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What Sets Apart The Great From The Many - Mental Toughness

Posted on March 13 2016

Everyone has had that moment. Mid WOD. Things are starting to get hard, intensity levels rise, you look up through the box and everyone is moving. You can’t help but feel your lungs burn, your arms and legs growing heavier, you question in your mind “can I get that next rep?”. Trying to suck in as much air as you can, attempting to calm yourself, but all you see as you look up to the clock are the seconds slipping away and the pace of others seems to be relentless.

It is in that crucial moment our actions will determine the outcome, whether you are able to breathe and keep your composure, or you let that panic set in. As Peyton Manning said – the attitude with which we approach the situation can determine our success or failure. A key component of our attitude is developed through the mental toughness we have.

James Clears literature looks into the concept and impact of one’s mental toughness, an example of this is cadets entering the US Military Academy. On entry to the academy cadets are to complete a number of vastly intense tests to get through their summer initiation program aptly named the “Beast Barracks”. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looking into the successes and failures of the recruits discovered that on testing the cadets on aspects such as high school ranking, leadership potential, physical aptitude and a grit measure, it was mental toughness/grit (more highly than other factors) would predict whether or not a recruit would successfully complete the summer intake. Not their talent, intelligence, or genetics as most would think.

Clears goes on to say in every area of life from your education, to your work, to your health – it is your amount of grit, mental toughness, and perseverance that predicts your level of success more than any other factor

This aspect of mental toughness can be linked back to a number of athletes we are familiar with. NutriForce Sports – The Proving Ground “NOAH OHLSEN” is an example of this (link below). Noah goes on to say,

“I wasn’t born as a track star, I wasn’t born as an olympic weight lifter, I can’t just grab weight and throw it over my head with ease. I was born with average ability and I’ve had to build them all from the ground up”- “Nothing replaces hard work”

This is evident in most components of life.

So what is it? What is this mental toughness – Jim Afremow states that “mental toughness is the ability to remain positive and proactive in the most adverse of circumstances. Mental toughness is built on doing the thing that is hard over and over again, especially when you don’t feel like doing it”

In essence, mental toughness and grit are developed through consistency. Regardless of what you are facing, showing up and doing the required work (whatever that may be) will put you well on your way to developing this crucial aspect of the mind.

How do you develop mental toughness?

For each person this will be different. Everyone has something different they are wanting to achieve, whether it is in the gym, work, nutrition, study or general life. Being clear on what you are aiming to do is vital and the below can assist in this:

1. Define it for you - What does this toughness mean to you? What do you want it to be?

Consider for yourself what mental toughness is. What you want to develop your consistency in?

- No missed work outs for the season

- No cheat meals for the month

- Do the extra rep in the strength session

- Food preparation completed every Sunday

What is it that you are wanting to work towards and have that clearly in your mind?

2. Small acts every day - Mental toughness is established bit by bit through small physical wins

You can’t become committed or consistent with a weak mind. How many workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you you were tired? How many reps have you missed out on because your mind said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth.” Probably thousands for most people, including myself. And 99% are due to weakness of the mind, not the body.
—Drew Shamrock – James Clear

Choosing to do that little bit more each time now will make all the difference in the larger scheme of it all.

3. Consistency - Mental toughness is about your habits, not your motivation

Mentally tough people are not necessarily the more talented, intelligent or brave – they are the ones who have been more consistent over time. They have developed themselves over a period to focus on the things that matter – step by step getting the work done regardless of the circumstance at the time.

Mental toughness has been described as the attribute that differentiates the great from the many. Developing this within yourself will have a direct positive flow on effect in your everyday life, whether it is training, and competing, studying, working or just general life.

Hold Strong



Jim Afremow -The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive
James Clear - http://jamesclear.com/mental-toughness
Noah Ohlsen - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeS1DDda7k4

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