​We often hear people talk about mental toughness. Having a strong mind, overcoming life’s obstacles, and being strong for the people you care about are all manifestations of mental toughness. 

The idea of mental toughness has been around since the time of the Spartans (and probably before). But, just how do we develop mental toughness? Can it be learned and taught or is it something you are either born with (or without)?
Spoiler alert: Mental toughness can be taught and developed.
In this article I provide you with five tips to increase mental toughness.

What is mental toughness?

​In a broad sense mental toughness is the ability to face and overcome an obstacle in life. Situations may vary widely, but through practice you can develop the mind to overcome anything.

Why is mental toughness important?
Developing a strong mind is important for accomplishing goals, being productive, and being there for people who depend on you. To borrow a quote from legendary strength coach Mark Rippetoe “Stronger people are harder to kill and more useful in general”. This extends to mentally tough people as well.

Tip #1- Focus on the Present

“The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.” This famous old Chinese proverb is true. Focus on what you can control in the present moment. You can’t control the past. No matter how much we try, whatever happened 5 years ago, 5 months ago, or 5 minutes ago already happened. There is nothing we can do to change that. Remembering the past is important, but wasting energy trying to change it is useless. Learn from the past so as not to make the same mistakes in the future.

Planning for the future is certainly important, but it hasn’t happened yet either. The only thing in our lives happening right now is the present. Like the journey of 1,000 miles if you focus on taking one step at a time you will get there. There is no sense in worrying about mile 100 if you are only on mile 1. 

Tip #2- Stay positive

I personally like to use affirmations to stay positive. An affirmation is a saying that you repeat during times of turbulence. Keep them positive though.
The affirmation that I have developed is “I will be successful!” 

Constantly repeating positive affirmations makes it hard for negative thoughts to cloud our mind.
How to develop affirmations…

In my experience I’ve found hard physical work to be the best conduit for ingraining positive affirmations. Performing hard physical work is a great way to build mental toughness. Use those workouts (or hard life events) as an opportunity to repeat and ingrain an affirmation. When my heart rate is jacked and I feel like my heart is about to explode I can always fall back on “I will be successful.” Positive affirmations serve to keep you in the present and not allow any room for negative thoughts to manifest. 

What is your positive affirmation?


Tip # 3- Keep calm and remain calm

Remaining calm is necessary to make smart decisions under pressure. 

Two great ways to develop an inner calm are through meditation and breathing techniques.

Meditation can be as simple as sitting in silence for 5 minutes per day. I do this all the time to help calm my mind. Sitting in silence is a great practice to build an inner calm and stillness.

Our breath can be used to up-regulate or down regulate the nervous system. When someone jumps out from behind a wall and scares us, our heart rate goes up. This is a normal response, but how can we train ourselves to remain calm in these situations?

By practicing breath control you can train yourself to remain calm in any situation. The technique that I like I learned from Coach Mark Divine, former Navy SEAL and founder of www.SEALFit.com. His technique is called box breathing. The idea is to slowly inhale for 2-5 seconds, hold for 2-5 seconds, slowly exhale for 2-5 seconds, and hold again for 2-5 seconds. Repeat this cycle of slow controlled breathing for 5-10 minutes. 

Kill two birds with one stone by sitting in silence and practicing box breathing techniques. 

Tip #4- Develop productive rituals/habits

A ritual is something we do everyday that becomes a habit.
A habit is something we do everyday without thinking.

According to research new habits take 21 days to develop. 
Habits can either be productive or destructive. A productive habit is reading 10 minutes every night. A destructive habit is smoking 2 packs of cigarettes each day. However, both are habits. 

Choosing to develop productive rituals/habits is a great way to build mental toughness. Let’s take our affirmation example from earlier. What if you got into the ritual of repeating your positive affirmation every time you opened your car door? Could you do this for 21 days until it became a habit? 

Other examples of productive rituals (that become habits) include:

•Waking up and drinking a big glass of water
•Reading for 5-10 minutes before bed
•Finding a reason to get 1 hearty laugh per day (even if it’s fake)
•Making your bed every morning
•Cleaning the dishes immediately after dinner, before doing anything else

The point of these seemingly mundane rituals is to build discipline.
Discipline leads to habits and developing positive habits leads
to a mentally tough and sound individual. 

Tip # 5- Surround yourself with winners

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said it best: 
“We are the average of the 5 people we hang out with most!”

Negative people lead to negative thoughts. Negative thoughts lead to the dark side (you’re welcome for the Star Wars reference). One thing that we can all control is who we allow inside our inner circle. Hanging around negative people leads to negativity. Negativity hinders progress and productivity. 
Surround yourself with people who are go-getters, positive, and productive and I guarantee you will rise to their level. Take a good hard look at who you spend the majority of your time with.
​Are they helping you or hindering you?

Final thoughts on increasing mental toughness

To quickly sum up my 5 tips for increasing mental toughness:

  1. Focus on the present and what you can control
  2. Stay positive
  3. Remain calm
  4. Develop productive rituals/habits
  5. Surround yourself with winners

I’d love to hear your tips and techniques for developing mental toughness.
Post them in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading! 


Inspiration for this article:
Personal life experience (Training for and completing the SEALFit Kokoro Camp 26 in October of 2012.
As well as serving four years as an Army Ranger.)

•Articles/teaching from www.SEALgrinderPT.com (my coaches website)
•Jim Rohn- You’re the average of the 5 people you hang out with most

Image credit:
Header image: https://pixabay.com/en/karate-martial-arts-training-1343889/
Yes image: https://pixabay.com/en/yes-letters-tablets-arrangement-1137274/

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