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Not Knowing The Fine Line Between Mental Toughness And Stupidity May Be Dangerous To Your Health and Future Plans

Stew smith

There are Two Types of Mental Toughness:
One We Are Born With and One We Have to Grow

Mental Toughness is one of those topics that is overdone in my opinion but we all still try to discover what is really is all the time.  There are books on the topic, countless articles (several I have written), as well as catchy phrases on just how to “get tougher”. Why is this article any different? Well, many people debate whether we humans are born with mental toughness or do we have to develop it. Instead of saying one or the other side of the coin is correct, I think they both are correct as we have two different types of mental toughness: Survival Mental Toughness and Goal Achieving Mental Toughness. 

Survival Mental Toughness is implanted in all living species. We are built to survive. When in life-or-death situations, you will do whatever you need to do to survive. But even then, there is part attitude, physical, mental, emotional, and creative capabilities that play a part in having the willingness to fight through the life-or-death situation.  Check out the link to over 50 stories of survival in the wilderness, at sea, from kidnappings, and other natural and man-made life or death situations.  Regardless of the situation, our first and last impulse as humans is to survive at all costs.

One of my personal favorite stories of survival is of Neil Parker, a rock climber who fell and broke both of his legs. He crawled two days to be rescued. Another is of Aron Ralston (movie 127 Hours and book Between a Rock and a hard Place) who had to cut off his own arm to free himself from a rock-climbing accident. Though both made mistakes that ultimately caused the situations they were in, they were eventually able to overcome the mistake and start putting together a series of life saving movements by a natural survival skill and mental toughness that is part of that skillset imbedded in us. 

I have always said there is a fine line between mental toughness and stupidity.  In a life-or-death situation like the ones above, there is no line. Survival to live another day for yourself and loved ones is the goal. However, in the Goal Achieving Mental Toughness there is most definitely a line between mental toughness and stupidity and that is doing something stupid that jeopardizes your efforts. 

For most of us, that life or death situational mental toughness may never have to be tapped into throughout our lives, but if you are a goal-oriented person and have certain desires to succeed at something in life, you may need to start developing the Goal Achieving Mental Toughness. Whether it is athletics, academics, professional, or other lofty goals of achieving something you are passionate about achieving, you will build a form of mental toughness through a common progression eventually if you are to have any success whatsoever.



The Initial Inspiration and Motivation of Achieving a Goal

For many of us, something initially inspires us.  Maybe it was a movie, a picture, a commercial, or kind words from a teacher or parent. Through this initial inspiration you find something you cannot stop thinking about and are highly motivated to learn more about the process and journey to get to your newfound goal or dream. This is an exciting time for many and a scary time for many more as the realization of the investment of time, effort, and resources starts to enter the planning process. But, regardless, you are motivated to start moving and the excitement can even keep you up at night and help you wake up early in the morning to start the preparation journey.

I met the guy on the 1987 All Hands Magazine cover over 30 years later and Mark James is still an inspiration to me and many others. This was one of the first Navy SEALs I had ever seen. 

*If you have never felt this inspired before, my advice is to do research on the thousands of professions and goals you can set for yourself in life and see if there is a spark. Even if it is a tiny spark, that is all you need as the next steps of the process will help you grow from there. Do research and find people who are doing what you want to do and ask them questions about the journey. If a spec ops journey start here: One Stop Shop for Research. 

Build Good Habits – Remove Bad Habits – Behind every goal success is typically two habits – one we must start and one we have to quit. While you are motivated, make sure you have not only started something new, but you have a consistent schedule wrapped around it. Whether it is first thing in the morning, a lunch workout, or after work, having the same time every day devoted to your new habit will develop it more thoroughly. We are creatures of habit and once developed, you will find that making time to exercise even when you don't feel like it equals success. Make note of this moment as it is proof that you are succeeding - even more than weight lost or athletic performance gained, when motivation evolves into discipline, you are on the right track toward your goals.

Work Consistently – You cannot create habits without consistency. However, this by far is the hardest part of the journey and depending on the goal, this may take years of physical, academic, emotional challenge as well as time commitments and maybe even working two jobs. Being tired is to be expected.  Not feeling like getting up one morning or staying up late one night is to be expected – BUT you do it anyway. Though these can be the darkest days of your journey, you will look back and recall the magic of this time. Nothing got easier, you just got harder and though it was dark, you got used to the darkness and were able to see your goal regardless. You eventually will get to a point where you do it anyway just because you do not feel like it. That is when discipline is developed. 

Discipline is Developed – Creating discipline is a long journey of being dedicated to your cause. Being disciplined does not happen overnight though you may will things to get done at first. There will be days when you are not motivated to move, to study any longer, or work any harder, but you do anyway. You start to see the results of your efforts and the dream is not far away – you may even start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You have made so much progress at this point.  Keep on moving and getting stronger as there is one more step. 

Mental Toughness is Created – Finally, you have not only gotten tougher, but when challenges are in front of you, you do not skirt them – you plow through them.  You “find the fuel when the tank is empty.” You have gotten used to doing hard things at hard times and the goal is near. Call this resilience, inner-strength, or attitude there are some intangible traits that have grown whether you know it or not and it has paved the way for you to achieve future goals. You now have a growth mindset complete with confidence, tenacity, focus, and drive. 

Being Mentally Tough is Great – BUT…

Checking the ego at the door is a requirement once you have achieved a high level of fitness and toughness compared to your peers. Here is the most important thing to understand – it is great to be tough and do tough things that challenge you, but there is a fine line between mental toughness and stupidity that can do the following:

- Injure you and delay your training for months – I have seen countless people require 2-3 months of no running after doing a gut check ultra-endurance race while under-prepared. There have been broken bones and surgeries with accidents involving martial arts, triathlons (bike wrecks), and stupid drunk tricks close to your date to achieving the goal. Time to be smart. 

-Injure you and disqualify from service, or Kill You – Unfortunately, every few years for guys seeking military special ops programs, an injury is so bad that is disqualifies them from serving in the military at all, or worse, kills them. Accidents from motor bikes, bar fights, rock climbing, underwater breath holds, and other unnecessary activities can end your dreams in a minute forever. 

Be smart.  Work hard to build a durable mind and body, but do not push the envelope and break yourself doing something stupid that you will regret.  

There is More To than a You May Know

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, eBooks, local and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

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