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Published on January 28, 2019

Utilizing The Productivity Improvement Plan: 7 Rules To Never Forget

Utilizing The Productivity Improvement Plan: 7 Rules To Never Forget

How effectively we use our time can make a significant difference to our personal and professional productivity. Working smarter, not harder, is the key to effective productivity, and in turn, to better results and an improved life.

When I worked in a corporate environment, I used to work for about 14 hours a day. Working these long hours gave me the opportunity to advance my career and work with many global brands.

As I moved into more leadership positions, I started to think and work differently. I realized that I was missing out on valuable time with my family. One too many missed family dinners, bath nights and reading with my children changed my thinking.

Rather than just taking these long hours as the norm, I decided there must be a better path to success.

I created some tools and systems that allowed me to be more effective and productive at work, but gave me more time freedom to spend with the people that mattered most. I began to understand that working less could actually deliver improved results.

When I started my coaching business, working with successful entrepreneurs, I realized that many of them were also working long hours, but not seeing the results they wanted.

Rather than leveraging their time to achieve the most productive result, they were stuck in an endless cycle of long hours and busyness.

We all have the same 24 hours a day. Some of us can get a tremendous amount of productive work accomplished each day and still have time to enjoy life and do more of the things we love.

Yet others, have no time and spend most of their day with no energy feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with what they have on their plate.

Everyone wants to make the best possible use of their time and be as productive as possible. How effectively we manage our time can make a significant difference to the success of our career or business.

What if you had a strategy for maximizing your time and improving your productivity?

If you could spend more time focusing on your highest value activities; have time to plan for the future; have time to set goals; be able to create a plan to make them happen; have more time to spend with your loved ones; and have time to do more of the things you love how would it feel?

The key to improving your productivity is to understand why you want to do it and have clarity on the difference it will make in your personal and business life.

We all want to work a bit less, do more of the work we love and make more money, but how can we do it?

During my work with entrepreneurs and leaders, I’ve developed 7 Productivity Rules that help people achieve their most productive working day, no matter what the day involves.

1. Get Clarity up Front

To create a Productivity Improvement Plan, we must first understand and measure where we are right now before developing plans to improve. We need to look at both internal and external factors when we think about measuring and improving our productivity.

The best way to measure is to review our performance from the present moment back to when we started. This gives us a true sense of the improvements we’ve made, what we’re doing really well and the things we’d like to get better at. It focuses on our strengths initially, giving us the confidence to make the productivity improvements we want to make.

Focus on Specifics

Have a clear purpose around the productivity improvements you wish to make. Do you have clarity on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what your ideal outcome looks like?

Once you are clear about this, you can create more ‘intentional productivity’ and set specific, measurable improvements you wish to make.

The more clarity you have around any given situation or project, the better and faster you are able to achieve your desired result.

When you are clear on the result you want and are motivated to achieve that result, you will start working more effectively to achieve that result.

Understand the Big Difference It Will Make

It is important to understand how making specific improvements will make a difference in your business and life.

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Without that future focused motivation, you may make changes for a short period and then fall back into your old ways.

  • Will you be happier?
  • Do you want to work less hours and spend more time with your family? If so, what will you do with that time?
  • Is building an effective team a priority? If so, what could you achieve with a better team?
  • Are you focused on career progression?
  • Do you want more time off to travel?
  • Are you focused on freeing yourself up?
  • Is this about achieving higher levels of revenue?

2. Focus on Strengths

When we spend more time using our unique strengths, we experience more happiness, are more productive and deliver greater value.

Doing more of the things we love to do delivers better results whilst increasing energy, confidence and creativity.

Identify Your Productivity Strengths

Start by focusing on your strengths:

Get a sheet of paper and just write down all of the things you do well, where you felt on top of your game, where you felt confident and you produced results you were happy with.

Rather than look to develop weaknesses, instead focus on your personal strengths and those of your team if you have one.

When I worked for a marketing agency and we had an important pitch, we brought together the best people with complementary strengths and skills to respond to the brief.

I understood that each person had specific talents, that when brought together with other complementary talents, created a much more powerful result.

Look to focus on your strengths and bring together other strengths to create a multiplier effect.

3. Delegate and Outsource

To maximize our productivity and leverage our time, we need to understand we can’t do everything ourselves.

We must determine what’s important, both personally and professionally, and eliminate activities that are low value.

The Pareto Principle (80:20) rule[1] states that 80% of the results come from 20% of actions, yet busyness often keeps us away from the high value activities there our most productive energy lies.

If we are spending large amounts of time doing things we simply aren’t very good at and don’t enjoy, it’s far more productive to let someone, or a team take on the work.

When we simply need help to complete a project, rather than increasing stress by trying to do everything, simply ask for help when you need it.

Instead of wasting time and energy overloading yourself, let others help so you can focus your time on your most important and valuable tasks. Other people have skills and strengths as well, so it is important to identify who can help and where they can add value.

To make this part of your long-term productivity improvement plan look to remove, delegate or outsource 3 projects or tasks every 90 days to free up your time and improve productivity even more.

4. Manage Yourself

You can choose to constantly react to external triggers or strategically create your day from the inside out.

When you’re clear on your priorities and how your unique strengths can deliver the results you want, you will feel more energized, more focused, more productive and achieve high performance results every day.

Create Your Version of a Productive Day

The key to a productive day is your intention to have a productive day, rather than just reacting to your day and working through your to-do list set your day up in advance.

Instead of working on things you think you “should” do, choose what you want to do, have the intentional mindset to do it and then follow through and do it.

Pick Just Three Things to Do Each Day

Increased productivity comes through prioritization. Many people use a daily planner or keep lists of the things they are going to work on each day. This helps them eliminate distractions and removes some of the complexities in their life.

Learn how to get rid of all distractions in this guide:

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Easily Distracted? Here’s Your Solution

But the problem for many is that this task list is simply a list of things they want to get done or feel they need to get done. When there is no clarity, there is no focus about the tasks to be worked on and why they are important in the first place.

A simple way to increase your productivity is to get more clarity about your priorities. I recommend picking and working only on 3 Key Tasks or Projects each day, with the most important being first.

Focus on One Task at a Time

Despite what you may think, you simply can’t multitask effectively. Instead, focus on just one thing at a time.

Starting one thing, stopping, and switching tasks reduces your energy and productivity.

Unfinished tasks can create an environment of self-doubt and self-blame. Choose the most important from your top 3 and work on it until finished.

Work in Blocks of Time

To support your focused, productive work on just one thing, start working in blocks of time.

Look at the task you’re working on and decide how much time you need to invest in its completion.

If it will take you four hours to do, and it’s a big priority block out those four hours.

I suggest using the 60-60-30 method. Work for 50 minutes, take a take minute break.  Follow the same process again and then take a 30-minute break.

Follow the same process again until the project has been completed to increase your productivity.

Take More Breaks

To make the above strategy work, you need to ensure you are strict about taking those breaks.

You can use the Pomodoro technique or just set a timer on your watch (not your phone, too many distractions).

You’ll find this actually increases your focus, concentration and productivity. It ensures that your energy is always high.

I recommend going for a walk, having a healthy lunch or doing something that rejuvenates during your breaks. If you feel yourself getting really tired and losing focus, you can always take a quick nap.

5. Manage Your Energy

It’s essential to preserve and nurture your physical and mental strength to ensure you are energised, focused and productive every day.

Below are some tips you can use to set yourself up for peak performance:

Get Enough Sleep

It’s important to get plenty of sleep so you set yourself up for as productive a day as possible. I have written before about the benefits of sleep.

If you’re struggling to get enough sleep and want to wake up productive try this night routine from Lifehack’s CEO:

The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

Take More Time Off

Strategic Coach Founder Dan Sullivan believes there are two ways of looking at the world: through the lens of time and effort, or through the lens of results.

For him, it’s all about maximizing results while minimizing the time and effort involved to produce them. His time system is about focusing your time, energy and creativity to produce your best results.

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He suggests taking regular ‘Free Days’ (a 24-hour day, from midnight to midnight, during which there are no work-related activities) to set yourself up for periods of high productivity and creativity.[2]

“Instead of seeing time off work as a reward, see it as a necessary precondition for success.” — Dan Sullivan

This time off helps to ensure you are well rested, rejuvenated and ready to take on your biggest challenges.

Create a Morning Power Hour

Creating a morning routine can give you the intentional motivation to have a productive day. Rather than reacting to your day, you strategically set up your day to be one of inspired high performance.

Take an hour or 90 minutes to focus on yourself and your most important tasks. This could be a mix of meditation, exercise, reading, eating a healthy breakfast, expressing gratitude and laying our your Most Important Tasks for the day.

Find a routine that works for you. Mix and mix a few different things until you find the meaning, motivation and purpose that feels right.

For tips on creating your morning routine read The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

Start Saying No More Often

Instead of working longer and harder, we should focus our time and energy on the activities that deliver the biggest results and bring us more happiness.

Stop saying yes to people, projects and things that lower your energy and bring little or no results.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

Stop Worrying About Perfection

Many people are continually gearing up to get started. They are waiting for the perfect moment to take action.

If you wait for the perfect moment, you may never get started. Perfectionism is made up in our minds. It is an unattainable goal.[3]

It’s much more satisfying to simply get started and complete a project simply by doing great work.

If you live in a world of ‘Should Do,’ you may never really be sold on the project and be emotionally engaged enough to complete it in the first place.

However, if you come from a place of ‘Want To’ you have chosen to make this project an area of focus for you.

If you want more advice on avoiding perfectionism, take a look at this article: How Perfectionism Secretly Screws You Up

6. Continually Measure and Review

The foundation of any productivity improvement plan has to include progress you can measure.

When we’re making progress towards our goals and making improvements, we feel a lot happier and more confident.

Vague or general goals won’t give us the same feeling of accomplishment as something specific.

If you set up your productivity improvement plan in terms of specific, measurable progress, you will feel more grounded and less overwhelmed.

Measuring your own personal productivity progress also ensures you don’t compare your performance with others.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Set Productivity Goals

To build up your goal setting muscles, write down 5 specific personal and professional productivity improvements you wish to make in the next 90 days.

Make them measurable so they can be tracked, and review on a monthly and weekly basis.

This may include cutting down your work hours by a specific number or committing to try a morning routine for the next 14 days.

Decide what is the most important and what could make the biggest difference.

Review Project Performance

Your productivity goals and action plan will create a tangible difference to the projects you’re working on.

Before you start, set up a number of success criteria and then review the finished project based on that criteria.

Note down the improvements that have been made through your productivity changes and any further things to work on with your next project.

7. Simplify

The key to improving your productivity is to simplify and then simplify further as much as possible.

We all have so much complexity in our lives, it is difficult to stay in control and focused on our most important activities, both personally and professionally.

This might be an out of control calendar, a bulging inbox, a massive to-do list, mental clutter too many demands on your time or too many deadlines to meet.

This causes a feeling of being stuck or overwhelmed and can lead to ongoing fatigue and stress. I wrote about this in my article How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out.

Keep trying to simplify your life by focusing on the activities that deliver the biggest results and bring you the most joy and satisfaction.

If you can keep freeing yourself up from low value, energy draining activities you can create a bigger impact on the things, people and projects that really matter.

This is an ongoing process but think about how much better your life would be if it keeps getting simpler and simpler.

Any and all, improvements will further bolster your confidence.

The Bottom Line

These 7 Rules and supporting strategies can be put in place to help you take that first step towards increased effectiveness, confidence and productivity.

Why not pick one or two and see how they can make a difference in your business and life?

Every bit of progress and improvement in your productivity and happiness could make your life more enjoyable and ensure your results keep improving.

The most important thing is just to get started on your productivity improvement plan.

Featured photo credit: Damian Patkowski via unsplash.com

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Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

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Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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