Five Ways to Build Mental Toughness

TAGS: success in the gym, Integrity, humility, Joe Schillero, confidence, passion, iron game, mental toughness, focus

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

It’s training day. You’ve eaten your pre-workout meal and packed up your gym bag, and you’re ready to take another step toward accomplishing your goals. However, all the top-notch equipment and planning in the world won’t work without the right mindset to accompany them.

The mental aspects of training are rarely “quick fixes.” Mental toughness isn’t something you can just put on like a squat suit, and it isn’t always just a matter of aggression. The mental aspects of training are multifaceted and are something you need to hone on a daily basis, not just in the gym.

The following “mental tools” can also be described as personal characteristics or values. They go beyond just success in the gym. My own daily process of sharpening these tools isn’t perfect, and I find myself having to refocus on them often. Training is as much a mental battle as it is physical, and developing these tools will provide a whole new set of weapons at your disposal.

Humility

I list humility first because pride (in its negative sense) can be one of our biggest threats in this industry. In strength/physique sports where we base our success on comparisons to others, it can be easy for pride to take over our attitude, which in turn carries over to our actions and how we interact with others. Pride is what keeps us from listening to our coaches and training partners. Pride is what causes us to misrepresent our sport with negativity, and pride is what ultimately can cause us to lose sight of our goals and impede our ability to help others.

Now, it's important to understand that humility doesn't mean a lack of confidence (the next mental tool). When many think of someone who is humble, they imagine someone hiding in a corner afraid to be aggressive in the pursuit of his or her goals. To the contrary, humility is afforded by a strong confidence in your abilities and purpose. Adopting a humble mindset will allow you to take advantage of the resources around you (e.g. training partners, coaches, articles). This will help you in your personal performance and in the representation of your given sport. Humble coaches and competitors draw more people into their craft and inspire them to pursue their own goals.

Confidence

To some, it may seem strange to see confidence and humility partnered together. To be told that they can be exercised simultaneously may seem contradictory, but it is actually necessary. This is where it is important to draw the line between confidence and unhealthy pride (arrogance). Someone who is truly confident in his abilities won’t feel a need to demean others or refuse help from those who can pass on valuable wisdom.

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The flip side of arrogance is that it can be easy to undervalue your own abilities by comparing yourself to others who are much more experienced and stronger than you, but this is something you need to avoid at all costs. Don’t avoid competition. Instead, embrace an environment of stronger and smarter lifters and let them put a fire underneath you to become better. Don’t discount your own personal PRs and victories. Use those victories to build confidence as you improve. Your confidence should be evident every time you approach the bar and in your humility every time you interact with another lifter or athlete.

Focus

We all know that life doesn’t stop just because you or your training partners are preparing for a competition. Work, relationships, family, school, and a multitude of other aspects of life can easily cloud your mind during a training session. For many, training is an outlet to relieve stress from life, but it can also send your training down the tubes quickly if you let your emotions control you. Your aggression, frustration, excitement, or other pent up emotion can be an excellent fuel to your training, but don’t allow it to hurt you in the process. It’s in those times that you need to focus on the process of your training and what you need to be doing to become better. Channel your aggression in a way that allows you to become more, not less.

You’ll also face plenty of sessions where life has you run down and not operating at 100 percent. Those are the times when you need to stay focused on your goals and the end product of your training. Every session isn’t going to be a highlight reel, and it’s in those times that you need to go into the gym ready to punch the clock and put the work in despite how you feel. That focus is what will lead to positive results when it matters on competition day.

Integrity

Integrity may seem like a strange mental tool for training, but it actually makes all the difference in the world. The definition of integrity is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” In life, integrity means sticking to your personal values no matter what your external situation dictates. In training, this same integrity means holding firm to your principles and training philosophy no matter what the acute response may be. The nature of training isn't linear from day to day. You’ll have ups and downs, and you’re bound to have days when you feel disgusted with your performance. It’s in these moments that you have to decide whether you’re going to throw everything out the window or hold true to the principles that you know will work in the long run. This doesn’t mean that you never make changes to your training, but it does mean that you make those decisions through the lens of your core philosophy.

Passion

None of the above mental traits will make a difference if you lack passion. Training, competing, and strength and conditioning coaching aren't financial goldmines and they aren’t likely to land you on ESPN’s Top 10. We compete and coach because we have a love for it. Your passion has to be what fuels your confidence, instills humility, keeps your focus, and provides the base for your integrity. Your passion is what got you started, and it will be what keeps you going no matter where the road of life leads.

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