How to Build Mental Toughness (The Process I’m Taking)

Years ago I read Jesse Itzler’s book 30 Days with a Seal, and it struck me: I’m weak. 

I wake up, at whichever time I please, in my nice, 2-bedroom brick house in a safe and secure neighbourhood surrounded by trees. I go through the day and get some work done, eat some food, and lift weights. 

The hardest part of my day is going to the gym, and even that’s easy. Once you’ve been doing compound lifts for years, it’s still challenging, but it’s not tough to the point where it induces a sense of dread. 

After reading David Goggin’s autobiography Can’t Hurt Me, I was again reminded of the fact that I’m just a really mild, weak person who isn’t mentally tough. I’m not self-deprecating—just being real. 

Note: David Goggins is the Seal in Jesse Itzler’s book

Why I’m building mental toughness

My life is easy. I make 6+ figures a year and have the ability to work a lot less than 40 hours per week if I want to. 

I have a great marriage. 

I’m physically fit, and my hairline hasn’t fully receded yet (but it’s on its way). 

And that’s the exact issue: it’s easy. 

A part of me likes that it’s easy, but a bigger part hates it. I need challenge. I thrive of it, and when I’m not being challenged in some capacity, I get even more complacent and slightly depressed. 

That’s my first motivation for what I’m going to outline in this article: how I’m going to systematically build mental toughness. It’s that I want to challenge myself. 

The second motivation is that my time is limited. Yes, I’m young, but I want to make use of my time. I want to strive. No man (or woman) wants to be average. 

And the third motivation is that I want to be mentally tough for the inevitable tragedies and challenges life throws at me. Yes, things are easy now, but that won’t always be the case. What if my first child dies? What if my wife gets in a car crash and can’t walk anymore? These things happen. I want to have the emotional and mental strength to not only withstand them, but also grow through them. 

How I’m going to build mental toughness

Mental toughness isn’t a theory that you can learn from a book.

I’m not going to build mental toughness by studying mental toughness, even though that would be my tendency (I have a bias towards learning over action). 

What I am going to do is force myself into situations that demand a lot of me. 

I’ll do this monthly, weekly, and daily. 

The monthly challenge will be the most difficult. It will be something that’s impossible to do on a weekly or daily basis (or at least extremely unhealthy). I will dread doing it. But I’ll do it anyway. 

The weekly challenge will be slightly easier, but still hard.

And the daily challenge will be just one thing that I do not want to do, but need to do anyway. This can’t include something that I’ve already built a habit for—i.e., lifting weights. But it could be doing a HIIT workout, or 10 sets of 100m sprints.

Challenges for January

We’re already halfway through the month, so I’m leaving this a bit late. 

Here’s what I’m going to do to build mental toughness in January. 

Monthly challenge: run 17km without stopping. 

I used to run 30km a week, but now I’m lucky to manage 30km per quarter. I’m also my heaviest right now, so running sucks. 

But this is the challenge, and it will happen before the end of the month. 

Week 3 challenge: Run 6x 100m sprints at full intensity

Week 4 challenge: 100 squats in one session (~80kg)

Week 5 challenge: Ice bath – 5 mins

Daily challenge: 2 min plank each morning before shower. Increase by 10 seconds each day. 

Let’s do this. 

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