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Here is a good definition of mental toughness:

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

  • Generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands
    (e.g., competition, training,
    lifestyle) that are placed on you as
    a performer
  • Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in
    remaining determined, focused,
    confident, resilient, and in control
    under pressure

Where can I learn more about mental toughness and how to develop it?

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meditation helps me but that's just me. –  kjy112 Mar 3 '11 at 17:11
    
playing chess everyday! –  user146 Mar 3 '11 at 17:26
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9 Answers 9

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There's a nice article on developing mental toughness on Ralph Jean-Paul's blog. The main key to developing mental toughness is the same as developing a muscle: repetitive use and practice.

Interestingly, the development of mental toughness is also a spiritual battle (Biblically) (see the last paragraph where Paul speaks of beating his body into subjection), and while normally I wouldn't throw a religious link into the mix here, I think it's important to recognize, on some level, that in order to successfully develop a better, stronger attitude, the spiritual side is certainly an issue.

I would consider looking into most of what are known as the "Spiritual Disciplines" as a method for developing mental toughness. These include fasting, meditation, prayer, servitude, simplicity, etc. All of them will have a positive effect both on you, and on those around you, and will do wonders at developing your character and inner strength.

Note: I own the blog referencing Paul's spiritual battle. However, this same information can be found at many other sources through a quick search on Google.

Addressing comments about the spiritual aspects of mental toughness, take a look at this quote from the Fort Hood Resiliency Campus of the US Army's web site:

Any human being functions in three modes i.e. Physical (Body), Mental (Mind), and Spiritual (Soul). These three aspects of our lives are not independent from each other, but dependent and usually intertwined. They are reflected in our behavior, our relationship to others, and also seen in the way we respond to challenges and crisis.

The Stoic philosophy is another spiritual discipline that leads to mental toughness, and that is not a religion, which you might want to look at. One excellent source of information (links, on-line books, videos, training courses, etc) is the Stoic Foundation.

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I can't see the link between Pauls article and what you are saying on your blog - would you be able to clarify it for me? I don't quite see the link between spirituality and mental toughness - surely atheists could be just as mentally tough? –  Ciaocibai Mar 3 '11 at 21:42
    
Atheists can still practice "Spiritual Disciplines", which is what Paul was referring to (See also 1 Corinthians 9:27). However, this is hardly the place to argue religion, hence the hesitation on including the link. I feel that it's relevant though, at least from a discipline standpoint. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 3 '11 at 21:49
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A concept I've been toying with lately is the "coach vs athlete mentality" that Johnny Candito talks about in this video. I think it's something I've been lacking in my training for some time.

Often I find myself critiquing my lifts before, after, and while I am performing them. This adds a lot of mental noise when the lift occurs and detracts from my ability to perform as an athlete.

As we all know, attitude is everything. I've found taking the "athlete" mentality when approaching my lifts really keeps performance in the foreground rather than the internal coaching dialog, which really doesn't help at the time.

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Check out The Mental Toughness Telesummit featuring interviews with professional athletes, New York Times best-selling authors, sports and performance psychologists, fitness experts, and a Navy-Seal-turned-Ironman.

They'll be talking about how to stay motivated, get in the zone of high-velocity learning, break through plateaus, be at your best under pressure.

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You can read books by people who talk about it or read biographies of people who have it. I recommend the latter.

Some people of interest: US Grant, Audie Murphy, George Washington, Colon Powell, Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill. (Note there are no actors or athletes in my list.) There are many others and the best ones are the ones you can associate with. What differentiates them from us (or myself anyway)? I'm still trying to figure that out, but the base ingredients are there in all of us. Sometimes it's just a matter of doing the right thing and realizing what you did was exceptional and then making that 'exceptional' action the norm.

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Meditation can help you a lot with this, even if it's just 10 minute a day and self-taught. You'll be surprised how much your concentration increases after 4–5 sessions. This video is a good intro.

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There is a great book The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin. It's great for improving your mental toughness.

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This article has some really great tips on improving your mental toughness; aimed at softball, but works in any situation if you ask me. This is a brief summary:

  1. Overcome fear of failure
  2. Make no excuses and take full responsibility for all your failures and all your successes
  3. Accept the fact that you will fail, make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. Failing is a big part of the game
  4. Be here, now (i.e. take it one step at a time)
  5. Focus on the process rather than the outcomes
  6. Develop routines to help you get in the zone

My own personal experience says learning from your own experiences is key. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Learn from your mistakes. If you can see a positive from your own failures, you will feel better, learn more, and have more ability to endure hard times, to cope under stress, and to work hard to achieve difficult goals.

Good luck.

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Here are a few things that help me right before a tough workout set, a power lift, or running. I would breathe deep and grunt a few times and do a few jumps in place. Then for the next 30 seconds to 1 minute, I would get really quiet, breathe extremely slow, look straight, don't let anything distract my sight or mind, then do what I am about to do. When I do this, I can lift more and run faster than I can without it. Basically, the key is to only focus on what you are about to do, and put it in your mind that you CAN do it, and you WILL do it. And nothing else matters.

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I recommend stoicism. One light read on the subject is Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind.

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