Developing Mental Toughness

I’ve been thinking about this recently and thought I’d devote a short productivity-style blog post to the subject of mental toughness. These are just the ideas that came to mind, but hopefully you’ll find something useful here.

Let me say this up front: I think success is a function of mental toughness. Sure there are many other factors that go into success like talent, training, education, expertise, connections, and so on, but I believe the one of the single greatest factors that will determine if you are successful or not is mental toughness.

So what is mental toughness? To me, mental toughness means the following things:

  • It means having the courage to stay the course, through thick and thin
  • It means putting up with criticism, negativity, rejection, and staying true to your vision, your beliefs and your goals
  • It means putting in that extra effort in the middle of the workout and not take the easy way out
  • It means having the courage to take risks, and the belief in yourself that you can do it and overcome whatever odds life throws at you.
  • It means knowing when to say “no” and also when to say “yes”

It is also my belief that many people have not developed their mental toughness to their fullest potential. The main reason: it’s hard! It’s easy to cut corners during your workout, put in a barely adequate effort at work or the projects you’re working on, or giving up when things start to get tough. But with anything, I believe you reap what you sow, and if you sow a mediocre or less than full effort, you’ll end up with a disappointing effort and the only person you’ll be deceiving is yourself.

So now that we’ve gone over what mental toughness is, when and why do you need mental toughness? But first, the question of when:

  • when you’re learning a new skill
  • working towards a short or long term goal
  • when dieting or exercising
  • saving/investing your money for the future (education, house, car, large purchase)
  • resisting the tempation to splurge on impulse purchases

Pretty much in situations where there is a long-term desire to either move away from pain (ex. the pain of finishing strong during a tough workout) and/or towards pleasre (ex. attaining a new skill) is where you will need to utilize your mental toughness. You need to focus on the long term goal, and block out the short term pain.

Why do you need mental toughness?

  • For the times when you want to quit or give up, you need mental toughness to remain focused on your goals
  • For the times when you feel weak and want to give in to the temptation of short term pleasure (but at what cost?)
  • To reach your fullest potential

And now onto the most important part: How do I develop mental toughness? For the most part, it comes down to attitude and how you approach each task, but here are a six specific suggestions you can use:
1. Start small

Set your sights on simple, easy, short term goals. Instead of setting aside a large chunk of time on a project, aim to get 10 good minutes of work in. When the first 10 minutes are up, refocus for another chunk of 10 minutes until before you know it – 60 minutes have passed. For example, if you’re a runner, focus on pushing hard until that next tree or landmark right in front of you (15-20m), then focus on the another one another 15-20m ahead, and so on and before you know it – you’ll have reached your destination. Gradually increase your efforts with each subsequent session.

2. Cut out and refuse to listen to the negative self-talk that goes on inside your brain

Pretend it doesn’t exist and continue to chase after your dreams.

3. Find a friend to help you out along the way

Use this person as an accountability partner or training partner if both of you have the same goals

4. Make your efforts public

Write it down on paper, post it online for anybody to see, and tell your friends and family. Still feeling a little shy? Create a journal/diary that documents your efforts so you can see how you’re doing over time.

5. Have the belief that you can do it – no matter what anyone else says

6. Embrace the challenge and affirm the phrase – ‘no pain, no gain’ 


While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I think it’s a start and something you may want to explore more if you consistently find yourself disappointed with your efforts and not realizing your fullest potential. Carpe diem!

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