Physical toughness is the ability to keep working when you are tired, dealing with pain, or being challenged. You get physically tougher by working each day to get bigger, faster, and stronger.
Physical toughness affects mental toughness. When you are physically tired, you will not perform at your highest mental state. Most mistakes in a game or match occur due to physical tiredness. We make physical mistakes in movements we have conquered in training when we are tired. Those simple tasks become mentally challenging.
So how do we improve mental toughness?
1. We get as physically tough as possible. The more physically prepared we are, the longer we can go in a WOD, game, match, or competition performing what we practiced without the fear of making a mistake. Our teammates have a part in our mental toughness too. When your teammate is taking short-cuts, not working hard or not following directions, it is your responsibility to help them to become physically and mentally tougher.
2. Regularly challenge our bodies outside our comfort zone. The reality is we make the most growth when we do things that are difficult for us. It could be a tough workout, having that “hard” talk, or making a speech to an unfamiliar audience. But, the more often we do something uncomfortable, the stronger we become.
3. We feed the positive wolf. The more we train ourselves to think and see things positively, the more things we will see in a positive light. Our fight or flight response is part of our genetic make-up. When we sense danger, our internal alert system is activated. However, that internal alarm system is there for a real threat like a lion trying to eat you, not for a math test or a tough opponent. We change our internal dialogue with consistent positive self-talk. Positive self-talk needs to be done consistently to be effective. If we wait till that stressful or challenging situation to feed the positive wolf, it is too late, and the negative wolf will take over.
4. We change our definitions and vocabulary. Words and phrases are powerful. “This is difficult, or this is hard” immediately sends a message to your internal alert system that you are going to suffer. Changing the phrase to “this is challenging” alters the perspective of the situation. When we see challenges as opportunities for growth, the activities become something good for us instead of painful.
5. We use empowering physiology. There is a ton of research out there that shows how we move our body affects our moods and self-confidence. When you are in a bad mood, smile big and often. It is challenging to be angry or grumpy when you are smiling. When you are tired, sit-up, move, talk faster, and louder. Our physiology can drastically affect our outlook on things. Small physical changes can improve mental toughness.
6. Model people that are doing the things we would like to become. Study the people who are successful in your field and find out what makes them successful. What are their habits? What do they do that makes them successful? Listen to interviews or reach out to ask them questions. Model the people doing the things you want to do, adopt their behavior and habits, and study and apply what you learn to yourself.
7. Be grateful. Being grateful is a massive mental shift. Having a mindset of gratitude puts you in a productive state to do your best work. I like to spend my car ride to work each day just thinking about things that I am thankful for: My family, loved ones, opportunities for growth, and fitness. When I catch myself having a negative mindset, I immediately stop and focus on what’s right in my life. Being negative is a habit. Being thankful is a habit too.
8. Surround yourself with people who bring out your best self. Success coaches tell us that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. I am not sure if that is true, but I do know if you are wasting your time with people who are always whining and complaining. Choose to spend your time with people who are trying to be better, who push themselves and hold themselves accountable, who are enthusiastic and have a positive mindset. Enthusiasm is contagious. The opposite is true as well. You hang out with turds, you will be a turd.
9. Learn, grow, and be inspired. Read, watch, or listen to people who are doing great things. Make it a habit each day to read, watch, or listen to something that can increase your mental toughness and improve your mindset.
10. Take full responsibility. When you take full responsibility for everything in your life, your life will change for the better. Taking full responsibility is holding yourself accountable and knowing that you have complete control over the effort you put into things and your attitude about it. It is not making excuses and blaming others for what is not going well, or not well, in your life. You are responsible for you.