Mental Toughness: What is it and how do you develop it
Mental toughness is a word that is used a lot in the world of sports. It is something all athletes want to have and coaches and parents want them to have. You have told yourself most likely many times “I need to be more mentally tough” or a coach or parent has said something similar, but what does it really mean? Do you know how to become more mentally tough or what it really looks like? If you don’t even have a clear definition or idea of what it looks like then you don’t have a clear destination of what you are trying to develop and thus can’t fully develop it.
We know that mental toughness is not just one thing. It has many components to it. Saying that I want to articulate one way in how I see it, as I believe all the components come back to this definition. To me mental toughness is when your desire for accomplishing your goal or mission overrides your personal comfort. It is usually discomfort that makes an athlete break, to give up, to stop trying. Uncertainty being one of the biggest things that create a very high level of discomfort. When things get to a point of uncertainty that is very uncomfortable for someone that is when they tend to slide. For each person that level will be different. This is even seen in the Navy Seals training. It is the uncertainty in certain evolutions that get a candidate to drop out. One example of this is an evolution where they have to run 1 mile, multiple times. It doesn’t have to be fast, you just have to keep moving, but they don’t know how many times they have to do it. Those that can focus on 1 mile at a time usually get through it, those who focus on the bigger picture and think about not knowing how many more they have to do, usually quit.
I often I tell my clients your purpose has to be greater than the pain you will endure during the process. It will be uncomfortable, there will be a lot that will be uncertain, but when your purpose and thus your desire to accomplish your goal or mission is so strong that it overrides all the discomfort and you can keep moving forward, that is one way to display mental toughness.
How to Develop Mental Toughness
So how do you get better at this? Practice. You practice putting yourself into uncomfortable positions and practice accomplishing the task even when you are uncomfortable. This can be done through physical uncomfortableness, but it doesn’t just have to be through physical ways. It can be through difficult conversations, public speaking, or being vulnerable. There are many ways we get uncomfortable, in those moments do you shy away from doing what you need or want to because it is uncomfortable and want to get back to feeling comfortable or do you push through? Each time we move forward despite being uncomfortable we grow, learn, and build confidence that we can do it even if it feels uncomfortable. We can use our past experiences to help us moving forward to know we have done difficult things and we can do so again.
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Masters Sport Psychology (with distinction)
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