I am fortunate to be a frequent contributor to Men’s Health. I love the title of the most recent article I contributed to called “10 Ways to Build Mental Toughness Without Being Told to ‘Man Up’”.
Traditional ‘manning up’ is exactly what NOT to do to build mental toughness. Mental weakness comes from ignoring your emotions, being stoic, pushing ahead with brute force, refusing to ask for help, and/or pretending everything is fine. None of this helps you build stronger mental skills, and none of it is good for sport performance or mental health. So, how do you build mental toughness?
Feel the unpleasant emotions – don’t ignore them. Refocus on the positive.
You can enhance your strengths and lessen your weaknesses by focusing very specifically on what to DO. What are you trying to achieve? Define it, and see yourself there. Exactly what will you be doing? Define the goals and then break them into achievable (yet challenging) steps where you can build progressively until you cross the finish line.
For this article, I was asked to answer the question, “I hate failing. Is there any way to stop obsessing about what went wrong?” Something I say over and over to clients is, “You cannot perform at your best by focusing on your worst.” I see it all the time. We literally move toward what we focus on.
For example, I learned to downhill ski in my 40s and it was NOT for me. I had the physical ability to be a decent skier, but I never had the mindset for it. I skied in fear pretty much all the time. One time I took a wrong turn and started heading toward the trees. My ski instructor was behind me yelling for me to look where I wanted to go and not to look at the trees. I kept looking at the trees. I picked up speed toward those trees, and I would NOT look away. Just when I thought my fate was sealed, I felt someone grab me around the waist from behind. I fell backwards into the person, and we both landed on the ground. As I was trying to figure out what the heck happened I heard the person say, “I promised I would never let you crash, but seriously, you have to listen to me. You will always go where you are looking.” I could not stop thinking about the mistake I made, and I could not stop looking at those trees.
Focusing on your mistakes breeds anxiety, worry, and self-loathing. How can anyone do their best with all of that swirling around in their heads? Let alone what happens in your body – clenching muscles, breathing shallowly. Hardly a strong, solid basis to move from.
I don’t mean to sound like a “look at the world through rose-colored glasses” sort of person because I am most definitely not that. I AM a “what do you choose to focus on to be at your best” sort of person. How can you ski away from the trees by focusing on them? You really can’t. You have to look to where you want to go and concentrate on THAT. Use the mistake, the loss, the failure as a source of data and then focus on what TO DO and build on the positive. Try it. I bet you will both feel and perform better.
To learn more about building mental toughness, check out the July/August issue of Men’s Health. Stop by your local bookstore or look for it in the grocery store!