Editor’s Note: Wanha from Reddit, shares his advice on what it takes to increase mental toughness.
I’ve always been fascinated with mental toughness and athletes who possess it, and I’ve spent many years trying to understand this topic.
Much of our physical ability is determined by our body structure. I can train as much as I want, but I’ll never beat Usain Bolt in a footrace. Mental toughness, on the other hand, is something that can be learned and cultivated, it can be forged through practice and struggle. Naturally some people are born with a higher level of mental toughness than others, but on the whole it’s a skill that anyone can cultivate to a relatively high level.
Mental toughness is the ability to perform at an optimal level when the stakes are at their highest. Whether that means closing a huge sale or fighting back from the brink of defeat, mental toughness means we don’t allow the situation to overwhelm us emotionally.
One of the most respected NFL coaches, Bill Belichick, defines mental toughness as
“doing what’s right for the team regardless of how you might be feeling at the time.”
In other words, mental toughness is about sacrifice, doing something that’s difficult, pushing past your threshold, playing injured or playing a role you might not be comfortable playing. It’s about putting the team first.
But talking about mental toughness is easy. For every athlete that is mentally tough, there are probably ten athletes that aren’t.
So how do we improve our mental toughness?
Boiled down to its most basic elements, mental toughness comes down to two choices: to control your mind, or to let your mind control you.
When we don’t control our minds, we accept whatever programming that has been inputted earlier. You see, most of us never chose our current mental programming, we simply stumbled onto it, and now it’s the way we deal with life’s various challenges and situations.
For example, if your default reaction to high-stake moments is fear, anxiety or over-excitment, it’s because somewhere down the line you learned that that strategy works for you. That’s obviously not a particularly smart strategy, but at the time when you accepted it as part of your programming it was clearly good enough. And once we accept a programming, we usually stop thinking about it and it becomes our default reaction for similar situations.
So if we want to increase our mental toughness, we are going to have to do a little reprogramming of our minds first. From my experience, the key to being mentally tougher is to control your focus and eliminate the little voice of doubt and critique.
It’s All in Your Mind
Most articles you will find on this topic break mental toughness down into various subcategories, such as focus, poise, confidence, courage, and so forth. Although that may make sense from a scientific perspective, I’ve found that such an approach makes it difficult for the average person to put any of the advice to use.
So what follows is my attempt to provide an easier and more natural process to help you perform better when it really counts. I’ve successfully used these techniques myself over the past few years and I believe they can do the same for you.
Let’s get to them.
I. Be Positive. I Mean REALLY, REALLY POSITIVE
It’s easy to get down on yourself and let the inner critic run free when things aren’t going well, but that isn’t going to help you.
Instead, fight the urge to criticize and ask yourself if you can make a commitment that you will only bring forth positive energy for the remainder of the match. I’ve found that when you prioritize eliminating all negative thoughts, your focus automatically shifts to the positive ones, and that in turn makes you more likely to enjoy and excel in the big moment.
II. Focus Only On What You Control
Yes, we play to win, that’s why we keep score. But spending time thinking about the potential outcome just diverts your focus and fills your head with unimportant, distracting thoughts.
The remedy is to be present in the moment and let nature take its course. Focus only on the things you actually control: your approach and your attitude. What happens after the next point or after the match doesn’t matter. I’ve found this approach helps me relax, focus and play my best at the key moments.
III. Keep Your Emotional Level Steady
Some of us get more easily up and down that others. The more up and down you get, the more likely you are going to get over-excited or overwhelmed by the situation, and that puts you in a bad spot to win the big points consistently.
The key is to distance yourself from the game just enough so that you’re not swept away with the emotional tides. Don’t only focus on not getting down – also make sure you don’t get too high either, because that disrupts your focus also. Visualize remaining calm and composed in even the biggest situations. Act like you’ve been in those situations a hundred times, and eventually you’ll feel like it too.
IV. Enjoy The Big Moments
This is probably my favorite technique because it takes a moment that is stressful and intimidating and turns it into a moment that’s fun and exciting – something you actually look forward to.
The next time you find yourself in a big moment in a game (e.g. a tiebreak in tennis), remind yourself how exciting and fun these big moments are compared to a casual game with nothing at stake. These are the moments you’ll remember and what you’ll all discuss after the games – enjoy them, embrace them, and feel them with every cell in your body.
V. A Prepared Mind is a More Confident Mind
It’s been said that self confidence is ‘your ability to influence the world around you’. What better way to do that than through practice?
When you know you’ve practiced a single shot a thousands of times, you have a lot more faith in being able to rely on your training in a big moment. You don’t need to ‘will’ yourself to do something that has very little chance of succeeding. Remind yourself that all that sweat and sacrifice was a price you paid so you could be victorious today.
VI. Forget About How You Might Look
Sometimes we start thinking how bad we might appear to others if we lose this point – or how embarrassing it would be to blow a big lead. But the moment you start thinking from the outside in, you lose your focus and your ability to stay calm and composed.
Thinking from the outside in is toxic. You are not doing this to “look good” or win the admiration of onlookers, so put all thoughts about looking bad out of your mind and just focus on playing the game one point at a time. Win or loss – do it your way.
VII. Have a Short Memory
This is also one of my favorites. It’s so easy to get angry and criticize ourselves when we make a mistake, but all that usually does is turn one bad play into another.
If the previous point or play didn’t go your way, you need to forget it immediately and concentrate on the next one. Don’t let one bad play ruin the next one.
Just make a note and move on.
VIII. Don’t Expect Perfect Circumstances
It’s easy to say the conditions were poor, you had a little ailment or that nothing is going your way today. But these are all just excuses that tempt you down the road of surrender.
You only get the perfect circumstances so many times in life. Don’t dwell on what has gone against you. Don’t worry that the conditions favor your opponent. Ignore the pain you feel in your knee.
What you have is what you have. There will never be another chance to win this game.
Be like MacGyver and use everything that you have at your disposal to succeed right now.
Mental toughness is really just about approaching the game from the right perspective. The next time you step out onto the field, ignore the score, focus being in the moment and tell that little, criticizing and excuse-seeking voice in your head to shut the hell up. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s What You Do On A ‘Bad Day’ That Matters.
Last Friday was a bad day for me. I woke up late, missed the gym and didn’t meditate.
None of this was intentional.
I then turned my computer on to do what I do every day: blog. I was not prepared for the whirlwind that followed.
As I opened up my social media channels, there were a lot more than usual, direct messages. I started reading each one and they were from colleagues and friends who wanted to warn me that I had a large amount of hate-fuelled comments on social media. I’m usually pretty good at dealing with hate comments. Not on that day, though — I was having a ‘bad day.’
I turned off the computer and didn’t respond to anybody. In the same week, I’d been told I was now a LinkedIn Top Voice for 2018.
I should have been celebrating and I didn’t because I didn’t feel worthy. If anything, I wanted to give up there and then. Luckily I didn’t follow through with any of these ideas. I knew it was just noise in my awful day.
I went away to sit on the couch and think about what I’d just read. Without really thinking about what I was going to do for the rest of the day, I began thinking about my team at work. There were several leadership challenges that I had to solve.
One was from a customer that was being abusive to female staff. Another was a rejection I had to deliver to someone that wanted to work with us. The hardest part about delivering the rejection was that I’d already said yes.
Despite the day being bad, I made a fundamental decision — to keep doing what I do and not stop. I said to myself “How can I inspire people while simultaneously solving both these challenges?”
I’m a big believer that it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do. Talk is cheap. I came up with a bold plan to address both challenges.
I was going to do something that made me see the good in the people involved.
Even if the people in both situations had let me down, I was going to assume they were still good.
I concocted a plan to help both people and try and show them a more positive way to move forward. If I break down the plan, it was about being an inspiration in both situations.
I didn’t feel like being inspiring.
It was not the day to be inspiring.
But it was the only way I could motivate myself to finish off this bad day and wake up the next morning fresh. It’s funny how a good nights sleep takes away all the pain and negativity from the day before.
So, by the end of the day, I enabled both plans. I set out to release inspiration in both scenarios and that was my only focus. I didn’t look at anymore hate fuelled comments or go near social media.
On that bad day last Friday, my actions helped me keep moving forward and not give up.
It’s not about necessarily seeing the good in your bad day.
I’ve read this sort of advice heaps, but it requires a lot of willpower.
“Using your actions to make the day better rather than trying to think your way out of your bad day seems to be a lot easier to implement”
It’s not about the bad day.
Bad days will happen.
It’s what you do on a bad day that determines if you’ll feel the full effect of all the negativity that can potentially knock you out like a Tsunami that comes your way when all you wanted to do was lay on the beach and soak up some sun.
I’ve learned to find situations during a day that’s not working out well for me, to do something good, and often that’s not something that benefits me. If I was to look at it another way it would be “How do I not focus on my own bad day?”
Trying to make someone else’s day good distracts you from your own bad day.
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This Is How An Ordinary Person Can Make Their Country Better.
Someone asked on the internet how they can make their country better.
They considered themselves ordinary and felt that they had to be someone special to make a difference in their country, India.
Their question made me feel a bit emotional because I can relate. I too have also dreamt of making my country better.
The most common answer to this question is to get involved in politics.
Many of you reading this find politics really boring including me. I’ve learned through my own experience that politics is not the only way you can make your country better.
Here’s how you can make your country better:
Use your voice
When I was faced with the question “How do I make my country better?” I decided to use my voice.
It was this decision that changed everything. I spent every day using my voice to stand for something. I wanted to inspire the world through entrepreneurship and personal development.
So, I started using my voice by posting on LinkedIn. I used my voice and transcribed it into words to tell the citizens of my country what I think they needed to hear.
Using your voice is incredibly scary at first. As soon as you start sharing your thoughts, many people will say nothing. You’ll get almost no feedback. As your voice starts to get louder over time (probably years) the opposite will happen and you’ll attract trolls and critics.
The hardest part about using your voice is having the courage every day to use it and not being obsessed with the outcome.
By using my voice online through blogging and LinkedIn, I managed to get a 35,000 person bank to start talking about my ideas with staff and customers, and I was voted LinkedIn Australia’s Top Voice that year.
Using the power of your voice is the number one way you can change your country.
It’s in your experiences, ideas and thoughts that you can find what it is that can help your country.
In my country, Australia, we are quite well off, but we still lack a positive mindset. Some of us work jobs we hate and we like things that only money can buy. There’s a competition to get the biggest house or the most expensive car.
It’s not a problem everyone in Australia suffers from, but it’s widespread. I believe by using my own voice to inspire people to seek alternatives, I can change my country.
The results thus far suggest I’m well on the way to changing my country.
Changing your country seems like a huge task. It sounds like something only a Nelson Mandela sort of fella can achieve. That’s not true.
A simple understanding of the power of kindness can change your country.
There was this guy I read about online that changed his country by giving out free hugs because he couldn’t run in the local marathon. He embraced his kind nature and ended up impacting millions of people in his country.
Being kind is infectious because we’re wired to do it. When we see one person be kind, we want to do the same.
The problem in my country (and many others) is that we’ve sacrificed kindness for greed.
We’ve let our country’s economy become the most important factor instead of measuring the way we treat people and the ability of a country’s nation to overcome adversity together.
Kindness is so important because every one of our countries will face adversity, and kindness is the solution to that inevitable problem.
Pick up the trash
This one seems even smaller in impact. It’s not.
I found that by picking up the rubbish I saw in places like my apartment lobby, I was able to show myself that I care about my country.
When we care about our country, we choose to make it look beautiful so others can enjoy it. Something simple like picking up the trash can take you a long way towards helping your country.
Every country has an environmental problem and picking up rubbish can help solve it. If we all picked up one piece of trash, then each of our country’s would be a hell of a lot cleaner.
Don’t think you can’t make your country better
A lot of what I’ve learned, by trying to make my own country better, has come from the belief that I can have an impact.
There are so many people who want to do nothing more than complain which wastes time and energy and doesn’t make anyone’s country better.
The way you make your country better is by believing you can and taking one or two small actions to start the process.
The people that change their country believe they can.
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