Mental toughness is overcoming doubt, concerns, and situations that lead to failure. It is the ability to succeed during difficult times. Mental toughness separates the people who stop at any signs of discomfort or failure and the people who grind through to come out on the other side, better than they were before.
Mental toughness is not stupidity. Mental toughness is not doing something purely because it is difficult to do. The task must be purposeful and aimed at improvement. Doing something because you are told not to do it, does not mean you are mentally tough.
Most of the successful people in this world are mentally tough. They didn’t give up when times got tough. If every entrepreneur gave up whenever they first failed, do you think we would still have the things we have today? Of course not! Inventing new technology is not easy. Building a business is not easy. Being a good parent is not easy.
It’s clear that having mental toughness is a good thing, but how do you train it? How do you teach yourself how to be tough? Is it a decision? Can someone else help you do it?
In order to develop mental toughness, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. These types of situations require an internal dialect where you are telling yourself that you should bail. This could be an intense workout, a new business venture, whatever. When your mind is telling you to stop, you need to quiet that voice and respond with toughness. Give yourself positive feedback. See what you are made of. Over time, the goal is to not hear that internal voice telling you to stop until further down the road of discomfort and to have an easier time telling yourself that you can handle it. But remember, these tasks should have a purpose. The easiest one to explain is exercise. You put yourself into a physically uncomfortable state in order to better your health. You can really challenge yourself physically, and you need to get some reps in not letting your mind stop you.
Phillippa Lally published a study looking at how long it takes to make a behavior automatic. The study concluded that it takes 66 days for this to happen, with a range of 18-254 days for the participants. We can use this information to say that you need to practice mental toughness 66 times (or up to 254 times) to get more automatic with this trait.
Now just exercising 66 times will not make you mentally tougher. You need to find yourself during these workouts. By that, I mean that you need to get to the intensity that sparks the internal conversation about when to quit. Exercise, find yourself, then silence yourself by pushing through the mental discomfort. You need to do this often, but not every day.
Start to look for other ways to get uncomfortable. You could learn a new skill, write your first book, start a blog, or create a YouTube channel. The options are endless. Just make it a task that means something to you and will make you better.
As you become more mentally tough, you will find that you are more comfortable with taking on new tasks. You will find that as you exercise, you are fine to keep pushing and go that extra mile. You have what it takes to be tough. You may have to train this skill, but you have what it takes. You do not become a better person by living inside of your comfort zone. It’s okay to fail. How else would we learn?
Corey Hall, PT, DPT