Mental strength, or mental toughness, is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the world of sports. In fact, these words tend to be used in most performance fields. People who are mentally strong tend to possess many of the same qualities.
For example, a person who is mentally strong always seems to be in the moment, especially in times of high stress or pressure. Some call this situation being in “flow state“. Mentally strong people are also known to not be discouraged by failure; on the contrary, they tend to revel in failure, because with failure, lessons come.
The G.O.A.T. of basketball, Michael Jordan, has a famous quote which I really like:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
The quote highlights the point that in spite of all these failures, he overcame and went on to become a legend. There are plenty of other examples of elite athletes or performers who have failed time and time again, only to come back from these failures and achieve great success (see: Serena Williams, Drew Brees, Tiger Woods, Steph Curry, etc).
Some think that mental strength is something that you naturally have, or have been born with, but I’m here to tell you that this is not entirely correct. Mental strength, like physical strength, is a skill. Like any skill, mental strength can be developed and improved over time.
How can a person develop this skill?
Well, coaches like me have dedicated their schooling and careers to helping you answer this question. Throughout my experience as an athlete and a mental skills coach, I have witnessed the tremendous growth of many individuals, especially with their mental strength, as they have discovered and developed different mental skills. Mental skills are tools and abilities that anyone can tap into and utilize on a daily basis. They are actions that everyone does in everyday life one way or another. The problem is that not many people are aware that these are skills that can be trained.
What do I mean by this? Think of a time that you have wanted to accomplish something; you knew what you wanted to do, how you were going to do it, and when you wanted to do it by. You came up with steps for you to follow and actions to do in order to get where you wanted to go. The skill you used is one of the most important mental skills: goal setting.
Now, think back to a time when you accomplished a goal that you set for yourself. Remember how you felt when you reached that goal. Did you get a sense of relief, or relaxation? Think of what you looked like, was there a smile on your face? did you jump with joy? The feelings that you are remembering, and possibly reliving, as well as the images that you have in your head, are created by another mental skill: visualization.
Lastly, thinking back to this goal you accomplished, during the most difficult part of this goal, do you remember talking to yourself, out loud or in your head? Did you talk to yourself in an optimistic way, telling yourself to keep going? Or was it a pessimistic way, telling yourself to just give up? This skill is called self-talk.
Goal setting, visualization, and self-talk are very important skills that if trained and applied correctly, like setting effective goals, using positive visualization, and maintaining positive self-talk can have a great impact on mental strength; consequently, if these skills are applied incorrectly, they can lead to demotivation, frustration, and negative thoughts.
As a mental skills coach, I help individuals discover, train, develop, and apply these skills. Every mental skill is important in its own way, and no single mental skill is independent from the others. They are all related and they all help increase mental strength.
If you would like a glimpse into ways you can begin to develop mental strength, here are a few suggestions:
- Keep track of your achievements; what you did to get there and how did it feel?
- Keep track of your failures; what do you think went wrong, why did it go wrong, and how can you improve to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
- Come back to the present moment; as often as you can, especially when things seem to be overwhelming or stressful, take a long, deep breath. Follow the air as it goes in through your nose, through the back of your throat, into your belly, and up to your lungs, and then back the way it came.
Yours in mental and physical health,