7 Powerful Mental Strength Exercises That Build Toughness

Imagine possessing the power to face life's daily hurdles with ease and crush any adrenaline-pumping outdoor pursuits. It's possible, but can't be reached through physical strength alone; you need to build your mental muscle to achieve unmatched mental strength and resilience that makes setbacks more manageable.

Also referred to as mental toughness, it's the secret sauce that helps you stomp out any obstacle in your way - be it chores around the house or backcountry hunting.

Join us as we work through 7 powerful exercises designed to unlock the true potential of your mind, setting you up for success in both everyday life and thrilling adventures.

As you master each, you'll refine your focus, discipline, and resilience, equipping you to confront challenges head-on and maintain a triumphant attitude even in the face of adversity, regardless of what it may be.

Here are 7 mental strength exercises to help you unleash your full potential:

  1. Step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself consistently.

  2. Keep your motivation high by setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).

  3. Practice gratitude to foster a positive mindset and maintain perspective.

  4. Enhance mental clarity through mindfulness and meditation.

  5. Develop a positive inner dialogue and challenge negative self-talk.

  6. Build a solid support network to share challenges and celebrate successes.

  7. Cultivate a growth mindset, embracing lessons learned from failures.

Add these mental strength exercises to your daily routine and you'll be prepared to tackle challenges head-on, reaping rewards along the way. Make no mistake, it won't be easy - especially as you get started - but with time you'll begin to witness the snowball effect of exercising your mind for toughness. Before we dig into all 7 exercises, let's set the record straight on who can and cannot increase their mental toughness.

Anyone Can Build Mental Toughness!

Anyone can train mental toughness through exercises that build resilience, focus, and adaptability. Some methods include active exposure to discomfort, setting SMART goals, and rewiring your mind for a growth mindset. Success requires dedication and consistency.

Make no mistake; building mental strength requires serious dedication and consistency.

Think of mental toughness like a muscle - the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Just as a weightlifter progressively increases the weight they lift to build their strength, individuals can train their mental toughness by gradually challenging themselves with more difficult and uncomfortable situations.

This isn't a matter of opinion either - an omnibus research study proved that mental toughness is a complex unidimensional element that can change according to situations and times. In a less-nerdy description, this is good news for anyone who wants to work on their mental strength, because this study shows that it's a complicated matter, one that requires effort and dedication, but that mental toughness is not a static concept. It can change. For some, that could mean the blade gets dull if they don't practice mental strength exercises, but for those who fully commit to it, they can affect positive change in their mental toughness.

This is the whole driving force behind the 7 powerful mental strength exercises below - they need to be worked like muscles to see growth. So if you're ready to unlock your mind's potential through consistent dedication, then keep reading.

1. Embrace Discomfort and Practice Delayed Gratification

For anyone able to embrace discomfort and practice delayed gratification, they'll quickly notice how these two exercises are a bit like the Wonder Twins of mental toughness - they work best when they're together. Both exercises run counter to your instincts, but that's also why they have such profound power.

Backcountry hunters and mountain athletes know firsthand the importance of challenging yourself. They can most certainly appreciate the idea of being forged by challenges ahead of hitting the mountains.

By embracing discomfort, you not only develop physical endurance but also build mental muscle, laying the foundation for what ultimately becomes your superpower; navigating hardship with less struggle.

On the surface it seems like a counterintuitive process, but it's tried and true for enhancing both physical and mental strength. 

A great place to start is gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your workouts. This helps you push the limits of your mind and body within safer scenarios than in remote wilderness, making you far more adept at adapting to challenges in the bush.

A concept rooted in Biblical lessons, delayed gratification tests your ability to resist the temptation of immediate rewards for long-term benefits. Enduring harsh conditions, navigating difficult terrain, and patiently waiting for the perfect shot is the perfect example. Fighting the urge for primal comforts like warmth is a difficult task for even the toughest individuals, but by cultivating self-discipline and perseverance, it's possible. So how do you actually put this into practice?

How Do You Practice Delayed Gratification?

To practice delayed gratification, start by setting small and achievable goals. When you consistently accomplish these smaller goals, your self-control and mental fortitude will grow. These skills will prepare you for more significant challenges on the hunting trail and in life.

You can resist the urge to check your phone for an hour, choose healthier meals during the work week, or even resist the calling to raid the freezer at midnight.

2. Establish Clear Goals and Develop Action Plans

Carving out clear, realistic goals is like drawing a treasure map to mental strength. These goals fuel motivation and foster a sense of achievement. To set a goal properly stick to the SMART blueprint: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Swap the vague "get in shape" for a concrete target, like "tackle a 5-mile hike with a 50-pound pack in 90 days." Setting a goal is worthless without a strategy to achieve it though.

That's why building a solid action plan is the bridge connecting you to your goals. Start by breaking down objectives into bite-sized tasks, and setting each against a timeline.

For a backcountry hunting fitness goal, your action might include weekly training milestones like extending hiking distance, honing shot accuracy, or mastering your ability to stick with a nutrition plan.

Consistently evaluating your progress in terms of mental strength will help you to stay on course and tweak your plan as required.

Keeping track of your progress goes a long way in staying accountable and inspired. Simple things like logging your workouts, noting your shooting practice precision and accuracy, and cataloging your daily calories. This will give you a nice trail of areas that need improvement or simply a nice record of things you should be proud of.

If you discover that you're falling short of your desired progress, don't hesitate to modify your goals and action plan. Mental toughness is all about flexibility and adaptability.

3. Cultivate Gratitude to Appreciate the Present Moment

The moment you commit and act on living a life of gratitude is the exact moment you'll notice a profound shift in your mindset. Even if you don't consider yourself a negative person, once you live a life of gratitude, you'll start to recognize some hidden negative thinking as you begin shifting toward a more positive outlook.

And this change sends ripples throughout your life, like a tidal wave coursing through the sea of well-being. Focusing on gratitude has been shown to have numerous mental health benefits, including reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Areas of your life like overall mood, sleep quality, resilience, and mental strength are all shaped by a position of gratitude. In other words, gratitude isn't just great for sharpening your mental toughness, but also extremely beneficial for your mental heatlh.

So, how do you start cultivating gratitude? To get started, simply jot down three things you're grateful for daily. Even if they're seemingly small, if you felt thanks for it, then it merits recording. It doesn't need to be some ridiculously long gratitude journal entry either, each item can be as short as a few words if you like, such as:

Thursday, Apr 20

  • Son smiled at me when I woke him up to start his day.

  • My rolled ankle didn't hurt when I walked the dog today.

  • My wife surprised me with my favorite dinner.

Although each act above is lacking gravity, the exercise has less to do with importance and more to do with recall and recognition. 

See, by capturing these moments down you're training your brain to notice what a moment of gratitude looks like; over time, your brain will naturally seek out the positives and learn to truly appreciate what you have. This naturally lends itself to living in the present, a concept that's energized by mindfulness and meditation.

4. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

As a mountain athlete, living in the present will help you engage in your surroundings and relish the experience like never before. The same goes for life back home too. Like wearing a black shirt on a sunny summer's day, living in the present lets you absorb everything around you.

There are many ways to train yourself to come back into the present, but among the best are mindfulness and meditation. When practiced consistently, these mental superfoods will boost your self-awareness, emotional control, and stress management.

Each is a staple trait for any individual possessing high resilience and a well-developed mental muscle.

Entry Point to Mindfulness

Kickstart your mindfulness journey by carving out a few minutes daily for focused practice. Simple activities like paying attention to your breath while waiting in line or taking a mindful walk can be powerful in sharpening your mental edge. Consistency is crucial, as regular practice reinforces these habits and amplifies their impact on your mental strength. Are you noticing a theme with consistency and planning?

Great Beginner Technique for Mindfulness

A lesser-known but arguably easier starting point to mindfulness is a technique that activates all your senses. It's referred to as the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique, and it's done like this:

  • 5-Sight: Focus on 5 different objects around you - call them out in your head.
  • 4-Touch: Scan your body and find 4 different objects you're touching - a chair, garment, holding something, etc.
  • 3-Sound: What are 3 things that you currently hear - noises, conversations, music, etc.?
  • 2-Scent: Try to pick up on two different smells around you, be it food, flowers, or fresh rain - anything will do.
  • 1-Taste: Check in on your mouth, do you have a particular taste at the moment? How would you describe it, and what does it remind you of?

Whenever your mind wanders, gently guide it back with this 5-4-3-2-1 technique, or breathing and sensations. Although unrelated on paper, staying present is tied to mental toughness since it helps you tackle only what's in front of you. Plus, for the backcountry hunters out there, being present enhances your connection to the wilderness, making each moment more memorable.

Entry Point to Meditation

Where mindfulness leans into mental strength, you could view meditation as the activity that hones your mind's adaptability and stress-coping skills. For backcountry hunters, you'll need this mental agility to navigate unforeseen situations - which can happen at any step.

You're just a short search away from thousands of meditation apps on your phone, but if you want something more functional, check out MTNMVMT.

Functional Mobility + Mindfulness = MTNMVMT

We've built mindfulness and meditative techniques into our mobility and range of motion program called MTNMVMT. Using her 25+ years of experience in functional mobility, breathwork, and meditation, Heather Leigh helped us design this versatile program. So whether you trying to reduce pain, recover from an injury hiking, or simply try to find new ways to reduce stress, you'll find benefits in MTNMVMT. And with a 14-day free trial of MTNTOUGH, you'll have more than enough time to experience this and all other corners of our expansive library of training programs for the backcountry hunter and mountain athlete.

5. Challenge Negative Thoughts and Replace Them with Positive Ones

If you're a backcountry hunter, your success depends on mental grit. It's a bold statement, but we proudly stand behind it. A successful hunt in mind-boggling conditions, surrounded by some of the most majestic and powerful creatures on the planet requires the maximum dose of grit possible; it lies just one thought removed from insanity.

Anything that gets in the way of your confidence and willpower while hunting will punch a tag to your downfall, and few things are more detrimental than mental roadblocks of negative thinking. It's intrinsically tied to cultivating gratitude, and without addressing it you seriously handicap the limits that you can take your mental toughness.

If you want to truly flex your mental strength muscles, you can't shy away or ignore this plight - rather, you have to tackle them head-on and transform these thoughts into positive ones. Three techniques are particularly valuable in doing this: cognitive restructuring, positive affirmations, and visualization.

Cognitive restructuring starts by identifying negative thoughts, gauging their validity, and reframing them with positive, rational alternatives. For example, if you're plagued by thoughts like "I can't do this," challenge that notion by recalling past victories or considering the skills you've honed to conquer obstacles.

Positive affirmations, such as repeating uplifting statements, bolster optimism and self-assurance. Simple mantras like "I'm in control", "I don't give up", or "I've been through worse" can be powerful reminders to reshape your line of thinking.

Visualization gives off serious "music festival mysticism" vibes to the unfamiliar, but don't be fooled. This isn't the device of a "new-aged feel-goodery" - no, this is a potent strategy to retrain your mindset for the better. At its core, visualization involves rehearsing scenarios where you triumph over challenges and achieve desired outcomes.

Not to be confused with rumination or leaving the outcome to your mind's will, visualization is purposeful and ends on a positive note. Consistently envisioning these positive experiences, you'll prime your mind for success and build the confidence needed to excel in real-life situations.

For Western hunters, a positive mindset in adversity may be the only thing you have to power through. When daily setbacks inevitably arise, focus on elements you can control and perceive obstacles as growth opportunities.

Actively confronting negative thoughts and fostering a more positive outlook equips you to build the mental strength necessary for handling the demands of all aspects of your life, including the wilderness.

6. Foster Strong Social Connections and Support Networks

Your support network is the safety harness to your well-being. Not to be confused with the count of friends or followers on social media, the connections that matter here are built on deep and meaningful relationships. The benefits are two-fold here - first, this is the crew that can help you remain resilient when you're down to your last fiber of strength. On the other end of this, you'll find a level of accountability that fuels motivation and instills a sense of purpose.

Let's recap - collective resiliency, increased accountability and motivation, and a stronger sense of purpose. These powerful adjectives don't come to life by happenstance or by mediocre friendships, they're forged through active listening, mastering empathy, and new on the list - redirecting.

What Is Redirecting?

Redirecting is the act of turning attention and focus away from one's struggles to focus on helping others going through a struggle at the same time. This approach creates stronger bonds among individuals but also acts as a way to distract the mind during strife and add new motivational energy.

Redirecting is as simple as offering encouragement in moments where you could use it yourself. We place an incredible amount of value on this trait it's a cornerstone to the MTNTOUGH Mindset, a winning outlook that can work through any situation.

The next time you're in a gym, look around you and try to identify the perennial top performer. There's a good chance this person champions redirecting. They're quick to offer a spot, they'll cheer on someone else's new "best", and put their hand out for a quick congrats.

Motivated equally by giving and taking, redirecting can easily seek and offer support during challenging times, which also boost your mental strength. Don't sleep on the importance of this for maintaining heightened mental strength in the backcountry or hanging with friends and family.

7. Cultivate a Growth Mindset and Embrace Failure

Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset hinges on the belief that abilities and intelligence can change and thrive through dedication and hard work. It's not just a soft science either - research backs it up and shows that those who possess a growth mindset are:

  • More open to difficult challenges they may face

  • More resilient when faced with hurdles and failure

  • Able to handle critical feedback in a more regulated way

  • Convinced their effort matters to an outcome

  • Inspired to learn with and from other individuals

  • More likely to succeed at tasks

Sounds great, right? It is. But it's also a transformative process which is a challenge in its own right. Developing strategies to overcome setbacks is the essential nutrient for this mindset; the following are effective ways to set the change in motion.

Embrace Failure

To make it to the other side and reach a growth mindset, a person needs to find complete comfort in embracing failure as a learning opportunity. Start by uprooting fixed mindset beliefs, for example:

  • Set realistic goals rather than stretch goals

  • Concentrate on effort instead of outcome

  • Treat challenges as opportunities for growth.

With time, this approach changes phrases like "I can't" into "I can learn", a major factor in resilient attitudes. It's a dramatic reframing of success, one where failure is actually the key to success. There's a massive amount of wash, rinse, and repeat to analyze setbacks, pinpoint areas of improvement, apply them to future scenarios, and yet resist the weight of failure.

Embracing failures teaches a valuable lesson on self-compassion while also sharpening your problem-solving, both appropriate skills for backcountry hunters. 

3 Ways Transform Mental Strength Exercises into Habits

Just like building strengthening muscle or building your cardio capabilities, you tailor a mix of exercises to fulfill a specific goal, where the sum of the parts is the workout. If the 7 techniques above represent your mental exercises, the 3 concepts below are more similar to broader workouts. They're achieved by several techniques we've covered already.

By practicing the techniques we've already covered, with time, consistency, and maximum effort, you'll start to notice how some will coalesce into something bigger - something you don't actively think about putting to the test or working on. The culmination represents a shift from practice to habit - It's here where the positive action gets hardwired into everything we do.

1. Healthy Emotional Regulation

Created from many other sections in this article, healthy emotional regulation starts and ends with a plan to handle the ups and downs in life. Whether it's a speed bump or cliff dive, the right strategy gives you an arsenal of healthy ways to work through any scenario. Building and embracing this type of plan bolsters your mental toughness and overall well-being.

Techniques we've already covered, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation, grounding, etc - all lean into staying present and regulating emotions. At a physiological level, diaphragmatic breathing calms your nerves, eases stress, and strikes an emotional equilibrium.

Don't worry, we won't leave you with that. Lasting emotional regulation strategies go one step beyond tactics and tap into your emotional IQ. That is, developing your emotional intelligence to empower you to understand and manage not only your feelings but those around you. There are a lot of layers to this feelings onion - empathy, awareness, interpersonal skills, etc. Refining how you navigate each will help you sail through emotionally charged situations and maintain composure under pressure.

Empathy is the unchecked box on this list so far, and the best way to start building empathy is to become an active listener. When others speak with you, are you grasping what they're saying or are you thinking about what you'll say next? If you are listening, do you understand why they are thinking this beyond a surface level? And lastly, are you able to validate what they're feeling without judgment?

If you answered yes to all three questions, you're a likely candidate for sainthood - or potentially the patron saint of white lies. Being empathetic is one of the most difficult things to accomplish, and while there is no destination, the journey emphasizes hiking 10 miles in someone else's boots. So start there. Engage others by listening, trying to understand their perspective, and resisting the urge to drop judgment on them. While it might feel like an indirect path to mental toughness, those with high emotional IQs often have the highest mental strength to match.

2. Prioritized Self-Care and Healthy Work-Life Balance

Think of self-care as the lifeblood for sustaining mental strength, especially crucial for backcountry hunters and mountain athletes. Nurturing your physical, emotional, and mental well-being sustains mental toughness and prevents burnout. When you prioritize self-care and strike a healthy work-life balance, you build resilience and amplify overall performance.

Self-care comes in many flavors - regular physical activity, a balanced diet, ample sleep, and moments to relax and unwind. Many of the mindfulness and meditative practices double in self-care as well, a bit like the cherry on top for reducing stress and bumping up your mental clarity. We all know the challenges of balancing the professional and personal responsibilities of life. It's a never-ending cycle for many, unfortunately, destroying many relationships along the way. The balance often tips in favor of work, where the fear of losing a job replaces the importance of fostering meaningful interpersonal connections.

If you struggle with this balance, you're not alone. Those who come out on the other side of this, often begin by setting clear boundaries of when they work and when they don't. They communicate this to those who need to know effectively. While at work, they often work in strict time blocks where something like 15 to 30-minute increments are plotted out for the entire day. They also resist the urge to engage in time-wasting activities like reading and responding to emails all day, they write short emails, and they don't scan their phones or check Facebook all day either.

If you incorporate this type of approach into your workday, you'll also find that there's more than enough time to get daily tasks accomplished, making room for hobbies and leisure activities. It's also completely acceptable to delegate tasks when possible, schedule regular breaks, and recognize the signs of burnout to proactively restore balance and protect your mental health. Any worthwhile employer will appreciate and respect that you're recognizing this.

While this concept is far greater than any backcountry hunting excursion, if you don't take care of yourself in a civilized setting, how could you possibly maintain the proper edge to monitor yourself in the hazardous environment of the remote wilderness?

3. Practiced Resilience

Resilient people bounce back in the face of adversity. Any backcountry hunter is going to go toe to toe with some form of hardship, so resilience has to be the backbone to their mental DNA. Goal To become a backcountry hunting pro, dive into activities that build resilience and strengthen mental fortitude. This might include setting personal goals, practicing mindfulness meditation, or stepping out of your comfort zone to tackle challenges that fuel growth.

Start by pinpointing specific challenges or growth areas and carve out time each day to focus on these resilience-building activities. Consistency, consistency, consistency... it's worth repeating because it's the only way to reach powerful resilience. So dedicate 10 minutes each morning to mindfulness meditation, or set a weekly goal for a tough hike or workout. As you progress, keep track of your triumphs and setbacks, turning them into valuable lessons for continuous improvement.

Keep in mind that building resilience is a marathon, not a sprint. With patience and dedication, you'll be well-prepared for the mental and physical demands of backcountry hunting, leading to a more rewarding and successful outdoor experience. Embrace the journey and witness the transformation in your adventures and everyday life.

Strengthen Your Mind, Transform Your Life

Regularly practicing the techniques we've covered and developing them into habits will not only elevate your outdoor performance but also bring remarkably positive changes in your everyday life. Mental toughness is an ongoing journey, with rewards that reach far beyond head mounts and trails.

Take control of your mind and commit to incorporating mental strength training into your daily routine. Whether it's adopting a growth mindset, sharpening your visualization skills, or putting self-care first, every step paves the way to a stronger, more resilient you. The transformation that follows consistent practice is worth it. This is as good a time as any to share our MTNTOUGH Mindset 10-Day Mental Toughness Program with you.

Your coach, Phil Kornachuk, will walk you through the ins and outs of creating positive momentum in your mental toughness. And Phil should know - he teaches mental toughness for a living, with degrees in the subject matter and incredible Special Forces military experience prior, he's the epitome of someone whose put theory into practice.

So, set out on this path to mental strength with determination, persistence, and passion. Embrace the challenges ahead and harness these powerful exercises to confidently navigate the demanding world of backcountry hunting and mountain sports. If you need a partner to build mental toughness with, we'd love to join you.