributes (how we feel). Mental toughness looks at how we think, which is a key driver for the development of behavior and attributes for how to build mental toughness.

Below is a chart developed by AQR which highlights the 4Cs and how each is assessed in the test:

Mental Toughness Scale What This Means…
Control Life: I believe in myself more than others believe in me.
Emotional: I always manage my emotions and the emotions of others.
Commitment Setting Goals: I promise to do it – I like working to goals.
Achieving: I’ll do what it takes to keep my promises and achieve my goals.
Challenge Taking Risks: I will push myself because I am driven to succeed.
Learning: Every situation holds an opportunity to learn.
Confidence In Abilities: I have the skills to do it or will acquire the skills.
Interpersonal: I can influence others and stand my ground if needed.

Another good mental toughness test I’ve come across is through Mental Toughness Partners. They have a different spin on the 4 C’s.

  • “Control means having a sense of self-worth and describes the extent to which a person feels in control of their life and their circumstances. Importantly it also describes the extent to which they can control the display of their emotions. A Mentally Tough person will usually just “get on with it” irrespective of how they feel and their positive approach can often lift the spirits of those around them.”
  • “Commitment is about goal orientation and ‘stickability’ and describes the extent to which someone is prepared to set goals for what they need to do and make measurable promises that, once made, they will work hard to deliver.”“Control and Commitment taken together are what most people mean when they think of resilience and they are indeed a solid response to adversity. But resilience is largely a passive quality and is only one part of building mental toughness.”
  • “Challenge describes the extent to which the individual will push back their boundaries, embrace change and accept risk. It’s also about how they see all outcomes – good and bad. Mentally Tough people view challenges, change and adversity as opportunities rather than threats and will relish the chance to learn and grow in the new and hitherto unknown situation. Someone whose challenge score is high will typically enjoy new places, new people, innovation and creativity.”
  • “Confidence completes the picture and describes the self-belief an individual has in their own abilities and the interpersonal confidence they have to influence others and deal with conflict and challenge. When faced with a challenge, mentally tough people scoring high in confidence, will possess the self-belief to deal with the situation and the inner strength to stand their ground when needed. Their confidence enables them to represent their view boldly and be comfortable in handling objections.”

Sports Psychology and Mental Toughness

As I stated in another section of this article, building mental toughness doesn’t have a scoreboard. There are no winners and losers.

So much of success in building mental toughness, whether in your personal life, business or sports, comes from what I like to describe as from the neck up. I’ve spent a great deal of time with athletes at the highest level, from the NFL to the NCAA. And, when you line them up, physically they are all gifted. In football we stress over the difference in a player who runs a 4.45 40-yard dash and one who runs a 4.55.

Ten one-hundredths of a second. But, the real question is how do they think? How do they process information? How well do they play with pain? That one-tenth of a second may be meaningless if the slower player is strong above the shoulders.

There are many examples in every sport where the ultimate winners were neither the fastest or strongest. They are able to muster the mental and emotional toughness to perform at levels that most observers would say are above their capabilities.

In a great article by Sally Tamarkin titled “It’s All in Their Heads: The Mental Edge of Athletes Who Win,” Tarmarkin interviews some amazing athletes I’m sure most of you reading this have never heard of, and they all agree on the role of mental toughness in their success.

Samantha Gash, Ultra-Endurance Runner: On controlling her mind under harsh conditions: “I try to focus my mind on the positive of competing. When I’m in immense physical pain, I try to dull the pain as much as possible. Once the pain enters your head (as opposed to just your body), you start to legitimize ways of pulling out. I distract myself by thinking about why I’m doing it. My body and mind are stronger than I’d ever think.”

Jesse Thomas, Long Course Triathlete: On the mantras and mental tricks that give physical kicks: “In a half ironman, I’m out there for four hours. I can have a bad 20 or 30 minutes, come out of it, and still have a pretty awesome race. I have go-to mantras. It’s really dorky. ‘You’re kicking ass!’ ‘You’re killin’ it!’ I say them out loud, almost yelling them. I’ve found that the more physical you can make them, [the better]—you’re not only saying them, you’re hearing them, too, which makes a difference. Also, a mental kick that always gives me a physical kick is interacting with the crowd in some way. When I say “Thank you!” [to someone cheering on the sidelines] or give someone a high five, I feel like I can literally feel tangible energy connecting from those people to me.”

There are many great books and resources regarding sport psychology and building mental toughness in the next section.

Top Mental Toughness Books

In my travels around the world I have met so many amazing people who have given their lives to helping others in their journey to building mental toughness. Below are just a few books that provide excellent insight and lasting value for athletes, business people and anyone who wants to be mentally tough.

Own Your Success, Ben Newman

What if you could make each and every day victorious by focusing on daily activities rather than obsessing over results that you can’t control? Based on author Ben Newman’s popular program, Own YOUR Success gives you the power to make each day a triumph. The most successful people find great success when they focus on having a passion for the process. The key: make today victorious regardless of the obstacles that come your way. Figure out what fires YOU up without exception and ignite that passion so that you can routinely create your prizefighter day. The book offers original, practical, and proven exercises to transform challenges into maximum performance.

10-Minute Toughness, Dr. Jason Selk

10-Minute Toughness is your personal coach for boosting brainpower and achieving a competitive edge in whatever game you play. With quickness and ease, you’ll learn how to master your own mind and psych out your opponents using personalized techniques from one of America’s most successful sport psychology consultants. Like no other program available, the 10-Minute Toughness routine gets you ready for the competition in just ten minutes a day (Amazon review).

Grit, Angela Duckworth

Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, describes her hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance. She takes readers into the field to visit cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, teachers working in some of the toughest schools, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance (Amazon review).

Mindset, Carol Dweck

Dweck shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment (Amazon review).

Conclusion

I know this was a long read, but I commend you for getting through it. As you can tell, Mental Toughness is a topic I’m wildly passionate about.

I have been on the winning side of mental toughness and have dedicated my life to helping YOU and others learn how mental toughness is your ticket to peak performance. The clients I work with have changed my life as I continue to witness the amazing goals they achieve and surpass.

YOU can do the exact same thing by following these same principals. Whether you’re new to your career or struggling to get your next promotion, following the steps outlined in YOUR MENTAL TOUGHNESS PLAYBOOK will help you battle through and WIN!

I challenge each of you to take the plunge and get uncomfortable. Put these mental toughness training concepts to the test and uncover your true winning potential.

As I mentioned, my current clients are national and world champions in the NFL, MLB, NHL, UFC, PGA, NCAA.

If these mental toughness training concepts are working for them, don’t you think they can work for you?

Guide to Mental Toughness

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