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Are You Mentally Tough?
“Mental toughness is essential to success.”
Last spring, San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary brought a new kind (and a new level) of pain to his team’s training camp. Known simply as “the hill,” it’s a 45-degree incline he made for running. Singletary first witnessed the use of hill running during his time as a Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. While it obviously increased a player’s stamina, its primary benefit was a significant increase in player persistence and perseverance. Walter Payton, Singletary’s teammate in the 1980s and the Bears’ record-setting quarterback, believed that hill running helped players overcome mental obstacles that stood in the way of success. Many people still believe the 1985 Bears were the best NFL team in history. Almost all so-called “experts” still believe they were the hardest.
Dave Goggins is a Navy SEAL living in Chula Vista, California. He joined the Navy as a 240 lb power lifter. SEAL training began his journey to well-rounded fitness. He then started running marathons, ultramarathons and (later) competing in triathlons. He also completed the Ultraman, a mega-triathlon featuring a grueling combination of a 6.2-mile ocean swim, a 261-mile bike ride and a 52.4-mile run. Dave is doing this ostensibly to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. People who know him insist that if SOVF had not existed, he would have found another reason to compete. Dave believes that with focus and discipline, anyone can do almost anything. “I want to see if there is a limit to the human soul,” says Goggins. His motto is “show no weakness”. He visualizes success before taking on any significant challenge, adding: “I remember when I was younger, when things were really hard or difficult, they could be so difficult that they made you want to give up. It’s a feeling I’ll never get again.” Dave is one of the toughest guys to walk the face of the earth.
Lance Armstrong competes in a sport whose “main event” (the Tour de France) is the cycling equivalent of running a marathon on steep hills every day for three weeks. His workout routine is HILARIOUS! After taking a few years off (and I use that term VERY loosely) to focus on his charity work, he returned to the Tour in 2009. When racing, Lance is a silent killer. This comment from someone who knows him really well sums up his approach to competition: “The way to plant a seed of doubt in another guy’s mind is to keep your mouth shut. Lance is nice – then he drills you!”
Lance believes in demonstrating mental toughness by pushing through the give-up points. When others are ready to give up, he goes into overdrive.
Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and two NCAA football championships as quarterback for the University of Florida Gators. He is considered the best leader in the history of intercollegiate football. Oh yes – there is much more to the team than football. During the first semester of his senior year, he carries a 3.6 grade point average. He does missionary work during the summer “days off”. In 2009, he completed 700 hours of community service. He is also a model of humility. Some disgruntled college football fans don’t like him…referring to him (condescendingly) as “Mr. Perfect.” Many of them are people who admire NBA stars who carry guns. Imagine!
These guys come from very different backgrounds and they all own their own lives. Each of them believes that they are responsible for their actions and responsible for their results. Everyone accepts that practice does not, in fact, make perfect – PERFECT practice makes perfect! It extends beyond physical preparation to mental preparation and developing mental toughness. Their eagerness to prepare for victory, however, does not tell the whole story. The fact is – a lot of mental toughness doesn’t go into preparing to win; it’s about learning how to lose and learning how NOT to lose. Namely:
Tom Veneziano wrote the book The Truth About Victory. Tom is a tennis pro in Texas. He wrote his book to help tennis players win. Tom talks about cultivating the right attitude toward loss. According to him, until a person develops a correct perspective on losing and making mistakes, he cannot sustain success. That perspective includes accepting losses (NOT accepting the loss – more on the difference later), staying “in the moment”, letting go of defeat while learning from it, cultivating wisdom and moving on from the fight.
To maintain success in life – whatever your personal definition of it – you too must develop mental toughness. Here are some recommendations:
o You must learn to distinguish between your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings and the facts in any situation. We all carry baggage from our past, especially from our childhood. The lessons imparted to us by our early caregivers condense at a very young age and create each of our unique worldviews. Some parts of it serve us well; some don’t. Most people accept this idea in the abstract or easily see its effects on other people, but never examine the precise impact on them.
o Accept 100% responsibility for everything in your life. This does not mean stubborn independence or not asking for help. THAT implies that victimization and blame bring bad outcomes. At one point or another, each of us has been a victim of forces beyond our control. However, there is a big difference between being victimized and seeing yourself as a victim. Try to look in the mirror every morning and say the following: “I own my life. I am the problem and I am the solution!”
o Monitor your self-talk, especially after a loss. We all have a constant internal dialogue. What does yours say about how you value yourself? How does your inner dialogue position you for future success?
o Learn to accept your flaws without coming to terms with them (this is REALLY hard for me). Acceptance means “surrendering to reality.” Resignation means “giving up an opportunity.” There is a huge difference; not splitting hairs.
o Ask yourself (and give examples) how skilled and consistent you are in demonstrating the following character traits:
o Openness and honesty – towards yourself as well as towards others
o Commitment to “Truth”
Find a coach or mentor to help you cultivate mental toughness in 2010 and make it your BEST YEAR YET!
Copyright 2010 Rand Goletz. All rights reserved.
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