Monthly Archives: November 2013

How to Build Mental Toughness

Everyone knows how important it is for us to “stay in the game” when it comes to mental strength.  It’s a common theory that you either have it, or you don’t; either you were born with it, or you weren’t.  For some, it certainly may feel that way.  Then there are those who crumble when things get tough.  Why is it that some people are able to get through challenging moments while others break down at the first sign of difficulty? Developing mental toughness is as important as developing physical strength.  First of all, let’s look at the definition of mental toughness.

Wikipedia describes ‘mental toughness’ as: “A term commonly used by coaches, sport commentators, and business leaders-generally describes a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances (such as difficult competitive situations in games) and emerge without losing confidence.”

Sounds like a trait that is pretty desirable, don’t you agree?  So, let me share with you some ways to develop your mental strength…

Manage your self talk

“You can change who you are by changing what you say when you talk to your mind.”

The mindset of a ‘winner’ is produced by positive self talk. Self talk is your mental evaluation of your behaviour and performance. In other words it is the conversation that goes on in your head. Your self-talk is built by your thoughts. Unfortunately for many, most of these conversations are repetitive, full of negative thoughts – focused on the things you should have done, the things that went wrong, telling yourself that you aren’t good enough. Each conversation that you have with yourself supports in your mind who you are and what you are capable of. It will build or pull down your self-esteem and self-worth.

The higher your sense of self-worth and self-esteem the more competent you will be dealing with the challenges and difficulties life will throw at you. When your self talk focuses on self-doubt and is always critical of you, then you are unable to see the best and bring out the best in yourself.

Have you ever made a mistake then played it over and over in your mind? “How could I have been so stupid, why didn’t I keep quiet, why didn’t I say, Why didn’t I do it like that instead, why do I keep messing things up …” The problem is compounded by the fact that we often repeat these conversations over and over again, reliving the mistake, keeping it at the forefront of our mind. We stay focused on all the negatives from our experiences and this then builds a negative belief about how we handle this type of situation.

During your workouts, positive self talk can help you to succeed by motivating you to do your best, lift heavier or finish one more rep. Self talk is the thoughts and beliefs that you have about yourself and your ability. It can help boost your mood or drag you down.

One thing that works for me is repeating to myself over and over again “I CAN DO THIS! LET’S GO LESLIE!”…As I think these things and have these thoughts, I immediately start to feel more confident and strong. I talk to myself calmly and positively about what I need to do to complete my workout. I prepare my mind to achieve feelings of success, determination and ready to take on any challenge.

Next time you want to give up on your set or slack off during your cardio session early, try pumping yourself up with some positive affirmations that you can repeat in your head…here are a few that you can use…

  • I have trained hard.
  • I am strong.
  • I am doing my best.
  • I am getting better everyday.
  • I can lift this weight.
  • I have enough strength for this.
  • I can push through the pain.
  • I can do this!

Visualize where you want to be

When I meet with clients for the first time, a question I always ask people during our consultation “What are your goals?  How badly do you want to reach your goals? Do you believe you can get there???” More often than not, people go into great detail about what their goals are, how much weight, inches or body fat they would ‘like to lose’ and then when it comes to actually BELIEVING they can get there, well that is where most people become unsure and make excuses as to why they haven’t been successful in the past when they have tried to achieve their goals.  As with a meal plan, exercise routine or even a relationship, you need to align your thoughts and goals with your actions.  Once you have a clear vision of what it is you want, develop a well prepared plan and if you need help with this, seek out a personal trainer or friend who will hold you accountable.  The success rate is always higher with preparation than winging it or trying it out and seeing what happens.  Know what you want and really go for it!  Professional athletes didn’t reach their success through improvising.  Their hard training is what gives them the results they’re searching for.

Eat well and sleep well

Sounds easy enough right? I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good sleeping patterns and maintaining and healthy diet.  When your body is weak, your mind has a harder time concentrating (and saying no to unhealthy food!)  When you are sleep deprived, you lose your focus and concentration.  It’s harder for you to stick to your goals when you’re distracted and irritable.  Overeating can create sluggishness along with feelings of guilt once you’ve recognized that you’ve indulged.  Not eating enough can result in fatigue, irritability and poor energy levels.  How can you concentrate on building mental strength when you can’t stay awake or get out of bed in the morning?  The right change to your diet can immediately increase mood and energy levels.  A healthy lifestyle (not a quick fix diet) is a great start to achieving any goal.  Another key point to remember is when you operate ‘outside of your comfort zone’ you will learn to become adaptive and resilient (this is one of the best lessons I have ever learned in my life!)  Falling into a boring routine or rut has an effect on our motivation.  So spice it up! Try a new class, get a personal trainer, change up your workout routine, or try some new recipes.  At times we almost need to feel uncomfortable so we recognize our weak points and discover areas in our life we can improve on…in most cases it is usually the exercises you hate the most that will benefit you the most!

Whatever challenges and obstacles that come your way should be taken as an opportunity to learn more about yourself!

The main thing to remember here is we all talk to ourselves, either out loud or mentally. When your self-talk is positive and helpful it will empower you. When it’s unkind, critical, full of anxiety, it makes you feel bad, destroys your confidence and lowers self esteem.From now on pay attention to it. Each time you recognise that you are self-criticizing or self-defeating,STOP, remind yourself that it’s just that old habit you’ve got into, and that from now on you’re changing this habit, but it takes practice!

Top athletes and leaders think positively, using self-talk to build on their self-belief and confidence. They focus on improvement not on worrying about poor performance or negative consequences of failure. They build on earlier successes and don’t dwell on failure or poor performance which helps them build a positive self-image, confidence, and personal belief in themselves.

So, instead of wasting energy telling yourself “I’ll never get there”, or “it’s too much work” or “I’m too busy” or “I don’t deserve it”, try spending your energy focusing on how far you’ve come, what you want and who you want to be, use your mental toughness skills and you can do anything you put your mind to! 

Les 🙂


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