A common misconception is that all people who have mental strength are born that way. Although some people may be inherently more than others, mental strength or mental toughness are skills that can be learned. Mental and physical skills should be thought of the same way. Just like any physical skills, mental skills can be taught, learned and mastered with practice. Anyone from youth athletes to elite athletes have the ability to become mentally strong and I use that term along with mental toughness and mental strength interchangeably.
First off, what is mental toughness?
My definition of mental toughness, in respect to sports and athletic performance can be stated as playing confident, focused, determined and resilient, especially in pressure situations. Now you can expand that definition to all aspects of your life. My focus is training athletes on becoming mentally tough but whether it is business, relationship, student mental toughness or sports mental toughness, the fundamentals are all the same
Elite athletes almost always display the attributes of mental toughness. Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots and winner of 5 super bowls, has used sports psychology extensively and credits his success to mental toughness. “To me, football is so much about mental toughness, it's digging deep, it's doing whatever you need to do to help a team win and that comes in a lot of shapes and forms.”
How do I become mentally strong?
Some people do have a more inherent ability to be more mentally tough than others but the first step to becoming mentally strong is having the relentless desire and determination that you DO have the ability to change. By taking that to heart, the processes you learn in developing mental toughness will help you to achieve results much quicker. If you do not think that you can become mentally tough, you won’t! One of my favorite quotes of all time is one by Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Performance = Potential - Interference. When you eliminate interference, you will be able to perform to your potential. The more you develop your mental strength, the less interference you will have. This formula is the simplest way to explain how to become mentally strong.
You can learn my mental toughness program essentially in a 4 step process and it always begins with what I mentioned above, being relentless and determined that you have the ability to change. There are many techniques that you can use to build up your mental strength and I tailor a program that best suits your individual needs. The process is significantly different for a person needing to overcome an acute performance issue like getting out of a batting slump or for someone beginning to learn the fundamentals to develop mental toughness.
In this article I am going to focus on those just wanting to become tough mentally tough. Emotional mastery is the key to building that mental toughness. When we play with emotion, especially difficult emotions such as anger when something doesn’t go right in a game, or embarrassment when we make a mistake, our performance will always suffer if we let those emotions take over. They tend to create all kinds of negative self-talk and internal chatter which creates interference in the P=P-I formula above. That interference is what destroys our ability to play to our potential. When we learn to master our emotions, everything quietens down internally and we begins to play fearlessly, without thinking. That will significantly increase your confidence and mental energy. From there, we automatically achieve more positive thinking for the next play, game or performance.
A quote by W. Timothy Gallwey: “Perhaps this is why it is said that great poetry is born in silence. Great music and art are said to arise from the quiet depths of the unconscious, and true expressions of love are said to come from a source which lies beneath words and thoughts. So it is with the greatest efforts in sports; they come when the mind is as still as a glass lake.”
By learning to develop your mental toughness and practicing techniques which help you master you emotions over and over again BEFORE you find yourself in that situation, when it does occur, you will easily be able to continue to play confident, focused, determined and resilient, no matter the situation. If things do get off track, reminding yourself in those stressful situations that it is your interference causing the problem will increase your positive thinking and increase your confidence. You will be back on track instantly.
Attributes of mental toughness also include the use of goal setting. Used often in sports psychology, reminding yourself of your short term, mid-term and long term goals can significantly increase your mental energy in stressful situations, be that in a game, practice or competition.
If you want to learn some great techniques that can help you master your emotions increase your confidence and help you understand how to become mentally tough, sign up for my mental toughness tips on sportsmentaltoughness.ca
Ken Ansell - Your Mental Toughness Trainer
* Ken Ansell is a Mental Toughness Trainer. He is not a sports psychologist, and does not practice sports psychology.