Time after time you see a promising athlete come out of college and go into the pros only to bomb out. He or she had the best athletic ability, yet could not cut it at the professional level. Others might not have great athletic ability, get picked late in the draft and go onto become super stars. Tom Brady comes to mind as someone who wasn’t particularly outstanding in college who has gone on to be a probable first time inductee into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Personally I have seen the same. I spent many years in the US Army Special Forces. We would have tryouts who while in the best physical shape just could not make the grade to be a Green Beret. Others, who would seem to be nondescript, would pass the Special Forces Qualification course with flying colors and go onto to be an outstanding soldier.
You are probably asking yourself by now what is the difference? What do you need to perform at the highest levels, which is even more important than physical ability?
Mental toughness is what separates the superstar from the merely good. It separates the musicians that play small party gigs from the rock stars. Someone without mental toughness can have all the natural talents or ability and not make it as far as someone with mental toughness with average ability.
The key to mental toughness is applying consistently the traits of self motivation, positive attitude, emotional self control, calmness under fire, and being energetic and ready for action. Consistency is important. Through applying these traits day in and day out, you will be able to reach new heights in whatever endeavors you seek whether it be a sport, playing a musical instrument, coding a computer application or writing a novel.
Let’s look at each of the traits of mental toughness:
While some sports are team sports and other pursuits are done in conjunction with others life is pretty much played alone. Your motivation must come from within. The intensity of your motivation is determined by how badly you want to perform well.
Motivation can be strengthened many ways. Think back to a failure. That feeling can provide the motivation to keep going, keep practicing. A time of victory can also provide the motivation to reclaim that winning feeling. Use time as a motivator. While others relax you can be gaining on them increasing your skills.
You are not going to be able to do everything. In Special Forces we always looked for what someone was good at and focused on that. By focusing on strengths, you gain confidence and inspiration from them. You can create your own positive attitude. For example, smaller pro basketball players do not try to go head to head with others over seven feet tall, they focus on their speed and ball handling skills. Focus on what your natural strengths are.
People who are not in control of their emotions get upset when the something doesn’t go as expected. They alienate spouses, co-workers, teammates by petty, childish behavior. Mentally tough people have tough skins and don’t let outside circumstances affect them. There will be many times whether in a game or in life that things happen outside your control. A mentally tough person keeps their emotions in check and keeps on with the game plan they had in mind from the beginning.
Anything worth going for is going to be high pressure one time or another. Mentally tough people are at their best under pressure. Calmness under fire isn’t something you just switch on. The key here is to seek out pressure situations working up from low pressure to medium pressure to high pressure situations. Perform in front of larger and larger groups. Seek out better and better opponents, games top participate in. What seemed like high pressure before will become the new normal for you.
Mentally tough people get themselves fire up and ready to go for the battle, performance, game or whatever it may be. It might be the middle of the night, you might have played two other performances the same day or you might be under the weather. The pride you get from doing your best in less than optimal circumstances makes it that much easier to succeed in all circumstances. The third performance of the day might not be your best ever, but it should be the best you can possibly give. The next time when conditions are better you will play better for times you pushed yourself to give it all.
The great thing about mental toughness is that you are not born with it. You don’t have to learn it at a young age. Mental toughness comes simply from the decision to consistently apply the traits I have talked about. You can start today and reach levels of your game, relationships, and success that you never thought possible. Outstanding athletic prowess, superior intellect, musical talent will take someone so far. Without mental toughness they will not reach their full potential.
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