LifestyleWellness Addressing the Myth of Mental Toughness

mental toughness

Mental Toughness also referred to as “resilience,” is a buzzword thrown around by many and understood by few. When many think about mental toughness, they may think of it as ignoring pain and discomfort to accomplish a goal. This term is also stigmatized as not showing any emotion or pain to not seem weak or not asking for help when needed. Certain cultures in sports and fitness have stigmatized mental toughness to the point that it seems like a negative trait to some.

I will address what Mental toughness actually is, how it should be viewed, and explain why it is potentially one of the most beneficial traits to possess not only within fitness but in life as well. Secondly, I will teach you methods for improving your mental toughness for yourself.

Many research studies looked into professional athletes that were considered to be very high on a mental toughness scale. The researchers asked about their entire life and how they became mentally tough. To summarize, professional athletes did not completely ignore pain; they were not aggressive in regard to achieving a goal at all costs, and they had an overwhelming support system. 

The athletes primarily described mental toughness as a problem-focused mindset meaning they had an elite ability to remain focused on the problems or tasks in front of them rather than dwelling in the past or shying away from challenges ahead. Not only that, they learned to operate in that way because of support from coaches and family throughout their lives. The athletes worked together with coaches and support networks to overcome problems. An important note here was that when athletes experienced severe distress or setback, they were able to work through those problems with someone in their support system and, eventually, keep going. 

Main Points of Mental Toughness

  • The athletes never ignored the pain they experienced. Ignoring pain leads to more problems than it solves. Pain is a bodily indication something is wrong. So listen to it!
  • They had a balance of solving problems independently but utilizing resources and support systems when needed. 
  • They were experts at learning from failures and making adjustments. The athletes reported they were not afraid of failure anymore. They failed so much in the past that looked at failures as a lesson.
  • These mentally tough athletes were not hyper-aggressive toward reaching a goal. They enjoyed the process, learning and becoming better. 

How does this relate to general fitness and life?

Being a professional athlete is something very few of us can relate to. However, there are some important takeaways we can consider when improving our own mental toughness or resilience in our lives or in the gym. 

The first step is recognizing when and why you may shy away from problems, difficulties, or challenges. Is it gym intimidation? Not seeing progress? Unsure of what to do? Life circumstance?

Second, who can you bring problems to for advice that is considered an expert or can provide you adequate guidance? If there is no one, can you find someone, find resources, or overcome the problems yourself?

Last, slowly learn how to solve problems without dwelling on failures or allowing the past to influence you and your confidence. Also, don’t place much value, or any at all, on what could possibly go wrong. If you are worried about seeing progress with fitness or health, spend more time looking for opportunities to be healthy, talk with people about exercises, try new exercises, and think about being in better health than the poor health you could be in if you don’t get the results you want. 

Start with something very small and build yourself up!

Say you failed to go to the gym a few days in a row. Try your best not to dwell on it; try to move on and crush it tomorrow. Think about what would motivate you to go exercise. It can be something as simple as just playing a game like a volleyball with friends. 

Once you have some successful problem-solving moments, either with the help of others or by yourself. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t always look forward to how to improve. Keep the momentum going and learn to be problem-solving-focused rather than failure avoidant or fearful.

Essentially, being mentally tough is an elaborate way of describing someone as being problem-focused and understanding where resources are in order to overcome that problem and discuss it with others.  

Dylan Confar PT

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