Mental toughness is paramount for achieving any lofty goal or overcoming extreme hurdles. Few great things in this world come without a little bit of adversity. Nothing amazing happens inside our comfort zones.
Whether we are talking about earning a promotion, nurturing a challenged marriage, mastering a sport, building or saving a small business, battling disease, dealing with the loss of a loved one, raising children, or hunting terrorists, some suffering will always be attached. That’s why the things we love and work hard for are rewarding.
The psychological traits of grit and resilience have been widely researched but still pose a challenge as it relates to how we actually develop mental toughness. My new book – Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life – being released on December 22, 2020, is about resilience and poses several questions: How do we build resilience? Do some people have larger sums in their resilience bank accounts than others? How can we make more deposits than withdrawals? Does it happen naturally over time or can we train ourselves to be more mentally tough? The overarching answer is simple. Resilience is like any muscle. With focus and determination—and some of the habits in this article—you can strengthen your mind to overcome any obstacle, crush goals, dominate your battlefield, and live an extraordinary life.
There are many habits you can develop to improve your mental toughness. In fact, the hallmarks of mentally tough people are actually strategies that anyone can practice every day.
Mentally tough people…
1 – Love a good challenge:
Mentally tough people view obstacles as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. They look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from and opportunities for growth. In other words, they embrace obstacles better than others because they lean in.
2 – Practice true commitment:
Resilient people are committed to their lives and goals. They have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning – which is usually early! They are not easily deterred or distracted by “opportunities” that are unrelated to their desired outcomes.
3 – Focus on what is in their control:
Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. And because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident.
4 – Thrive on adversity:
The people that exhibit the highest degrees of mental toughness, not only navigate adversity well, they THRIVE on it. They are more uncomfortable inside their comfort zone than when they venture out. They know how to transform volatility, uncertainty, and pain into a useful energy force.
5 – Understand the importance of emotional intelligence:
Emotional intelligence is the bedrock of mental toughness. You cannot be mentally tough without the ability to fully understand and tolerate strong negative emotions and do something productive with them. Moments that test your mental toughness are ultimately testing your emotional intelligence (EQ).
6 – Show true confidence:
As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” Research shows that confident people accomplish more of their goals, earn higher incomes, and get promoted more quickly than their counterparts. True confidence—as opposed to the false confidence people project to mask their insecurities—is a whole different animal. Mentally tough people keep moving forward despite all odds.
7 – Embrace change:
I dive deep into this subject in my first bestselling book, TakingPoint: 10 Fail-Safe Principles for Leading Through Change. Mentally tough people – especially in leadership roles – are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is debilitating and a major threat to their success and fulfillment. They assume change is lurking just down the road and constantly plan for contingencies.
8 – Know that fear only leads to regret:
“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” ― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
During Navy SEAL training, the candidates often suffer from many forms of fear. The fear of pain, anxiety, and the suffering that comes with each day. The fear of failure. The fear of success. The fear of death. Yet, death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst thing that can happen is to allow ourselves to die inside while we are still alive. Ultimately, it’s up to us to limit our list of regrets.
9 – View failure as fuel for their journey:
The mentally tough know the path to success and a fulfilling life is riddled with the pockmarks of micro-failures. Falling short of achieving goals and intended outcomes are an inevitable part of life.
In a recent interview I did with the legendary General James Mattis, former US Secretary of Defense, I shared a few of my favorite quotes of his. His take on failure is this: “I don’t lose sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”
10 – Learn from the past, but don’t dwell on it:
There is a big difference here. People and teams that exhibit authentic mental fortitude, practice the fine art of debriefing – or after-action reviews as we call them in the military. When pursuing any goal, project, or challenge, it’s important to reflect on what’s going well, what isn’t and areas for improvement. Debriefing wins is as important as debriefing losses. Extract valuable insights and move on.
11 – Engage in physical and mental wellness:
Mental and physical wellness are critical for living life beyond your comfort zone. Not to mention, exercise can be a powerful tool for developing mental toughness. When I began training for the SEAL program prior to joining the Navy, I knew that many elements were out of my control and sphere of influence. My physical preparedness was one thing I had total control over, so I punished myself relentlessly at high altitude in the mountains of Colorado as a method for preparing both mind and body. And guess what? It worked.
12 – Crave feedback and constructive criticism:
This goes back to the emotional intelligence trait of self-awareness. Resilient people know they don’t have all the answers, are humble, and enlist feedback from trusted peers and mentors so they can practice Kaizen – Japanese for “continuous improvement.” They aren’t simply accepting of feedback, they crave it.
In 2013, I starred in Mark Burnett and Dick Wolf’s NBC reality series called ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ where former special operations professionals were paired with celebrities to compete in various mission scenarios. My partner was Picabo Street, the world-famous Olympic gold medal skier. I was astonished at how intensely she desired constructive feedback – constantly pursuing perfection. I guess that’s how you win gold medals!
13 – Don’t let the haters get them down:
In fact, they pity them. Interacting with toxic people in our personal and professional lives is just part of life. But mentally tough people limit their time with those who don’t wish them well nor are they deterred by behaviors – or words – that don’t add value to their lives. When mentally tough people do interact with toxic people, they do so with their emotions in check.
Mental toughness is not an innate quality bestowed upon a select few. It can be achieved and enjoyed by all but requires intentional practice. So get after it!
By: Brent Gleeson
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