7 Ways to Develop Mental Toughness

Reading Length: 6 minutes

Have you ever wondered why some people just seem unfazed by whatever life throws at them? We see the qualities of mental toughness in athletes, soldiers, and leaders. But how can we model those qualities to make ourselves acquire strength, resilience, and willpower? Here are 7 ways to develop mental toughness:

1. Understand the four components of mental toughness.

From Kendra Cherry, an author, Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist, educator, speaker states that the four components of mental toughness are:

  • Challenge: Viewing challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles
  • Control: Believing that you are in control of your life and destiny
  • Commitment: Having the ability to stick to tasks and see them through to completion
  • Confidence: Possessing strong self-belief in your ability to succeed

2. Define your own definition of mental toughness.

Mental toughness can vary based on each person. My definition of mental toughness is being able to persist with posting blog posts and YouTube videos consistently every week despite feeling unmotivated and doubt with myself. According to James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” here are some examples of what mental toughness could be for you:

  • going one month without missing a workout
  • going one week without eating processed or packaged food
  • delivering your work ahead of schedule for two days in a row
  • meditating every morning this week
  • grinding out one extra rep on each set at the gym today
  • calling one friend to catch up every Saturday this month
  • spending one hour doing something creative every evening this week

3. Practice mental toughness exercises.

Just like physical exercise, we also need some mental training in order to develop mental toughness. Based on PJ Newton, blogger of Strategic Athlete, here are 3 exercises to practice:

  • 1) Take away your extrinsic motivators.
    Ignore the mental distractions and voices when you face discomfort. Choose discomfort over comfort. Learn to just listen, laugh and push on with the uncomfortable feelings.
  • 2) Develop good habits.
    Mentally tough people stay consistent with good habits regardless of the obstacles. Choosing discomfort over comfort will build in the habit of discipline.
  • 3) Learn to ignore the things you cannot control.
    You have complete and total control over how you react to any situation. Consider implementing Stoic philosophy into your life.

I used to have the tendency to focus on the extrinsic motivation when it came to blogging and YouTube. I would associate it with the outcome of more followers, views and likes. But I began to dissociate from this outcome and connect with my intrinsic motivator which is to help spread valuable content to hopefully promote a more positive lifestyle. I also accepted that I have no direct control over it so I shifted my focus on what’s in my control such as the actions of writing, researching and editing.

4. Learn from failure and setbacks.

We need to learn from the bad experiences through self reflection and action towards success. We also need to recognize that failure itself allows us to grow and develop resilience. I’ve experienced my fair share of setbacks, rejections and failures in life which have definitely helped me grow as a person. According to John C. Maxwell, author of “Failing Forward,” after we experience a setback or failure, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • 1) What caused the failure?
  • 2) Where did things break down? Was what happened truly a failure or I fell short?
  • 3) What successes are contained in the failure?
  • 4) What can I learn from what happened?
  • 5) Am I grateful for the experience?
  • 6) How can I turn this into a success?
  • 7) Who can help me?
  • 8) Where do I go from here?

5. Practice validating your own emotions.

Validating your emotions is the act of acknowledging rather than suppressing your emotions. If we try to fight against our emotions, we end up feeling afraid of it. Validation is about feeling painful or uncomfortable emotions and still being able to accept those emotions as a normal part of life. I personally feel negative thoughts arise every few minutes but I’m beginning to learn how to acknowledge it at the moment and wait for it to pass. From Nick Wignall, a psychologist and blogger:

You must cultivate a healthy relationship with your emotions if you want to be successful and happy.

-Nick wignall, psychologist and blogger

6. Practice Simulations and Visualization.

Close your eyes and envision yourself going through the challenge of reaching your goals. See every step you take towards that goal. Don’t just fantasize about being perfect. Envision how you will confront the problems that arise. Athletes use this method to develop mental toughness as well. Based on a study of Olympians:

“These athletes had very well developed imagery skills and used them daily. They used imagery to prepare themselves to get what they wanted out of training, to perfect skills within the training sessions, to make technical corrections, to imagine themselves being successful in competition, and to see themselves achieving their ultimate goal.”

-eric barker, barking up the wrong tree

7. Eliminate destructive mental habits.

As we browse through social media, we often come across other people who seem to have perfect lives. It makes us envy them and compare ourselves to them. We hold our own pity party and think that good things just happen to others instead of us. We need to recognize and address these unhealthy thoughts. From Amy Morin, a licensed social worker and psychotherapist, the three destructive mental habits we have are:

  • 1) Unhealthy beliefs about ourselves.
    We compare ourselves to other people. We also have self pity and keep asking “why do these things happen to me?” We need to accept that life is not fair and stop comparing ourselves to other people.
  • 2) Unhealthy beliefs about others.
    We give away our power to others by saying “I have to do this” even when we have a choice. We need to realize that we do have a choice.
  • 3) Unhealthy beliefs about the world.
    We think the world owes us something. We need to stop blaming others and change our own world.

I noticed that we all have played the “Blame Game” once or many times in our lives. We blame the government, the world, the system, our loved ones, our environment and the list goes on. We blame anyone but ourselves. I’ve come to believe that when bad things happen to us, we need to take a moment to do serious self reflection and focusing on our own actions to address it. Just like physical bad habits, these mental bad habits can be cut off too.

TO RECAP:

  1. Understand the four components of mental toughness: Challenge, control, commitment, and confidence.
  2. Define your own definition of mental toughness: Mental toughness can vary based on each person.
  3. Practice mental toughness exercises: Take away your extrinsic motivators, develop good habits, and learn to ignore the things you cannot control.
  4. Learn from failure and setbacks: Do self reflection by asking yourself the 8 questions mentioned above.
  5. Practice validating your own emotions: Accept and acknowledge the negative feelings that arise as part of life.
  6. Practice Simulations and Visualization: Envision yourself addressing the obstacles and problems when you make progress towards your goals.
  7. Eliminate destructive mental habits: Eliminate unhealthy beliefs about ourselves, others and the world.

Blog References:

How to Cultivate Mental Toughness by Kendra Cherry
The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Your Health, Work, and Life by James Clear
How to Build Mental Toughness in Your 20s (or 80s) by Nick Wignall
How To Increase Mental Toughness: 4 Secrets Of Navy SEALs And Olympians
The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong | Amy Morin | TEDxOcala
6 Exercises For Improving Your Mental Toughness by PJ Newton

Published by Jean Soo

My name is Jean Soo. I'm an aspiring physical therapist, self improvement blogger, YouTuber and entrepreneur. My mission is to help ambitious and driven people acquire useful and applicable content from the best self improvement articles, blogs and stories on topics related to life & happiness, productivity & focus, routine & habits, and more! I hope you can make use of my content to build better habits, promote productivity and find more contentment in life. Stay tuned!

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