Have you ever wanted to be able to go through a challenge so difficult which would bring you to the brink of collapse? There is this one skill that will allow us to achieve just that and even more. It’s MENTAL TOUGHNESS.
What is it? There are several facets to this term but in it’s core essence it’s the ability to persevere through strenuous situations with excellence and in tact without being excessively influenced by the negative effects of the event.
Mental toughness – a virtue of heros.
Because of the word mental it implies to our thoughts, emotions, attitude etc., which will thus influence our behaviour.
It’s being able to push through the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, even at the point of near failure, and do it against all odds, by simply cultivating the power of one’s mind.
There are a lot of attributes that contribute to mental toughness. Resilience, determination, grit, courage, emotional strength, discipline, adaptiveness, perseverence, concentration, assertiveness, positivity, passion, going for delayed return instead of immediate gratification, faith, stress management etc. all of which help us push past adversity. With these characteristics a person knows what he wants to accomplish, takes steadfast action towards achieving it, doesn’t give in after the initial resistance, grinds through the challenges and reigns supreme over them, eventually reaching the goal.
It’s almost like a superpower, as most people quit once things get tough (read why you would want it to be tough). However, like any other skill it can be learned and trained. Even the most weakest of minds can and will reach the highest levels of mental toughness.
Imagine a situation where your life depended on mental toughness. Pushing through adversity becomes easier, as people have been able to accomplish incredible feats of strength and endurance in dangerous circumstances. Failure is not an option, as it will be detrimental for one’s survival. In our safe environment we simply lack the proper stimuli to summon our inner beast. Thus, in order to improve our grit we need to deliberately train it.
In our day to day living our life isn’t dependent upon mental toughness per se, as we can get away with instant gratification and giving up. In a survival scenario such thinking will make the organism perish, as it can’t handle the stress its put under (get more good stress in your life). However, it’s necessary for us to have in the long run, as we’ll be able to not only push through resistance of all kind but also stick to our goals, accomplish anything and reach the status of a hero, especially in our own eyes. (How Hercules killed a lion with his own bare hands.)
When you look in the mirror who do you see? Do you avoid it, because you can’t look truth in the eyes and say it, that you lack mental toughness? Or do you stand there with pride and confidence, knowing that you have the ability to achieve anything you set your mind to? Grit is visible in the person’s presence. The way they hold themselves, how they talk and what their attitude towards life is like. Most importantly, it will manifest itself in their actions.
How to get more mental toughness.
It’s all a matter of proper conditioning and adaptation. If someone is used to ignore the pain and carry on then they will do it habitually. The feeling won’t go away, simply the ability to deal with it improves.
The term mind over matter is especially evident in mental toughness, as one can find strength to carry on even in dreadful circumstances where it might seem impossible to do so by changing one’s mindset.
Most of the time it’s our own mind playing tricks on us, saying that the body can’t handle any more, but actually we’re capable of a lot more. If you feel like you can’t carry on any longer, then you’re only 40% through. The rest of the 60% is still available to us but not easily accessible. To transcend that boundry we need to persevere through resistance by using mental toughness.
The perseverence and grit attained will carry over to any other area of our life aswell. There are several key characteristics and points to keep in mind.
- Be able to control your thoughts and emotions. In strenuous situations we will always try to find a way to escape them. After the first signs of resistance our mind will begin to play a track in our head coming up with excuses why it’s best to quit. „It’s too difficult, I can’t make it, I’ve done enough, better try next time…“ That is all a lie and an illusion. The only limitations we have are the ones we have set for ourselves. To increase our mental toughness we need to be able to dictate our inner dialogue. (Read how).
- Maintain positivity. Not only is it important to silence our negative thoughts but we need to be able to manifest positive ones aswell. They calibrate on a much higher level of vibration and thus have that much more power. Moreover, if our emotions are giving us benefitial feedback then the strength of our actions will increase, allowing us to push through any resistance. Emotions associated with love, compassion and joy are of the highest degree. If things get tough simply use creative visualization to envision something associated with those things. For instance, when in the military, I often thought about my family when I was about to feint from fatigue. The immediate rise of positive emotions rejuvenated my vigor and allowed me to carry on. It’s about the way we talk to ourself that determines the effectivenss of it (how to have a conversation with yourself).
- Have a reason. Training mental toughness is a lot easier if we have a good reason to be doing so. Moreover, by reminding ourselves about the WHY will inevitably give rise to higher vibrations of energy and positivity. The motivation to carry on will ensue, if our reason is big enough. If the WHY is too small then we will avoid pushing ourself because of there being no cost-benefit to it. Being able to act without motivation is a possible solution (read how to). However, to create more powerful intrinsic motivation we need to make our reasons big enough, so that accomplishing them becomes a must. If all else fails, create a martrydom-like purpose out of your actions.
- Make it a part of your core values. Us as humans are run most of the time by our belief systems. Some of them are BS and a part of our habitual way of thinking, while others are picked up by our deliberate conscious choice. If we know virtue and want to live according to that understanding then we will most definately act in a similar manner. Wanting to become a virtuous character will improve mental toughness, as keeping our word and perseverence are a part of it. „Never give up“ sounds like a great addition to one’s belief systems and is an incredibly strong core value to have.
- Be forced to adapt and get uncomfortable. The reason why so many people lack mental toughness is because our current contemporary environment doesn’t produce the necessary stimuli for this trait. Our lives are incredibly comfortable and we unfortunately tend to take it for granted. We need to realise, that we aren’t entitled for ANYTHING. Being alive is an enourmous privilege in of itself, especially in this day and age. By getting away with not exerting ourselves physically nor mentally, we will never be able to train GRIT. Because life is already so enjoyable we don’t have to persevere, as our survival is not on the line. Letting loose like that would be detrimental in nature, where natural selection weeds out those not adapt enough. We don’t have to live in the jungle to get more mental toughness. Instead, we need to understand the danger of excess comfort and shape our own environment to become more tough and less forgvigin. That way we will be forced to succeed. (Read how to make our life less comfortable).
- Challenge yourself. For the same reason we don’t really have to do anything strenuous either. We can get away with dwelling in constant pleasure. However, the other end of the spectrum, pain, is as vital and important, not for masochistic ends but because without it we wouldn’t be able to be grateful for anything enjoyable either. Therefore, rather than being in our comfort zone all the time we ought to habitually expand it and face difficult situations VOLUNTARILY. That means setting ourselves up for uncomfortable activities. Numerous ways we can approach this. Some examples would be cold thermogenesis and overcoming fears. Also, there is the possibility of signing up for an event, such as a marathon, a Spartan race or any other competition. Or, you can decide to accomplish something creative such as writing a book, like I did.
A story about mental tougness.
I’ve considered myself always mentally tough. The notion of gripping onto something and persevering through adversity is something I’ve admired and practiced for as long as I remember. As a child I would try to improve my grit by never shying away from physical labor and also putting myself through deliberate conditioning.
For instance, I remember an episode when I was maybe 10-12 years old. Me and my brother were allocated to take a pile of bricks, left there by the renovation of our house, to the other side of the garden. It was a chore by our parents and there was no deadline or anything. Even though it was an annoying thing to do I was still happy to help.
We would use the wheelbarrow to transport the stones. Eventually, my brother got bored and decided to quit for the day. There was all the time in the world we could’ve done this and tomorrow was as good as today.
However, I didn’t feel like giving up. It seemed unreasonable to me to push the activity into the future when we could’ve been done with it immediately. (Read how to put in 1% more effort). For the next several hours I continued doing the work and eventually finished. My hands and back was sore afterwards but I felt proud of what I had accomplished.
Rather than giving in to immediate gratification and doing something fun I realised the importance of this and decided to push through. It was uncomfortable but necessary for me as a child to cultivate mental toughness. (Read how to make our life less comfortable).
This mentality carried over to my early periods of adolescence when I enrolled in the military. During one of the exercises we were hiking through the landscape and on highways for over 35 km. This was all done in full equipment with our backpacks weighing over 40 kilograms, in addition to our rifles and harnesses on adding an additional 12 kilograms.
It wasn’t that bad if you adjusted the bags correctly. However, over a long preiod of time they will eventually begin to run down on your back and hips. The heat is unbearable and sweat pours like waterfalls. Dehydration and lack of minerals will inevitably ensue.
This is purely an exercise of mental toughness as it is quite low intensity but requires a lot of endurance. What kept me going was the desire to prove to myself that I got what it takes. At one point I remember reaching the point of collapse. We hadn’t had a break for some time now and I slowly began to faint. I was starting to black out but still was walking forward.
In my head I was still focusing on my loved ones and the purpose behind my suffering. Then, we suddenly came to a halt and got a short rest. This was just what I needed and felt rejuvenated afterwards. I would like to think that these mental images gave me more strength, especially at times when the journey seemed the most difficult.
Activities that train one’s mental toughness.
We know how to get more mental toughness and grit, now we simply need to face fear and go through the process of deliberately training it. Anything that forces us to exit our comfort zone, push our limits or use discipline will strengthen our willpower. Traits such as perseverence, determination, faith and positivity will all accomplish this goal, whatever the activity might be when they’re used.
Additionally, training mental toughness has to be done both short- and long-term, meaning that we must also have something to stick to habitually, some bigger goal, rather than just enduring for a bit longer during time periods of less significance.
- Write down something and do it. There is incredible power in putting things on paper. By doing so the words begin to manifest in the real world, almost by themself. We don’t want to break our promises, so having something visible to remind us of our intentions will keep us on track.
- Start a bigger project and stick to it. Long-term grit manifests itself over the course of a long period of time. It’s the ability to push off immediate gratification and carry on even when no benefits are made. Rome wasn’t built in a day but was the result of centuries worth of growth and expansion. We can’t expect to achieve results after a few months but have to realise that it takes years. The longer it does the greater the delayed return will be. (Read how to stick to your goals).
- Pick up a habit and stick to it. The formation and changing of habits takes a long time, at least 21 days. The stronger the habit, the longer it takes to root it up and replace it with a better one. That is why people are suffering because of their bad habits, it simply has become a part of who they are. Changing it requires mental toughness and going through the painful, yet liberating, process of rehabilitation. Also, picking up new habits, such as speed reading, is also difficult and forces us to learn.
Here are a few shorter exercises that train mental toughness and will condition us for persevering in the grand scheme aswell. As we do anything, so will we do everything and if we have grit in trivial things then it will most definately show in the most important things aswell. Some of them are meant to be fun and can yield the same results.
- Reach the point of failure. While training, endure for as long as you can. Don’t do this with something dangerous such as heavy weightlifting. Instead, stick to easy variations so that you wouldn’t hurt yourself. For instance, pick any yoga pose, hold a plank position or hang from somewhere for as long as possible, past the point of pain where it doesn’t even matter anymore. You’ll be surprised of how much you can actually take if failure is not an option. To make it easier have a timer to show you the clock. Start with deciding to reach 2 minutes, then, as you’ll see you’ll be still in position and realise that 5 minutes isn’t that far away. Continue adding up short milestones and accomplishing them until you collapse.
- Incorporate some principles. Whatever you might be doing habitually make it more difficult by adding in a small nuanse which would train your mental toughness. For instance, read while in a deep squat (mobility and knowledge at the same time), go for a run while having some water in your mouth and not swallowing it etc. This is where we can let our creativity flourish and also make it more fun. Another one, for an entire day use your less dominant hand to write. This can also be done the other way around. Make a choice to avoid doing something for an entire day. Don’t ponder on negative thoughts and experiences (turn them into positive ones instead), skip meals until the evening (intermittent fasting) etc.
Training mental toughness is an exercise for the mind which will condition us to have more perseverence and grit. It will allow us to push through seemingly insurmountable obstacles by grinding our teeth and holding onto our core values. The human mind is a lot more powerful than matter. It can transcend the physical existence of a person by giving strength seemingly out of nowhere. The desire to grow, to protect what’s dear, having a reason, being forced to succeed all attribute to the positive effect increased mental toughness has on all the areas of our lives.