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Redefining Mental Toughness

Are you mentally tough?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to train for an IRONMAN? My best description is that it’s a lot of really hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. This week I am 10 weeks away from the starting line and I could not be more focused or excited. At this point every mile I swim, bike, and run is adding up and preparing me to complete the challenging 140.6 miles on race day. I definitely can’t miss a workout, and there’s no room for cutting corners either if I want to finish and do well.

There’s something else I’m doing to prepare: I call it “redefining mental toughness.” At IRONMAN, or any other race, it takes a great deal of motivation to focus and push through every bit of wanting to give up. Mental toughness is the ability to continue on during trying times. It can be the difference between a personal best and a mediocre workout —or the ultimate difference between success and failure. In my opinion, mental toughness can make up for lack of skill, ability, and strength because of the willpower and guts to keep going.

Mental toughness was literally ALL I thought about last weekend in midst of an 8-hour workout. The weekend started off on Saturday morning with a training schedule of a 2-hour swim, a 70-mile bike ride, and a 40-minute run. Part of me was tired and wanted to give up, and the other part was completely focused on enjoying every bit of the hard time I was having. I had to dig into my mental toughness to get through the hard times in the workouts.

I want to share with you three “tricks” I use to put the thought of giving up out of sight and out of mind:

  1. Be positive. We all have inner dialogue with ourselves and it can be either really helpful or really hurtful. To be successful, focus on all the positive thoughts that make you feel better about yourself. Have a powerful reason behind anything you do — and when times get tough, remind yourself of that reason.
  2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To get better, you need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Working through difficult times and stressful situations can improve your ability to handle stress of any kind —in all areas of life.
  3. Be your own coach. Everyone needs a coach. But even your coach is not doing all of your workouts with you. Use the same encouragement your coach does and speak to yourself in second person. Think something like, “You have done this before and you can do it again.” Chances are this will give you extra energy to work through it.

The real trick to mental toughness: practice. Just like physical endurance, mental toughness is a skill that takes practice to improve. You don’t need to be an IRONMAN to overcome any obstacle using these techniques. I use mental toughness in my personal life, career, and racing; these areas all spill into one another.

How have you gotten better at mental toughness? Have you tried other ways to stay focused?