Mental toughness is an interesting idea. It can suggest many things but perhaps most obviously someone who is cool under pressure or who refuses to give in, kind of like Rocky Balboa. I do not think that this idea is wrong but I do think our approach to it should be modified and perhaps called Mental Mastery. If you truly are a mental master then the natural outcome will allow you to be cool under pressure and never give in.
Mental mastery suggests someone who is in control of what is going on in their heads. It sounds simple but by and large most people are not in control of what is going on in their heads. Too often we become consumed with random thought patterns that go round and round and round with no real purpose. Too often we are physically in the present moment butmentally somewhere else. Too often the stress created in our brains ends up creating stress in our bodies.
So let’s consider the idea of mental mastery first which will point you towards mental toughness. Let’s look at mental mastery as having several key components. The first is the ability to stay present, the second is to be in a state of acceptance and allowing and the third is to actually get your brain to work for you not against you.
If you can stay in the present moment the pressure of a situation melts away. Presence allows extreme focus on the task at hand. Presence allows you to focus on the process because it is present. Outcome on the other hand is a future thing and when focus is in the future the pressure to achieve a certain outcome can often derail people. Presence makes the effort at that exact moment more manageable. “Can I keep going now?” “Yes of course you can”.
Acceptance is a funny thing when considering endurance sports. We know it’s going to hurt yet we still do it. In fact we do it because of the discomfort. If it was easy it would likely not have the same impact personally. When you are really pushing and you require “mental toughness” instead of getting all aggressive about it try simply allowing the discomfort to be there. Accept it, embrace it, love it. The person who fights discomfort like a gladiator doesn’t stand a chance against the person who accepts it, embraces it, loves it. If you can get yourself to that place in a race or a tough workout, that is mental mastery.
Very few people are able to get their brain to really work for them. The relationship between your brain and your body is fascinating. There is much more going on than the movements we see. There is a whole automatic system working away that controls all those things you don’t think about controlling like heart rate, breathing, blood vessel constriction and digestion. Believe it or not, the relationship that exists between your brain and that automatic system is trainable. Imagine if you could use your brain to help your body recover at a much deeper level. Well, you can! Imagine if you could use your brain to calm the nervousness or anxiety you feel before an event! Well you can! Imagine if you could use your brain in a way that allowed you to be fully present and engaged when it really counts. Yes you can do that as well!
Mental Mastery is the platform upon which mental toughness is achieved. All of these things are trainable and most importantly they transcend sport. Mental mastery is also the platform upon which wisdom grows.