“This is all heart and mental toughness. This is the push, not breaking when your head is screaming at you to drop the bar or fall off the bar.” – Josh Bridges, CrossFit Games Athlete.
Building mental toughness, just like your raw strength or aerobic endurance takes time and a desire to want o improve. It could easily be classified as one of the 10 physical skills talked about through CrossFit and Strength & Conditioning training and an area that if you are not proficient in, will see results in the gym and life cut short. “Mental toughness can allow people to endure hard times and tough workouts in order to strive to become better, fitter, stronger and more resilient.” (Robbie Wild Hudson, BOXROX Magazine, 2017)
Mental Toughness is defined as “a measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in sport, education and the workplace.” People often compare mental toughness with that of completing a long, gruelling hero workout, or physical challenge like running a marathon or climbing a mountain. These absolutely are mentally tough challenges, but mental toughness isn’t purely designated to these types of events. Changing your daily nutritional habits and training routine can be scary and daunting tasks which require huge amounts of willpower and mental toughness. Keeping yourself accountable, focussed and on track to improving your own health, saving your own life, requires incredible amounts of mental toughness. The same goes for life situations, enduring hard times, loss, are all examples of times when mental toughness has been a driving force behind getting by.
I am no expert on mental toughness and if I was to assess my individual weaknesses, mental toughness would probably out way my lack of running speed or ability to do sit ups! Looking at mental toughness purely in terms of your health and fitness goals, comes down to every workout you complete being a chance to improve. I do most of my training by myself, which is not always easy but something I have gotten used to. Finding motivation and push, especially when you are doing a workout which does not fit into your strengths is hard. So many times I have thought about and even made changes to workouts just so it fits more in my comfort zone. This is why I find that I need to designate days to working on areas I don’t like, and movements that I suck at. This is where I will make that greatest improvements and get the most value from my training while also working towards becoming a mentally tougher athlete and person. You need to do the same.
It is ok to struggle with the idea of doing something you know will hurt, something that you know will be hard. Getting out of your comfort zone is where the magic happens and I believe if you can begin to do this on a regular basis you no doubt will begin to build mental toughness. It starts with one workout or one week of eating healthy, and then it becomes two, then three and so on. Continue to build each day and each week. There will be set backs and harder days than others, but focussing on your goals and showing strong willpower, you can keep you moving forward.
When you are out of your comfort zone is when you see the best results. The great benefit you have is having someone else program for you and being able to train/go through the battle with others by your side doing exactly the same thing. Train with others and use them to help push you to new and once thought unattainable levels. Another easy strategy to staying focussed is having your goals written down somewhere you can see them every day. Make sure these goals are specific and relevant to you. The more meaning behind the goal the more likely you will stick to it. Planning ahead is also important. Understanding when and where you tend to fall short allows making plans and implementing strategies to overcome these hurdles in the future. Lastly ask for advice, use the resources you have on hand to help you remain resilient and on track towards your goals.
A book I read some time ago, and one I definitely plan on re-reading in “Unbeatable Mind” by Mark Divine. Mark is a retired SEAL Commander and the book brings a fresh, integrated approach to developing an attitude and mindset to be unbeatable against all odds. In the book he outlines a five step high-level process for mental success. I highly recommend reading his book.
“Step 1: The first step is to focus your mind and prevent it from running all over the place. The undisciplined mind can be a feisty fiend, wreaking havoc on your plans and aspirations. The Buddhists called this aspect of mind your “monkey mind.” The monkey mind is your enemy. The disciplined mind, on the other hand, is your calm, clear, focused ally, ready to lend a hand when you need it.
Step 2: As you discipline your monkey mind, you will begin to learn to connect with your internal witness. This is that part of you that is untethered from your ego. As you connect and identify with your witness, versus your ego, you will begin to protect your mind from negative and defeating influences. Those influences include fear-based thoughts, negative internal feelings, and negative external influences. Rooting out negative emotions, beliefs, and behaviours that will hold you back can take much time and effort.
Step 3: This step is to feed your unfettered mind with super food for success. This food is in the form of powerful, positive imagery as well as positive emotions directed toward your desired future states, skills and victories.
Step 4: In this step you activate a daily training plan to nurture your internal vision through repeated practice.
Step 5: Take massive action, and recruit like-minded teammates to align with your vision and help you win your missions, every time.” (Unbeatable Mind, Mark Divine, 2014, 2nd Edition.)
Focus your mind by taking time to yourself, meditate or go for a hike, cut out all negative thoughts and doubt, focus on your goals with visual stimuluses, figure out your plan, find others with similar goals and then go after it. Anything is possible!
I recommend having a read of the following articles on mental toughness as well:
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius.
Robbie Wild Hudson, BOXROX Magazine, 2017
Unbeatable Mind, Mark Divine, 2014, 2nd Edition.