No Cross, No Crown: Part II The Mental

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness can boil down to how you respond to stress. Do you start to panic and lose control, or do you zero in on how you are going to overcome the difficulty?

 “World-class endurance athletes respond to the stress of a race with a reduction in brain-wave activity that’s similar to meditation. The average person responds to race stress with an increase in brain-wave activity that borders on panic.”

Rachel Cosgrove

Mental toughness shines in anyones ability to stay cool under stress. We all have to avoid falling into that fight-or-flight response most of us drop into when we’re being shot at. Developing ways to counteract the negative response to stress helps us stay in control of our bodies so that we can maintain the high performance needed to do well in any situation. This also extends to staying in control of our emotional passions like impatience, and speaking before thinking. These together are both what real mental toughness truly is.

Another way to look at mental toughness is willpower. When everyone else has decided they are too tired, you decide to keep going. In sports, this was called the after burner, when an athlete determines that they don’t care about their fatigue and they decide to push harder despite all obstacles.

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.

Lance Armstrong

So, how can you cultivate mental toughness?

Small Discomforts

  • Allow (or seek out) small inconveniences and discomforts in your everyday life. Learn to tolerate them.
    • One of the best ways to develop mental toughness is to accept small discomforts on a regular basis. Take only cold showers or occasionally fast. Magicians, before preforming stunts — some of which have included being encased in ice for over 63 hours, being suspended over the Thames in a clear plastic box for 44 days, and holding his breath for 17 minutes on live TV — will start to make up little inconvenient routines for themselves to maintain, simply to test willpower. These are usually small things, like touching every overhanging tree branch on you walk to work. Another example is how St. Josemaria Escriva would not look out the window of a car door when he was the passenger. These are small mortifications that get the mind in the habit of exercising will, to do something when it would be inconvenient or uncomfortable. (all of which extends into the spiritual)
    • Examples of this also include sticking to an inconvenient diet, living without a car, or shaving with a straight razor.
    • There’s a lot to be said for simple acclimatization to discomfort as well. The little nicks and bruises you get from training in wild environments can be hugely distracting when you’re just getting started, but if you keep heading back out, you eventually find them little more than useful feedback on positioning and technique.

Think Positive

  • Start to judge your internal monologue, rather than simply accepting it for what it is. Actually listen to what you’re saying and decide if it’s a belief you want to let into your life.
    • Anyone who works hard enough at academics can do well in school, and anyone who trains hard enough can do well in sports. Whether or not we are willing and able to push ourselves hard enough to do well often depends on that internal story.
    • Simple solution is positive self-talk. Recommended Book – Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Have a Reason

  • When you’re feeling tired and talking yourself out of your workout or morning prayer, remind yourself why you’re training (physically or spiritually). Weigh the importance of the inconvenience against the importance of the why and get out there.
    • One of the most powerful motivators in training and life is knowing why you cannot fail.
    • The antidote is to remind yourself why you’re out there in the first place. A common trick is to imagine an intense situation in which you can be the only person to save the day. No matter how beat up you feel, always run faster.
      • Another trick for this is to use an iPhone app called “Zombie, Run!

You will use mental toughness in making yourself exercise and pray. I like to picture the mind as the bridge between the Body and Soul. Mental toughness is making those prudent decisions that help find the virtues between the two vices.


One comment

  1. […] with a deeper metaphysical perspective on life, the Universe, and everything (READ: PART I & II). Such Qualities are greatly to be desired in a friend, lover, partner, father, husband, and son, […]

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