Damon Zahariades says the secret of enduring success is mental toughness: a mind-set that helps you navigate the unexpected challenges life presents. Zahariades endeavors to teach readers, including CEOs as well as professional athletes, the ongoing process of cognitively restructuring your mind by questioning your thoughts, attitudes and emotions. Transform your life, he urges, and inspire others in the process.
- Success requires mental toughness – but many people don’t bother cultivating it.
- Overcome threats to mental toughness by increasing your awareness of them.
- Control your emotions and thoughts – even when facing adversity.
- Cultivate stronger impulse control and build better habits.
- Build your confidence and overcome your inner critic.
- Welcome boredom and conquer the desire to quit when working toward goals.
- Take purposeful action by building willpower, motivation and self-discipline.
- Navigate challenges and build mental toughness using Navy SEALs tactics.
Success requires mental toughness – but many people don’t bother cultivating it.
Those who achieve enduring success possess mental toughness. Mental toughness is a mind-set which enables you to avoid catastrophic thinking and embrace positivity when facing challenges. It teaches you to use setbacks to your advantage. If you struggle to reach your goals and maintain your desired level of success, or perhaps feel discouraged, depressed or angry, know that you have the power to improve your circumstances and shift your mind-set. Many people don’t cultivate mental toughness, however, because it requires patience and work.
“No matter where you are in your life, no matter what struggles you’re currently experiencing, you can improve your circumstances.”
Mental toughness has numerous benefits:
- Improved emotional and stress-management skills.
- A clarified sense of purpose.
- Higher confidence and performance levels.
- The capacity to overcome your fears.
- A healthier attitude toward failure and the ability to learn from mistakes.
- Greater impulse control.
- The ability to stop fixating on regrets and painful experiences while fostering a growth mind-set.
Overcome threats to mental toughness by increasing your awareness of them.
Mentally tough people focus their energy on what they can influence, as opposed to wasting time fixating on the things they can’t change. They’re flexible and adaptable when facing unexpected outcomes. These individuals are self-aware and can identify their emotions and understand what triggers their negative feelings. They accept uncertainty and don’t wallow in disappointments. Tough-minded people have high emotional intelligence and they can regulate their emotions. They are positive, yet pragmatic. Nobody possesses all of these traits innately – everyone must work to develop them.
“No one is born mentally strong. It’s something each of us develops. That’s terrific news because it means that you control it.”
Threats to mental toughness include self-pity, self-doubt, negative self-talk, fear, laziness, perfectionism, self-limiting beliefs and the inability to control emotions.
Control your emotions and thoughts – even when facing adversity.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to comprehend and manage your emotions, so you can perform at your best. Resist the temptation to repress your feelings; learn to identify them instead. The first step of mastering your emotions is increasing your self-awareness, so you’re better able to identify your feelings. Once you identify an emotion, evaluate it. Ask if your emotional reactions and any accompanying negative views of yourself are reasonable, or are holding you back. Reflect on whether you can influence the circumstances triggering your emotions. Take action if you see ways to improve your situation. Release yourself from your frustrations over situations you can’t control.
This exercise helps you control unwanted emotions: List the negative emotions you regularly experience when facing adversity, jotting down how each impacts your behavior. Next, write a plan detailing how you’ll respond to these emotions when they arise in the future. You might, for example, engage in mindful breathing.
“Managing our emotions – that is, exerting emotional control – gives us an opportunity to acknowledge them, confront them, scrutinize them, and decide whether what we’re feeling is levelheaded given our circumstances.”
Embracing mental toughness requires being open to failure and perceiving it as feedback that can guide you in taking purposeful action.
To cultivate mental toughness, write down five of your most recent failures and how you responded to each one. Next, write down more positive ways you could have dealt with each failure. For example, if you missed an important deadline, you could have spent time reviewing your workload and re-evaluating how you manage your time. Overcoming your fear of failure doesn’t mean mustering false bravado or ignoring your weaknesses. Instead, take purposeful action toward your desired outcome after recognizing the reality of your situation and considering your options. Assess how you face the unexpected by writing down your typical responses. For example, perhaps you avoid making tough decisions.
Cultivate stronger impulse-control and build better habits.
Mentally tough people resist the temptation to indulge in something they desire in the present, and, instead, focus on attaining something they want more in the future. Practicing self-restraint builds your tolerance for discomfort and improves your cognitive resilience. Checking your urge for instant gratification bolsters your ability to tune out distractions.
Change your expectations, so you don’t associate low-effort activities with high rewards. Identify compulsive desires and find reward-stimulating alternatives that are more productive. Give yourself small rewards, such as reading for pleasure, when you resist temptations. Define your guiding values and compelling reasons to pursue your goals, while reminding yourself of their importance. This exercise can help you understand that delaying gratification feels good: Describe two incidents, one in which you resisted temptation to complete a goal-oriented task, and another in which you succumbed to temptation and failed to work toward your goals. Then, describe how each decision made you feel.
“Our habits signify what is important to us. They reflect our values and priorities.”
To improve mental strength, take the following steps:
- Rethink the past – Don’t let past events define you. Instead, view them as valuable training to help you overcome future adversity.
- Investigate negative emotions immediately – To avoid letting negative emotions overwhelm you, evaluate them as soon as they surface.
- Build self-confidence – You can’t overcome your fear of the unknown and persevere when facing obstacles without trusting yourself and your abilities.
- Practice daily gratitude – Rather than complain about challenges, remind yourself of things you’re thankful for.
- Develop change tolerance – Leave your comfort zone and seek out the unknown.
Build your confidence and overcome your inner critic.
When you possess confidence, you trust you’re prepared to face uncomfortable, difficult situations. You know you’re adaptable and capable of pivoting when necessary. Check in with yourself, reflecting honestly on whether you’re over- or under-confident, and align your confidence levels with the reality of your abilities.
Build appropriate confidence by abandoning any need you might have to feel you’re in total control of your circumstances. Be open to emotional pain, so you’re not paralyzed by fear. Take inventory of your growth and skills development. Cultivate a positive outlook, and forgo the need to seek external validation. List everything that contributes to your feelings of insecurity and jot down ideas about how you can lessen their negative effects. This might entail replacing recurring negative self-talk with a positive affirmation.
“Your inner critic is a shrewd adversary. It knows that it doesn’t have to yell to get your attention. It doesn’t have to scream to pummel your psyche, wear down your self-confidence, and encourage you to adopt a negative attitude.”
To overcome negative self-talk or your inner critic, take these steps:
- Don’t ignore it – Examine the negative claims your inner critic makes about you, recognizing them as emotionally and mentally destructive.
- Check its facts – Ask if there’s any evidence supporting the negative stories you tell yourself. Remind yourself that failure can be a growth opportunity.
- Respond rationally to overgeneralization – When you catch yourself using words like “always,” and “everyone,” replace the baseless claims of your negative inner voice with reasonable statements.
- Avoid negative people – Don’t let cynical, demoralized or pessimistic people monopolize your time – emotion is contagious.
- Talk to yourself like you would to a friend – Give yourself the advice you’d give a good friend, and resist the temptation to insult yourself.
Welcome boredom and conquer the desire to quit when working toward goals.
Contrary to popular belief, boredom can be a gift; it provides you with an opportunity to self-reflect. You’re unlikely to increase your mental toughness if you avoid boredom. You don’t master a skill without experiencing boredom, as mastery requires repetitive practice work. Without mastery, you’ll feel a lack of control and confidence.
To stop feeling discomfort when bored, identify and accept that you’re bored, reminding yourself of the broader goals your boredom serves. Meditation can help you connect to the present moment and prevent you from chasing distractions. Rethink boredom’s role in your life by listing the emotions you tend to associate with feeling bored. Identify what triggers those emotions, and reframe your boredom triggers more positively.
“We don’t like to think of ourselves as quitters. But most of us have, at some point in our lives, abandoned goals due to the obstacles we faced at the time.”
To avoid quitting when you’re trying to accomplish an important goal, consider the main reasons people give up: They get distracted; don’t overcome their impulses and bad habits; don’t take their commitments seriously; don’t clarify the rewards they’re working toward; and/or are overly optimistic and fail to anticipate potential setbacks.
If you find yourself lacking the resolve to work toward your goals, question your motives for quitting. For example, has your outlook actually changed or do you have weak resolve? Reflect on whether your goals and purpose are worth abandoning. Make yourself more mentally tough by developing a more positive attitude. Build positivity by cultivating gratitude for the resources you have, and resisting the temptation to wallow in self-pity.
Take purposeful action by building willpower, motivation and self-discipline.
Willpower means controlling your impulses and resisting temptations and distractions when trying to accomplish something. Motivation refers to the impulse to take action toward change. If you can’t muster motivation and willpower, your habits can give you the structure to take action toward your goals.
Turning purposeful action into a habitual behavior makes engaging in goal-driven activities more automatic. One practical method for building self-control is to take five minutes to meditate whenever you feel tempted to indulge in an activity that’s not goal directed. Build motivation by writing down five activities that inspire you to take purposeful action, and five that detract from your motivation. Identifying the environmental factors influencing your motivation levels guides you in making adjustments that serve your goals.
“Willpower is like that friend who’s occasionally there for you but mostly not. He – or she – cannot be relied upon. Self-discipline is like that friend who’s always there for you, regardless of the circumstances.”
Five secrets of self-discipline help you cultivate self-control:
- Eliminate temptations – Remove environmental temptations to avoid triggering impulse-driven behaviors.
- You won’t become self-disciplined overnight – Recognize that you’re in control of your mind by taking small steps toward increased self-discipline, daily.
- Make a strategy – Create a feasible action plan to enable your consistent progress by scheduling goal-driven activities.
- Get comfortable with discomfort – Tolerate feelings such as malaise rather than indulging your impulses.
- Focus on tasks – When engaged in a task, give it your full attention.
Navigate challenges and build mental toughness using Navy SEALs tactics.
Navy SEALs use these strategies when dealing with adversity:
- They embrace positive self-talk – Navy SEALs can’t afford to panic.
- They keep training after mastering skills – Navy SEALs understand that training is continuous, and continue practicing skills essential to their long-term success.
- They focus on micro goals – Practicing “segmentation” – breaking dauntingly large goals into smaller ones – helps Navy SEALs stay present and endure difficulties.
- They visualize – Psychologists believe your brain doesn’t differentiate between lived and imagined experiences, so visualizing yourself successfully tackling difficult tasks prepares you to do so in real life.
- They anticipate problems – They prepare for every possible adversity and rehearse their responses for each.
About the Author
Damon Zahariades created the blog ArtofProductivity.com.
This document is restricted to personal use only.
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