Most of us like the idea of being mentally tough. After all, the more mentally resilient we are, the better able we’ll be to deal with life’s pressures and problems and still perform at our best.
But achieving mental toughness doesn’t happen overnight, and you won't gain it by standing still or sitting around. It requires action, practice, and — above all — perseverance, the capacity to keep coming back no matter what shit life throws at you.
Just as our physical strength builds through regular workouts and healthy routines, our mental toughness develops when we hone in on specific daily practices. So, if you’re ready to get mentally tough right now, the best way to start is by cultivating these five habits.
5 Habits That Help Build Mental Toughness
Habit 1: Embrace Discomfort
Our mental toughness is often tested when life circumstances challenge us unexpectedly. But real Spartans don't sit around waiting for life to bring the challenge. Instead, they self-impose it, constantly getting into the habit of doing something difficult, demanding, or uncomfortable.
Start your day early with a strenuous run or workout. When training, push your body to its ABSOLUTE limit, and then push a little bit more. If you’re typically shy in work meetings, force yourself to speak up or offer to give the next presentation. Whatever you think is the most difficult path is the one that you need to take, every time.
Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena carries a 44-pound kettlebell with him practically everywhere he goes. The reason? By consistently challenging himself physically, he’s also challenging himself mentally to not only deal with life’s discomforts (with some added baggage) but to feel grateful that he is physically able to.
So, here’s a question: Where are you bringing your kettlebell today?
Habit 2: F****** Commit to Something
Commitment is one of the cornerstones of mental toughness. In a Military Psychology study of voluntary turnover in the Canadian Forces, researchers discovered that higher levels of mental toughness were associated with a stronger commitment. In other words, the trainees who stuck it out didn’t give themselves a Plan B fall-back. They committed to finishing what they started and developed mental toughness the whole way there.
One of the best ways to help you stay committed to something is to pick a goal, write it down, and double down by being accountable to someone. A study carried out by the Dominican University of California found that when people wrote out what they were committing themselves to and then regularly updated their friends or family, they were 50% more likely to accomplish that goal than those who didn't write it down.
Habit 3: Give Fear the Finger
Everyone has fear; it’s a necessary part of our evolutionary, survival mechanism. But because we’re not running from hungry beasts these days or physically fighting for our food, the fight-or-flight response that results when we experience fear is now — more often than not — triggered by much more ordinary troubles than life-or-death dilemmas.
Research shows that when it comes to fear, people prefer to anticipate outcomes. This means that much of the data we use in making decisions is based on “what ifs” rather than real evidence. The problem is, however, that those “what ifs” can hold us back from taking chances, reaching our full potential, and building mental toughness.
So how can you overcome this? When analyzing all potential consequences, career coach Susan Peppercorn, author of Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work, suggests listing worst-case scenarios along with ways you can prevent the worst from happening and ways you can repair it if the worst does occur. Understanding that you have control over how you deal with scary situations can help minimize your fear. And even if you’re still unsure, step into the arena anyway. You’ll likely find that every forward step you take is a bigger stride than the one before.
Habit 4: Refuse to Trust Your Own Opinions
No one likes to be wrong, but being mature enough to believe we could be, and smart enough to know when someone else's idea is better than our own is a sure-fire way of becoming mentally tough.
Experts agree that refusing to apologize or admit mistakes can give people a short-term feeling of power. However, they also claim that it can make people less receptive to constructive criticism and more resistant to change in the long term, which are requisites for bull-headedness, not mental toughness.
The truth is, accepting when you’ve messed up or when someone has a brighter idea than you can actually boost your confidence (and confidence is critical to mental toughness).
Adam Grant, social scientist and best-selling author of Originals and Think Again, explains that your ideas are not your identity. When you accept this and stop wasting all of your energy on trying to prove that you’re correct, you’ll be more open to solutions rather than being the reason that there are so many problems.
Habit 5: Make Time for Your Wellness NOW, So You Don't Have to Make Time for Your Illness Later
A strong body builds a strong mind. Working out regularly is known to lessen stress and anxiety while improving mental clarity and cognitive functioning. The reason for this is that physical activity increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. These feel-good brain chemicals are critical in regulating your mood, which can help in sidestepping depression, increasing your ability to tough it out and deal with all of life’s B.S.