Mental Toughness 101: Are you ready?

Only a small number of people can achieve this state of mind - but if you're up for it, you'll find it's the key to unlocking your ultimate potential

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By Marcus Smith

Published: Thu 16 Jul 2020, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 24 Jul 2020, 8:59 AM

The process of developing your mental toughness is very similar to the process of training at the gym; it requires commitment and regular practice to see real results. In the same way that you won't have a rock-hard stomach by doing 1,000 sit-ups the day before your beach holiday, you won't develop mental toughness overnight. In order to strengthen the brain, it requires the same level of exercise as your biceps or glutes, and it must be worked on daily and developed over time.
This is exactly why mental toughness is reserved for a select few; only a small number of people are willing to train regularly. Exercise of any form is hard, often filled with discomfort and requires commitment for sustained periods. But most of all, developing mental toughness can literally change your life, and that's something that many people are simply not ready for.
The good news, however, is that anyone is able to develop their mental toughness, if they are willing to dedicate the time and energy that's needed. Here are a few key steps to help get you there:

1. Embrace the underlying issue that is holding you back. Moving into a complete state of consciousness means no longer blocking anything out or denying what is going on. For instance, I hear a lot of sportspeople say that they 'ignore the pain', but you do not simply ignore pain. Instead, you acknowledge it is there but with the next breath, you remind yourself that the pain will not stop you from achieving your goals. Developing mental toughness means accepting that there are challenges to overcome, but not allowing those challenges to be bigger than your ambition to succeed.

2. Finding a state of calm is very important. In my "Ultra Mindset" approach to life, I call this stage "relax". When situations are hectic, it seems counter-intuitive to relax and catch your breath, but it is absolutely what you need to do. In 2019, I took part in a 250km race through the Sri Lankan jungle but found myself overheating massively. I had to make the difficult decision to relax for a moment because I knew it would make the difference between finishing the race or not. I took five minutes to swim in a river and cool down whilst my competitors were all making time on me - but stopping was the only way I could continue.

3. Ask yourself: "What can I do right now to make things better?" Sometimes, the answer may be to do nothing at all for a certain amount of time and be at total peace with that. The action you are able to take may seem very small that you do not feel you are even moving towards your goal. This was the case for me in 2018 when I was in ICU after my near-death cycling accident; all I was able to do was raise my left hand from palm down to palm up. As difficult as it was to accept, that small movement became my training and my goal for each day. It was very slow progress, but I knew that it was taking me closer to my goal of recovery and rebuilding my body. When it comes to mental toughness, controlling the controllables is one of the most important principles.
So, what can you do today? Well, here are three things to think about:

1. Be absolutely clear on what you are looking to achieve, what your end goal is and why you want this. Then remind yourself of it time and time again. This feeds your subconscious so that it can create positive and clear thought processes in your mind.
2. Find something that allows you to train your mind. This does not mean subjecting yourself to extreme pain. For me, I find my mental toughness is developed in physical challenges, be it running 250km through a desert or training for an endurance event. I know in these things I am exercising my mind and building strength. Some people are able to achieve this through forms of meditation, daily positive self-talk or visualisation tactics.
3. Take some time to reflect. Look at things you have done and the impact, both positive and negative, those things have had on your life and where you want to take it. This is a simple practice that does not take much time but is incredibly powerful.
(Marcus Smith is an extreme athlete and founder of InnerFight.)

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