7 Steps To Unshakeable Mental Strength
(Originally posted on Million Dollar Baby Fitness website)
It can be so difficult sometimes to make even relatively minor changes in our lives or reach seemingly simple goals, that when we look around at the high-achievers in life it’s easy to be in awe and ask ourselves how they can have the discipline, dedication and drive to keep doing what they’re doing.
People can often make the mistake of believing that these individuals are special or gifted in some way, but the fact is, they’re not necessarily. Just as all of us can make our physical body stronger through exercise, so too can we toughen ourselves mentally. And the truth is that anyone can develop the tenacity and mental strength to achieve great things, provided that they actively work on it.
The following 7 steps will help you to do just that, so that you too can smash your goals, whatever they may be.
1. Find Your Why
Let me ask you a question: how fast a runner are you? Whatever your answer, I can guarantee that you’d be significantly faster if there were a bear chasing you. That’s the power of incentive.
Whenever you’re faced with a task or a challenge that requires you to dig deep or really make some effort, your level of performance or success will always depend on your reason for wanting to complete that task. Without a good reason, or “why”, it’s not really possible to do something challenging to the best of your ability or to see it through to the end.
Look at any successful person, be it an athlete, a performing artist, or an entrepreneur, and you can be assured that they will have a very clear purpose fixed in their mind for why they’re prepared to make all the sacrifice in their life to do what they do.
The first step of developing the mental strength to achieving something therefore, is to discover your why. Why do you want to do it? Why is it so important to you?
Remind yourself of your why each and every day, as this is what will drive you. You have to be passionate about your why, so make sure that it’s meaningful and compelling to you.
2. See Your Goal Before You See Your Goal
Whereas your “why” is what drives you forward, your goal is what gives you direction. Your goal is a vivid, detailed description of what exactly it is that you’re striving for, and it too must be clear in your mind.
Your mind is the source of everything you create in your life. Everything you want to see in your physical world therefore, you have to see in your mind first. Any inventor, designer, architect, etc., will see their creation mentally before they bring it to life. It’s like a mental blueprint.
Visualization is a tool that’s used by many athletes, sportspersons and others to program their mind with the necessary instructions to deliver them to their goal. You should use it too, every day. It will keep your mind focused on your goal and therefore steering you in the right direction.
3. Fuel Up On Motivation
In every challenging endeavor in life, even physical ones like losing weight or building muscle, your mind is the major player. When you’re working towards your goal in the gym every day you’re very aware of the need to fuel up your body with good nutrition, but so many people neglect fueling their mind. That’s a big mistake.
Passion is the fuel that drives you forward. It gets you out of bed early on cold winter mornings. It drags you into the gym when you’re tired and sore. Passion comes from two places, your “why”, which we talked about earlier, and motivation.
Motivation comes and goes, which is why it needs to be topped up every day. Make sure you do it. Whether it’s music, pictures, videos, audio recordings, find what energizes you into action towards your goal and give yourself a daily dose. A motivated person isn’t one that’s likely to give up easily.
4. Blast Off With Discipline
No doubt you’ve heard before that a rocket expends most of its energy blasting off out of the earth’s atmosphere, but once it’s out it only needs very little to keep it going at the same speed. Well, breaking free of bad habits is exactly the same. And making a lifestyle change is simply that – replacing one set of bad habits with a new set of more positive and beneficial ones.
That’s why when you’re facing a difficult change or challenge in your life, you’ll need to use discipline in the early stages to help push you through that painful stage.
All change and growth is painful, but it’s important to remember that as it progresses, the pain diminishes. Many people make the mistake of believing that it doesn’t, so all they see ahead of them is a lifetime of pain and misery. That belief can be crippling, and cause them to be defeated before even trying.
Steel yourself and plunge into your journey with all the discipline you can muster, but take comfort and confidence in the fact that it won’t need to be forever. You’ll soon reach a threshold where the new habits take over from the old and then you’ll only need a very minimal level of discipline to keep you going.
5. Unfriend Comfort
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing each day that scares you”. What she was advising people was basically to get out of their comfort zone regularly.
It’s human nature to gravitate towards that which is safe and comfortable. But there are two problems with that. Firstly, it will prevent you from growing, since all growth involves some level of discomfort. And secondly, religiously avoiding discomfort lowers your tolerance for it when the time inevitably comes for you to face it.
While I’m not suggesting you create a miserable life for yourself, a great way to gradually build mental toughness and resistance to discomfort, and even pain, is to make a habit of familiarizing yourself with it rather than avoiding it.
When you’re working out in the gym, push you limits (safely), just to see how far you can go. Cardio workouts are particularly useful for this since they can often be very mentally challenging. Get up extra early on some cold winter mornings for your outdoor workout even if you don’t need to, just because. Carry you heavy shopping home for a few blocks rather than taking the car.
You get the idea. These small annoyances gradually build your mental toughness, and over time as you escalate them, build your tenacity and self-confidence as well.
Former MMA fighter and UFC star Chael Sonnen summed up this approach very nicely:
To build mental toughness you have to inconvenience yourself. The early morning runs, if you hate early morning. The late night runs, if you hate late night. The snowy, cold, the worst conditions you can get. Put yourself in those and really make it inconvenient, and you start to get a genuine expectation of winning for the price you had to pay.
6. Be in the Game
Whatever the challenge in your life is that you need to overcome, don’t treat it like a foreign intruder in your life. An intruder is never welcome, and looking at it in that light will always make it a burden to deal with. Instead, familiarize yourself with it and what it’s about. Immerse yourself in its world. Make it a friend.
This is what Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser refers to as “being in the game.”
For example, if your challenge is to lose weight, looking at your workouts and healthy meals as intruders into your otherwise happy life will always make you dread them. They’ll make you miserable each and every day. That will make you weaker and require a greater level of discipline on your part to cope with them.
If, on the other hand, you enthusiastically make fitness an interest, where you read about it, learn about other women’s experiences, draw motivation from fitness models, and so on, the whole process will seem so much easier. Once again, that will mean it’s all the more likely that you won’t quit.
Over time your interest will most likely even become a passion, where you won’t need discipline any longer but rather you’ll enjoy the lifestyle.
7. Consistency is King
Results come from doing the right things consistently, not haphazardly, and certainly not just once in a while.
Because daily life can be very hectic and often unpredictable, without proper planning it will be virtually impossible for you to guarantee consistency. It’s very important to take the time to plan your schedule around your lifestyle so that there can be no surprises that sabotage your objectives.
This is the reason why many people prefer to do their workout first thing in the morning, for example, when no unforeseen circumstances can prevent them from getting it done.
Being organized and planning your day each day goes a long way to helping you maintain a disciplined lifestyle and not being hit-and-miss with working towards your goals. If you’re serious about what you’re trying to achieve in your life then being organized and consistent adds to the strength and resolve you need to do that.