What Tough people do. 15 ways to get mentally stronger
by Raquel Torres
“Fear is the biggest disability of all. It will paralyze you more than being in a wheelchair”. Nick Vujicic.
Tough people handle difficult situations with strength and grace. They stay positive instead of letting criticism rule their day. Being mentally tough is essential to staying positive, happy, and for moving forward, for many of us it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes practice and time; after consistent work: “we become braver not less afraid”.
Coming back from many life setbacks, personals and in triathlon as a professional elite I dedicated many years researching about mental strength, the benefits and how to improve it, learning from many different authors, doctors, scientific studies, and experts in several areas like psychology and sports medicine, so I can improve myself and help others better as a trainer and coach.
First, we decide to be brave then we become. To have courage or to be brave is a personal constant decision.
Here is a valuable information with tips and tricks from a recollection of recent Scientific Studies from books on themes related to this topic as well as living better life experiences, no matter who you are, what you do or want to do:
- Wake Up! You are not your thoughts, you become what your most predominant thoughts are, sometimes our thought patterns are not even ours, they are from the environment, society, friends, family etc. Tip: With some practices we can change that and create new healthy thought patterns.
- Guard your thoughts, you must become aware about what you think, where your thoughts go, your life follows. Certain thoughts should never be in your head for more than 2 seconds. Tip: Replace weak thoughts like: “I can’t, I’m tired,” or “I’m bored” with: “I am strong”, “I got this!”, “I have what it takes!”.
- Guard your energy. Have strong boundaries. Are you spending too much time and energy with fearful, negative, lazy people or someone with a bad attitude? Cut the time, attention or cut them off from your life. Tip: A practical way to guard or track your energy and thoughts that some use, is to have an elastic band on the wrist and every time you catch a negative thought or listen to a negative comment you pinch yourself and replace that thought with a positive one. Also using something like a ring and twisting it or touching mala beads can replace the elastic band with the same mental effect.
- Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet. Get out of your comfort zone and fix your problems. When life is hard, we want comfort, not change. Those who have learned the secret of being mentally tough have learned that sometimes comfort now can mean pain later, whereas a little discomfort now can yield a big reward in the future.
- Confront your fears and break it down to identify your triggers. For example, make a mental list or write down, breaking the scenario into little pieces, for example in triathlon, if you fear open water, write down with specificity what you are afraid of: dark water, animals, deep waters etc. Tip: with the adequate safety protocol, expose yourself slowly to open water, start from the shadow, and build your confidence up slowly while training in that environment, use visualization techniques, spend time with others who are braver than you or have extensive experience in the area that you want to get better or mentally stronger.
- Be accountable and careful. Whatever you are working towards, have someone that can hold you accountable in areas you are likely to give up. (If there is someone loyal that you are very sure you can count on in the long term). Tip: there’s a time for sharing your goals to help with your accountability, and other times you’re better off keeping them to yourself. You just need to be strategic and rational in your decision. Sometimes a “friend”, a family member, doctor, partner, psychologist, teacher, or a boss, no matter the role or the relationship with you, some people are secretly frustrated with themself and sometimes intentionally or not (drove by jealousy) will try to sabotage, discourage, or distract you from your goals or aspirations.
- Pump up your confidence. Toughness and confidence go hand in hand. Being tough comes down to the choices you make about handling any given situation. Having confidence in yourself makes it possible to make the right choice and follow through with it. Tip: Remember/visualize times when you were brave and accomplished something.
- Don’t take opinions personal. You can be a good person, a decent and good-hearted human and have thick skin, don’t worry about the little things, comments, or opinions. If you’re going to be tough, you can’t let a negative comment ruin your day. Tip: Keep in mind and realize the difference between truth and opinion.
“An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.” — Goi Nasu
- Consistent rest time can make you tougher. To be tough does not mean to be masochistic or a brutal rude person. You need to be tough when needed, the situation will tell you what mental attitude is the best or is required, the sacrifices to accomplish a goal can be personal and sometimes circumstantial. Tip or example: Not everyone needs to wake up at 5am to work or train “hard”, if your current responsibilities make you go to bed late and do not require you to wake up until 7 and you can have a better-quality rest (with 2 extra hours) which is an essential ingredient to have enough energy to be tough and overcome any challenge. Like many others the saying “the early birth eats the worms” has its exceptions. Never look for validation or attention from others on what is working hard or being tough for you, because we all have different pain thresholds and lifestyles. To be tough is a tool that we need to be responsible and diligent on how, when and what is mentally required. Many people spend their life and energy trying to “show off” to someone or others on how “hard they work” or how “tough” they are, this is very common, and not surprising when they end up overdoing stuff or doing things that can be contra productive in the long term and contra productive with achieving good results, happiness and personal satisfaction. In other words, some people while looking for validation, they get distracted from themselves. Tip for endurance sports: A podcast about the book “How hard do you want it” by Matt Fitzgerald; he explains how studies show now that elite endurance athletes can get tougher applying some techniques while training, like listening to music and the consumption of moderate coffee, can bring the benefit of improving the “perception of effort” while training (working harder while feeling less hard) and with time reap the fruits of becoming tougher, with an adequate training and applying the 80/20 Rule (total training volume=80% easy + 20% intensity). Matt also mentions about how often recreational athletes make the mistake of over training, getting in that security blanket mindset that “hard work pays off”, it pays off until some extend in endurance sport he comments, studies show that most elites athletes have the capacity to take a day off and take the easy days easy, the opposite of most recreational athletes.
- Engaging in the activity makes you tougher. When we engage 100% in the activity the body increases the amount of secreted ENDORPHINS within the brain and nervous system, these are the natural PAINKILLERS-hormones (causing an analgesic effect). Scientific studies show that athletes that have a total engaging mentality in their activity or goal, feel less pain while doing the same exercise with the same effort compared with other athletes that mentally try to distract themselves from the activity. Example: Watching a movie or reading a book while exercising or trying to distract or think of other things rather than the goal or activity or try to “avoid the pain”.
Note: In the Book “how bad do you want it?” explains that this method is totally opposite when training and during an event, math test, or race. For example, studies shows that athletes or students that engage in the activity (focus on inside feelings) while they train, or practice make them improve pain tolerance (with the increase of endorphins) and during a math test, event or a race is better to focus on external factors rather than focusing on inside feelings to have a better experience and results.
- Prepare your mind to be tough for the upcoming activity and that you will be tougher than the activity. Tip: Resent scientific studies show that elite athletes that visualize the event as a tough one, feel less pain or discomfort than the ones who are expecting an easy experience.
- Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. While pain is what happens to us, suffering is what we do with that pain. While changing our perception of this concept may be difficult, it is possible. We can avoid or lessen our actual suffering based on what we choose to do with the pain we experience. Tip: Keep the pain in the body and relax your thoughts with your favorite mantras.
- Get active and follow through with your goals. If you want to be tough, be willing to put in the time and effort it takes to accomplish goals. Tip: Keep in mind that just “having the information” does not do the work, just reading or listening about other stories alone will not make you tougher, you need to put in the work, nobody will do it for you.
- Be SELECTIVE. Remember that some societies, communities, governors, religions, and the most dangerous humans in world history use fear as a tool of controlling the masses. Tip: Stay out of that mentality, protect your mind and be very selective on what information you allow in your mind and subconscious, and what you need to ignore.
- Forgive yourself. Pick yourself up after making a mistake. Tough people use their mistakes as a tool for learning how to do better next time. Do not get in a trap of staying in low energy for long term or feeling sorry for yourself. Tip: Learn and reflect after a mistake or failure and turn the page then come back wiser and stronger. That’s Resilience.
“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor” Toughness can only be acquired through experience, every problem you must face down gives you a chance to get tougher. What is the story you’re telling yourself? That belief is the key to being mentally tough.
The Physical Performance Show and Matt Fitzgerald – Best-selling Author ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’
Raquel Torres is a Triathlon Coach and Professional Triathlete. Raquel also writes blogs for several magazines and her team Athletic Mentors. Since May 2021 she contributes as a columnist with CNY Latino Newspaper. She shares true life stories with her experiences, also tips and tactics that helps anyone to be their best version. To read about her, head over to cnylatinonewspaper.com and search for her by her name. You can also send questions or comments about her column to the following email: email@example.com.