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Mentally Tough or Stupid?

stew smith

I just found your website and I love reading through all of the articles that you have posted. I have found them extremely helpful. I have been interested in the Navy SEALs for several years and I am now looking to join the Navy in four years, after I graduate from college. I want to spend the next four years training and preparing for BUDS and beyond. I am training hard and pushing myself like no one around me. My question is: What is the difference between mental toughness and stupidity?

Ha – good question. I am actually pausing as I write the answer to your question as I am trying hard to differentiate the two. I have found that mental toughness can border on or cross over to stupidity very easily at times. Personally, I tend to place mental toughness on two different standards. For training programs the line is pain versus injury. For getting out of life or death situations, there is no stupid way – only the way that yields success. In a life or death situation, you may have to be severely injured and required to keep moving in order to live. This requires a mental toughness that is ingrained in us all as a basic survival skill.

For instance, when playing sports or going through training programs for military, police, and fire fighting, you will find yourself in pain from the daily grind very often. Some of these pains will border on injury. There is a fine line between sucking up pain and pushing into a more debilitating injury. Yes, you can be stupid and ruin your chances of graduation or permanently disable yourself by pushing through injury – that would be stupid. Sometimes it is just luck that gets you out of injury. It is wise to understand the difference between pain and injury while pre-training as well as during your choice of training. When you suck up pain, it requires mental toughness. When you push through pain and into injury just to avoid stopping or quitting, that is when the border of mentally tough and stupid becomes fuzzy. You are now gambling with your luck to not become injured further.

Basically, being mentally tough helps you to keep competing when your mind wants you to quit. One thing I learned during Hellweek at BUDS was that we have a section in our brain that tells us to stop in order to prevent us from hurting ourselves. There are times you have to shut that part of your brain off. Your body is ten times stronger than the untrained mind will let it be. Your training helps you tap into this mindset, but often your life experiences as well can build a mental toughness and resilience that no one can beat.

Being mentally tough can take us into another level of competition or into a survival mode with success. You will find when sh*t hits the fan and you are worried more about living than anything else that your body will do all the work for you and not want to quit or die. We are built to survive as humans. One thing the military, police, fire fighters and other type training will give you is an ability to think in that high stress situation when most people shut down. But even then, it is the repetition of our training that enables our body to perform in order to survive or help others to survive. The training does not make you mentally tough, it only brings it out.

So, what is the difference between mentally tough and stupidity? Simply put, mentally tough people are not stupid and are those people you look to be around when there is danger or an impossible task in front of you. It all depends on your point of view. We all do stupid things from time to time because we are human. But take a look at the jobs the proven mentally tough perform like running into a burning building to save others, running across a street when bullets are flying, or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into enemy territory. Some may think all of these things are stupid, but it is the “stupid” people who keep us safe from terrorists, criminals, burning houses, and other natural / man-made disasters.

I would strive to be a little bit of both. Thanks for the email. This one got me thinking and will likely create some discussion. Email if you have questions to . For ideas on workouts that will push you physically and help you build your mental toughness, check out the Fitness Ebook Store.

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