Over the past several years of writing about high level Special Ops Fitness, there is always a question concerning Mental Toughness. I get asked if I have any tips on getting more mentally tough. And I hate to sound like a grumpy, old coach, but to answer that – THERE ARE NO TIPS! There is no secret sauce that makes mental toughness magically appear in your life. Mental Toughness is built slowly – sometimes years – over several stages. Here is how I see mental toughness and resilience develop over time in the following stages:
Motivation – There is a saying in the SEAL community that “The Motivated Find the Teams.” It is true, but motivation has to grow into much more. We all need that initial spark – that WHY you want to doing something to better yourself. This is the easy part, as many find something that interests them and are HIGHLY MOTIVATED at first. Then, the work to achieve that goal is realized. Many lose that initial motivation once effort is involved. Motivation will only get you started. Maintaining motivation only occurs after going through the following other stages and this takes time. With time, often pitfalls in the form of administrative headaches, physical injuries, or illness make you feel like you are starting over ALL OVER AGAIN. But you have to keep moving forward.
Persistence – Persistence is defined by Webster’s as: The quality that allows someone to continue doing something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people. As motivation is the start – persistence is the day after. No matter how many rejections you get in the process, you have to keep pushing forward. Starting off moving in the right direction toward your goal has to be done EVERYDAY. Everything you do should be something that gets you closer to accomplishing your goal. With daily persistence you build habits. GOOD HABITS.
Habit – We are all creatures of habit. Dropping habits that are bad for us is just as challenging as creating new habits - sometimes harder. Often, we have to do both in order to achieve a new goal you are motivated to accomplish. After you are have completed several weeks of the journey to accomplish your goal, doing the little things to help build your foundation, you will find that you have created a habit. Habits are daily events, a gold standard of perfect performance, and have to be part of the schedule (religiously) so that when you miss it – you feel bad for doing so. Be patient with this stage as it takes time to build a habit.
Discipline – You cannot reach your goal without discipline. Discipline is what gets you moving when you are low energy and not motivated to keep going. Discipline requires a laser focus on your goal by constantly reminding you that you need to get to work (studying, exercising, earning money, moving forward) doing the things that will make you better. Finding a weakness and making it a strength requires discipline as well as you dropping the ego and seeking help sometimes. Sometimes you do not have all the answers – get assistance when not seeing results. Discipline is not just linked to military performance – we all need it in life. So how do you get discipline? First find something that motivates you. Then find enjoyment in learning more about it. Figure out what you need to do to get to your goal. Set up sub goals and a time line. Continue that enjoyment by performing daily tasks that will move you toward your goal. It could be school work, learning to swim or run, lifting weights, or anything that requires constant repetition before you see improvement. Once you have made this process a habit, you have developed a working level of discipline. Discipline has a unique quality too. Soon you will find that you are more disciplined in other areas of your life as well. Now – to the next level.
Mental Toughness – The final stage of this process requires you to master the above as there will be a time when you are physically beat down and exhausted and your mental toughness will help you find that second wind or “the fuel when the tank is empty.” Often, this is part of the pinnacle of the challenge you set in front of yourself years ago and it will come to this very moment – just you and no one else. HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT? I am a firm believer that you cannot measure someone’s heart, but you can test it to an extreme level. Some believe that you are either born with this mental toughness or not. In my experience, both personally and as a coach, it is a bit of both. Mental Toughness can be built, but it may take years. Many start the process with a history of athletics, yearly workout cycles, hard work experience, difficult life experiences, dedicated academic study hours, ignoring naysayers, proving others wrong, and accomplishing difficult tasks only by shear work effort that required you to Never Quit.
Building a never quit work ethic is the end result of any difficult accomplishment that took everything of you to overcome. So, find a goal – set a course – stay focused – and Never Quit!
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When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model. I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.
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