Here's some questions that we would all love concrete answers and formulas for:
- "What is mental strength?"
- "How do I become mentally stronger?"
- "Can I train mental toughness?"
All great questions! Mental toughness is certainly one of the key performance indicators (KPI's) for athletic and performance success. The only problem is you cannot measure it like most other KPI's. Most people don't even have a definition for it, or understand where it breaks down. In this blog I will help define mental toughness, the main pitfall to avoid, and signs of breakdowns. Let's pick it apart starting with the definition:
Performance psychologist, Jim Loehr, defines mental toughness:
"An individuals ability to persevere through adversity to achieve a given goal."
Alright now think, what are the adversities getting in the way of your goals? Is it rebounding from mistakes? Is it performing under pressure in front of a crowd or in a championship game? Understanding your adversities is the first step to building mental toughness.
2.) Avoid The MAIN Pitfall:
So often I see and hear athletes talk about mental toughness in a PHYSICAL sense. "It's being able to run harder than the opponent" or "push through pain when you're tired." OK NOW STOP AND READ CAREFULLY:
A.) We see the media and athlete's who have the "work harder than you" mentality, and we will see them in the gym at 4:00am, benching 300lbs, running sprints at 9:00pm up a hill, dripping sweat, agony in their face, yeah we get it right? Ok that's just physical grit, and it's over glorified as the main or only way to success.
B.) Is physical grit needed? Yes. Pushing ourselves physically, in a safe way, is most often required to be great in your sport depending on the sport. But it's a pre-requisite. This means you need the understanding of how to push yourself physically, but it is NOT everything. Not even close. It's just a small fraction. Modern day elite athletes don't just understand work ethic, but they are getting smarter on top of it! Keep reading.
Signs of Breakdown:
Now that we have defined mental toughness and the main pitfall, let's identify how you can tell if you have demonstrated any breakdowns of mental toughness:
Tanking: This is the most destructive breakdown, where athletes protect their ego by not trying as hard anymore. The mental response is "I cannot fail if I don't try my best." Symptoms are complaining, whining, making excuses, slouched body language, and a lack of effort.
Anger: Frustration is normal in any competitor, but anger is different. Frustration is a bonfire. Anger is a wildfire, which is slow to tame and leaves behind destruction. This is shown in yelling, stomping, kicking/punching equipment, and a loss of emotional control.
Choking: This breakdown is the least destructive of the symptoms. Even the best athletes will choke once in a while. But it's not because they weren't trying, or because they couldn't manager their anger. It's due to nerves and stress overpowering their body that disrupts the motor skill necessary to execute simple tasks. Otherwise known as the "yips," athletes who choke have a hard time executing simple actions they have done thousands of times before.
What do I do then?
Unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution to this. There are ways we can manage these mental breakdowns but everyone needs their own personal set of coping and regulation strategies. If you're looking for ways you can individually prevent tanking, getting angry, and choking, check out our instagram page @elite_mentalperformance with more tips on how to prevent this. You can also sign up for your free consultation to get started on mastering your mind!