Struggling with Goals? Try Getting Mentally Tough

By Mandy Johnson -Originally posted at Renegade Wellness

Mental toughness is a tool that can be learned to help you push through to success with your physical and mental goals.

In every race, something within each athlete poses a simple question: ‘How bad do you want it?’ To realize your potential as an athlete, you must respond with some version of this answer: More. And then you have to prove it

Matt Fitzgerald – How Bad Do You Want It? 

Grit and resilience garner much attention in organizations, books, and the popular press. They are valuable attributes that help make a thriving adult, so they should garner attention. However, the focus for grit and resilience is on the future and the past.

Resilience in a broad-brush sense is about overcoming or learning from the past instead of being the victim. It’s what you bring to the table due to what you have overcome. Based on Angela Duckworth’s research and book, grit is about the future. It’s about keeping that long-term perspective on where you’re heading and staying on that path. 

Those concepts can help us frame where we have been and what mental outlook we need to get where we want but often, where we come up short is in the here and now. What is helping you stay committed right now is your mental toughness. 

Mental toughness is “a state-like psychological resource that is purposeful, flexible, and efficient in nature to initiate and maintain goal-directed pursuits.” In less scientific words, mental toughness is the personal capacity we use in the moment to pursue a goal. It can account for up to 25% of performance differences in research

What is Mental Toughness 

Photo of a Women Boxer as an Example of Mental Toughness
Photo by Natalie Runnerstrom on Unsplash

In research, mental toughness is not a predetermined trait according to the majority of the researchers. It is a learned ability to draw a little more from your potential capacity when you need to enhance your ability to achieve a goal. You can develop the necessary elements to become mentally tough no matter who you are. Mental toughness is not a dominant male trait. It is not just putting your head down and going for it. We can all learn to tap into that mental toughness because it is how you get your brain set to deal with wanting to quit. How do you develop your mental toughness? Thrive, prepare and activate

Mental Toughness Component One: Thrive

Thrive is well-being in both mind and body. The goal is to have the energy to think about how you are thinking. Living in the moment is appropriate at times but we need to have the respect to give our brain the best condition to work. the best conditions come from managing stress, eating well most of the time, and getting enough sleep. These aspects of your life make it so you have increased mental reserves. Think about it. Are there times when you are just tired or mentally drained? What kind of decisions do you make when you get in a spot where you are living off fumes?

We only have so much mental energy to give. If you are giving all your mental energy to just trying to get through your morning, there isn’t much to tap into by the time you see the Oreo package as you grab something at the grocery store after work. Your mental drive to say no to your inner sugar craving was gone by noon, and there goes another new years resolution. 

If you are having issues with your ability to push through and stay on your goal path, one of the best things to do is GET MORE SLEEP. Go to bed earlier and do all those things you have to get done at night in the morning by getting up an hour earlier. Meditate for five minutes in your car when you get to work to decrease your stress and anxiety. Figure out what needs to happen to thrive and get out of the emotional drought that poor sleep, nutrition, and stress have helped you get into. Chat with a mental health provider. Depression and anxiety will hold you back from tapping into your mental toughness. I have used mental health providers, and all I can say is that I wish I had used one earlier. 

Mental Toughness Component Two: Prepare

Prepare is thinking about and mentally preparing for the goal you are pursuing right now. The presentation, the race, and the new year’s resolution are all different events we can choose to take on. You need to set up small, bite-sized goals for that large goal that you are attempting to get through. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, maybe your preparation is to eat a fist full of veggies at every meal this week. Preparing is strategic. It is thinking about what will hold you back. Maybe you know 1:30 pm is your time to reach for something sweet. Plan now what to do in situations that will be challenging.

Creating specifically tailored Self-talk be huge in assisting you through your mental preparations to tap into that mental toughness when you are reaching the end of your mental resolve. You get lunch with a friend, and they are getting a dessert, but you gave up dessert for this month. What are you going to do? Have you visualized that situation and thought about how you will respond? Outloud, ask yourself, “What should (your name) do in this situation?” Talk to yourself like you would if your friend asked you for advice. What do you want them to do when this problem comes up? Find the phrase that will trigger you to stay committed, so you don’t have to use your mental energy each time you face temptation. Prepare for it. 

Mental Toughness Component Three: Activate

There will be difficult times when it is harder and harder to quiet the voice telling us to quit. While I sit here writing this, I would instead like to check out my google feed, watch a video on breaking down dance choreography, or just about anything to keep from staying focused on writing. When I start these posts, it is all daisies and roses because I nerd out on reading research articles and checking out podcasts. However, sitting down and writing after researching all morning is a mind game. 

In order to stay in the activate phase, I set a timer on Alexa. I can get up and use the bathroom or get some water. I have five minutes to take a break to avoid getting distracted. Specifying a time for my break is a big deal as I love to get distracted. Just ask my husband. I would love to be organizing my closet and watching Home Edit to find new organization containers I should probably order. My first grader came home with a practice sentence where she wrote, “My mom is a neat freak.” As you set foot into my house, you will realize that this is not completely the case, but I do love getting containers and labeling them. 

I prepare for the ability to activate by having an ideal week. Right now is my writing time. It is not my scheduled time to go through my closets or clean the car. I mentally have set myself up for this time on Tuesday and Friday to be my writing time. The self-talk you used in the prepare phase can come into play in the activate phase. Here is how one research subject in the article by Cooper, Wilson, and Jones used self talk to get her through race days:

“During my breast cancer battle, I had the phrase ‘Be brave. Be strong. Be badass.’ And it stuck with me, and when things get really hard in a race, I am just repeating that mantra again and again”.

The Whole Package

Your body and mind will benefit from you focusing on Thrive, Prepare and Activate individually. It is not possible to combine them altogether if you are starting from scratch. It is just too much to ask of yourself with everything else that is going on in life. Functional mental toughness is possible for all of us but not without effort. Often when you see someone pull off something spectacular that does not start with, “dude, hold my beer” you just think they are born that way. You didn’t see behind the curtain. You didn’t see the early mornings followed by early to-bed. You didn’t see the preparation so that the easiest choice was the one they planned for so it actually was easier. Not sure where to start? Check out this post on habits.

Action Steps

Pick out one of the components of mental toughness. Find five minutes a day, maybe while your morning coffee is brewing, and work on something that will improve your ability to thrive. Meditate. Research a counselor and make an appointment. Make a tiny habit that works into your day so you can slowly chip away at that big dream goal.

This is a guest blog by Amanda (Mandy) Johnson of Renegade Wellness. Mandy empowers people to live their lives without physical limitations. This article was originally posted on her Substack.
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Mandy is an avid Full Focus Planner® user.

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