Mental toughness can be described as the ability to control nerves, focus on the task at hand, and execute specific skills needed to successfully complete a task. Additionally, mental toughness includes developing the resiliency needed to overcome stress, adversity, frustration, and failure. Mental toughness has a direct impact on your chances for future success, as even the most naturally talented athletes will fail to reach their full potential if they do not address anxiety, poor focus, and lacking resiliency. It is for these reasons that athletes learn as much as they can about how mental toughness influences ability, motivation, and attitude.
The impact of mental toughness
When we are confident in our abilities, we think clearly and our minds and bodies align in perfect synchrony. In these moments we get “locked in” to the task at hand, and we use the stress associated with the task as a facilitative variable rather than a distraction. When anxiety is experienced, it is quickly tamped down and controlled, allowing us to reach our full potential. Mental toughness directly influences our ability, motivation, and attitude, all factors that directly impact and influence the sport experience.
- Ability. Your ability is defined as what you are capable of doing, and while ability is largely rooted in your genetics, ability is also impacted by your desire to outwork the competition and become the very best.
- Motivation. Whether you actually do what you say you are going to do is dependent on your motivation. When we find meaning in the things we do we experience an increase in motivation, and it is our motivation that helps us keep fighting on the days that we don’t feel our best, or are being distracted by other things.
- Attitude. Your attitude is the totality of all your emotions as they relate to specific tasks. Choosing to experience a positive attitude allows us to develop confidence, optimism, and perseverance, all qualities closely linked to successful people.
Mental toughness encompasses ability, motivation, and attitude, and is arguably the biggest difference-maker between two roughly even sport competitors. Athletes with strong mental toughness over-achieve, while otherwise talented athletes can experience below-average outcomes largely because of poor mental toughness.
How to improve mental toughness
Below are a few ideas to help you improve mental toughness and reach your full human potential:
- Set goals. Try developing specific, measurable, controllable goals that you can keep track of on a daily basis. Studies show people who set goals often out-perform similarly talented individuals who do not set goals, providing solid evidence regarding the importance of setting goals.
- Keep a running journal. Take time out each day to recognize your achievements, and write notes relating to the goals you are still pursuing. When writing in your journal pay attention to any new discoveries, patterns, or trends that might help you continue to refine your mental approaches for the future.
- Learn from mistakes. Rather than quickly forget about mistakes and bad days, try to instead revisit these moments with the mindset that you want to learn how to improve the next time out. Pay attention to where you came up short, and the things you might change for the future.
- Develop healthy coping mechanisms. Since stress in unavoidable, why not develop healthy coping mechanisms to help you get through the challenging times? Exercise, reading, engaging in creative activities, and talking to family and friends are a few quick ideas for healthy coping.
- Consider a professional. Sometimes having a professional to speak to bounce new ideas off can lead to great discoveries and insights. Check out who is in your community to see if there might be a fit that makes sense for you to explore professional counseling.
Having natural ability is great, but not all of us were born with above-average size, speed, strength, height, coordination, and other physical attributes that help with sport success. Fortunately, mental toughness serves as an equalizer, and athletes who develop their mental strength often reach levels they might not otherwise achieve. It is for these reasons that athletes should consider developing the ways in which they develop confidence, refine focus, control anxiety, and channel motivation so that they can reach their full human potential.