How to Increase Mental Toughness

Your capacity to focus…

Your willingness to make the hard decision…

Your ability to remain calm in chaos…

It all boils down to one thing: mental toughness.

The question is: how do you develop this mental toughness?

One way is to wait for it to be developed for you. You cannot go through life without pain, tough challenges, and discomfort. Often when we have these experiences, it leads to mental toughness.

But this is not the only way to develop mental toughness. You want to intentionally develop it before you inevitably come face to face with challenges.

As Epictetus says, “We must discipline ourselves in the winter for the summer campaign.”

We must prepare, beforehand, for what life throws at us.

But the benefits of mental toughness extend far beyond just being prepared for life’s challenges.

Whether you’re trying to study for a degree, build a business, become a professional athlete, or simply be a better father or mother—mental toughness is the skill that enables you go the distance.

So, here are three timeless principles to help you develop extreme mental toughness as well as a important warning for those wanting to do so. Because there are consequences to developing mental toughness, most of them are positive, but there’s one danger you must be aware of which I will share in this video.

Prefer video? Click here to watch on YouTube.

Principle 1: Push yourself physically so you can master yourself mentally

There’s a reason why the ancient philosophers placed such importance on training the body.

Marcus Aurelius engaged in multiple physical pursuits. Running, wrestling, hunting and more.

Epictetus lifted weights despite having a crippling leg injury from his time as a slave.

Plato was a wrestler.

And Socrates famously said, “No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. “

The mind and body are inseparable.

As Seneca said, “Treat your body rigorously so that it may not be disobedient to the mind.”

Physical training is hard.

It requires force of will. Mental mastery. Mental toughness.

When you train your body to push through pain and discomfort, what you are really doing is training your mind. The body is simply the vehicle by which you train your mind.

You develop mental toughness through showing up to train when you don’t want to do so. Running a little faster and longer. Getting one more rep out. Going one more round.

When I trained for my mountain marathon, I was pushing past the pain and boredom barrier multiple times per week on my runs.

As I sat down to focus on creative and mentally-demanding work, I found I was able to concentrate for longer periods of time. To ignore distractions and procrastinate less. And it was a result of the mental toughness built through training. I knew I was capable of going further, even if it was a completely different type of activity.

In this modern age, where movement is a lost discipline and most of us are creatures of comfort, the mental toughness that comes from physical discipline is rare. Pursue it, and you put yourself in an elite class of people.

Mental toughness is a DAILY practice – always be training it

We trick ourselves into thinking that building character, habits and skills require “big leaps.”

But we know this isn’t true.

Mental toughness is built through small, consistent actions, day in and day out.

You must be mentally tough in the small things so that you can be mentally tough in the big things.

If you can’t sit down and concentrate for 45 minutes on one task without distraction, pushing through boredom and mental discomfort, how can you expect to finish ambitious projects or achieve the difficult goal you want to achieve?

You must adopt the “Always be training” mindset. Throughout your day.

Feel like hitting snooze? That’s an opportunity to develop mental toughness. Wake up.

Tempted to procrastinate on your most important task? Fight that temptation and you’ll further develop your mental toughness.

Stairs or elevator? You know which one benefits you more.

Take the difficult path. Even if it seems like a minor thing. Even if it seems “stupid” to other people.

Reject convenience and ease, when doing so allows you to get tougher.

Do the hard things. Do them first. Continually lift your standard. Progressively overload yourself. Do a little more each day.

“Most people don’t even show up. Of the people who do, most don’t really push themselves. So to show up and be disciplined about daily improvement? You are the rarest of the rare.” – Ryan Holiday

Endurance – and the power of sitzfleisch

“A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, ‘Today I’m going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep.” – Leo Tolstoy

It is by endurance we conquer.

Endurance is the manifestation of pure mental toughness.

Marching on when all you want to do is rest.

Working to finish your project when self-doubt has crept in and you feel like abandoning it.

Doing what you know you must do, each day, even in the midst of pain and discomfort. And even when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

And endurance is just as important for the person who works with their mind as it is for the athlete or soldier.

The german concept of sitzfleisch sums it up perfectly.

Literally translated, it means “sitting meat” or “sitting flesh.”

It’s the ability to sit still and focus for long periods of time. The stillness and focus that is required for true productivity.

It’s the stamina, the endurance to continue on. To see your project through to the end.

It’s the willpower needed to push past boredom, or restlessness, and continue doing what needs to be done.

The one who has sitzfleisch is the one who has mental toughness.

A Warning: Be wary of success. It makes you soft.

Build mental toughness and you’ll likely achieve more than you could have imagined. But beware, the success that comes from this can result in mental weakness if you’re not cautious.

Kodak failed because they thought they were too big to fail.

Blockbuster was the largest video rental chain. They declined an offer to acquire Netflix because they thought sticking to their brick-and-mortar rental model was the way to go. Now look at them, and look at Netflix.

Success feeds your ego and clouds your judgment. It becomes easy to take your foot off the gas pedal. To falsely believe that everything will continue the way it has.

And by the time you realize your error, it’s often too late. Your business has failed. You have lost your momentum. Your discipline is no longer what it once was. You must build it back, and that takes a long time.

As Jeff Bezos said, “Make every day, day one.”

You want this “day one” mindset.

Work every day like you’re just starting out. Keep high your enthusiasm, your discipline, and your scrappiness. Maintain the underdog mentality.

Toughen your mind. Even, and especially, when life is going well.

And remember to maintain The White Belt Mentality

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