Mental toughness is easily the most overlooked trait of people who've "made it." From successful entrepreneurs to professional athletes, mental toughness is more often than not the essential factor in why a person has achieved success. There are of course other ingredients that go into the recipe for success, but you'll be hard-pressed to find someone at the top who is underserving an award in mental toughness.
This isn't to say that only celebrities or titans of industry are mentally tough. Not in the least. Look around you, they're everywhere. And if you aren't sure how to spot the signs, you will by the end of this guide.
From the outside, people might view MTNTOUGH as a physical fitness platform - helping people trudge longer and lift heavier weights. But that's far too narrow. Step a little closer and you'll see that MTNTOUGH helps athletes build both their physical and mental toughness.
10-Day Mental Toughness Program to Build a MTNTOUGH Mindset
Every MTNTOUGH workout is going to test your mental toughness. And we have a library of resources on the topic - from articles, podcasts, and video interviews, to an entire community actively discussing it daily - it's comprehensive, to say the least. But among the many amazing resources throughout MTNTOUGH+, the 10-Day Mental Toughness Program is the Northstar on the subject.
You'll struggle to find a more engaging and practical guide to sharpening mental toughness. If a program has you thinking "lecture series", then think the opposite, perhaps "anti-program" is more befitting. The 10-day course behaves more like an interactive workout, one where everything you learn has a clear line to its value and how to practice it in daily life.
It's you and your coach, Phil Kornachuk (complete badass and lifelong student of mental toughness), sitting down for 20 minutes each day and building your playbook to a stronger mind. You'll work through a wide range of subjects, but you'll find that it dials in mental toughness, mindset, and leadership. It's a powerful combination that's difficult to do justice to in writing - it's one that you have to experience to truly capture. See for yourself with a 14-day free trial.
If you're not ready to take action yet, all good. The rest of this guide will still help you see behind The Lab's curtain.
To do this, let's start at the beginning and look at mental toughness in the rawest sense. We'll deconstruct the ins and outs of the concept, examining its importance and also how to avoid the most common pitfalls for those seeking to strengthen it.
What Is Mental Toughness?
Mental toughness is the ability to remain focused, motivated, and resilient in the face of physical and mental adversity. It involves having a strong sense of self-discipline and the ability to maintain a positive attitude even when things are uncomfortable or painful.
Maybe you call it something else - grit, perseverance, mental strength. Regardless, it answers to all those names even if each has a slightly different meaning. That's because mental toughness is a unidimensional concept, meaning a large single idea rather than a collection of attributes we all define it as. There's one reason this is even worth mentioning - a one-dimensional concept can only be measured across one scale. One end of the spectrum is maximum mental toughness and the other is the minimum. Moving up and down the scale is a measure of focus during stress.
It's a simple but powerful concept. Essentially, your mental toughness can either go up or down and the only way to affect measurable and positive change is by increasing your focus during stress.
Don't confuse simplicity with being simple. It's still a hellish chore, but you don't have to flip a million switches to power it up.
Why Is Mental Toughness Important?
Mental toughness is important because everyone deals with adversity daily, without some degree of mental toughness a person would always evade commitments and standards, and never reach challenging goals. The higher a person's mental toughness is, the greater discomfort they can manage.
Although an English teacher's daily challenge might look different than a backcountry hunter hitting his third day in the mountains, mental toughness is the shared trait needed to take any obstacle head-on.
Additional Benefits of Building Mental Toughness
There are far too many benefits of mental toughness to list here, so for any that didn't make this cut, just know that every benefit ladders up to the concept of improved performance. Whether that performance is confined to city life or extends into the backcountry, having a strong grip of mental toughness can enhance what you're capable of achieving.
Building mental toughness is a game-changer for mountain athletes in particular though. Since mental toughness helps individuals handle challenging situations, stay focused, and overcome obstacles - essentially muting all the distractions - it naturally removes factors that would decrease their performance otherwise.
If you're battling extreme environmental factors or pushing through intense physical demands, mental toughness is the key to enhancing performance. There are several benefits everyone should know about mental toughness.
When you build mental toughness, you become more adaptable and flexible in your thinking and actions. By doing this, you become more confident and push through challenges and setbacks with ease. In the backcountry, mental toughness can be the difference between giving up or pushing forward to achieve your goal. Managing uncertainty and staying calm in high-pressure situations like a pro.
Greater Emotional Control
Emotional control is causal to improved resilience, and since mental toughness is all about bouncing back from tough times with grit and determination, at some point you need to be able to regulate how you react in situations to successfully do that.
When you build mental toughness, you gain the power to control your emotions. That means you're better equipped to handle stress, anxiety, and frustration - even when you're deep in the backcountry. And when you can stay calm and focused, you're more likely to perform at your best, no matter what.
Higher Levels of Motivation
Building mental toughness can work wonders for your motivation levels. Why? Because mentally tough individuals have a strong sense of self-belief and confidence. They're more likely to persevere and maintain their drive to achieve their goals. They've practiced sticking with something to the point that it's a habit, and having succeeded by never giving in can boost their motivation under any duress.
Improved Overall Well-Being
There are a few parts to this one, and in some ways, overall well-being is a byproduct of many benefits. For instance, greater emotional control can help a person manage stress in their lives better, and since life is full of curveballs, this is worth its weight in gold.
And since mental toughness is largely centered on the idea of setting goals and achieving them, this creates clarity, purpose, and self-confidence. It's a life fulfilled and overall improved well-being.
Can You Train Mental Toughness?
Mental toughness can be trained through consistent practice, which leads to the correct habit formation to remain focused under stress. Adopting mental strategies such as a winning mindset, goal-setting, etc., and testing physical limits through fitness are ways to develop this skill.
Many think mental toughness is built by simply getting yourself motivated, however, that's not entirely accurate. Think of motivation as the thing that gets you inspired to be productive. It's important, but it's not the trait that prevents you from giving up after 5 minutes or at the first roadblock. To stick with something beyond a moment of inspiration, you need determination, resilience, and whatever adjective means seeing something through no matter what.
Neither motivation nor determination independently defines mental toughness, but together, are integral elements of mental toughness. Both can be improved, much like trying to build muscles it takes hard work and dedication. And you can't just hit the gym once a month for a full year, or go for a week straight once a year. Development has to be consistent and constant, this leads to habitual growth.
So yes, mental toughness can absolutely be trained. As Phil, co-architect of the 10-Day Mental Toughness Program, says, "We’re looking at mental toughness as something that can be learned, practiced, sharpened, and applied.” The key to unlocking greater mental toughness is your mind.
What Is the MTNTOUGH Mindset?
MTNTOUGH mindset is a winning outlook that's prepared to tackle all situations, from the everyday to the extraordinary. It hinges on staying positive and owning responsibility in the face of adversity. In truly tough moments, your attitude and ownership may be the only things you can control.
Control of the present is powerful. When you remove finger-pointing and pity parties, the outcome requires banking on yourself. And when you'll do whatever it takes to change a situation, you'll push your body and mind to unimaginable places.
This has little to do with your physical or athletic abilities and everything to do with your mental toughness. Every Hollywood underdog story related to sports, true or fictional, is inspired by the hero's mental toughness. The villain is always dressed in superlatives you'd think power them to victory - biggest, strongest, fastest, most athletic, etc. And yet they lose since "strongest mind" is missing from their list of attributes.
Back in the real world, you'll find a similar situation time and time again. The athletically gifted and super in-shape trainees are among the first to drop from rigorous training pipelines in both the military and civilian worlds. Often, it’s the unassuming person who makes it through - the one who struggles with the physical evolutions in training but has complete control of his or her mind. So what's the secret? How do they do it? More importantly, how do you do it?
How to Build Mental Toughness: The MTNTOUGH Mindset in Action
The MTNTOUGH Mindset is far more comprehensive than what can be written here, but there are two effective techniques that anyone interested in building mental toughness should know. They are chunking and redirecting. Chunking breaks a difficult task into smaller achievable goals. Redirecting shifts attention toward others when personal stress is high. Each requires a positive attitude and ownership, staples of mental strength.
Mentally tough people possess and master both of these skills, and with tremendous effort and self-control they ultimately form into definable traits. While some start life with a higher aptitude for these techniques, anyone can work on and improve their proficiency with either. Let's look at how.
"There is but one way to eat an elephant. One bite at a time."
1. Chunking: Creating Smaller, More Attainable Milestones
Although chunking sounds like a scene around the Thanksgiving table, breaking complex tasks into smaller, more achievable mini-goals is a powerful motivator. It’s easier said than done, sure, but if you can train your mind to only focus on the task immediately in front of you rather than the many looming in the background, you’re already halfway there.
Students going through BUD/S, the infamously hard training pipeline required to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, speak about focusing on making it first to breakfast, then to lunch, and finally to dinner. Then starting the same approach all over the next day. This goes on for 6 months. Directing their attention to the short term and blocking out the fact that there are months of training that lie ahead keeps students from being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the overall task.
Applying the same principle to difficult workouts and everyday life is effective in much the same way. Set a small goal, achieve it, then set another. Achieve that one. Set another. So on and so forth. Before you know it, the workout, business presentation, etc., is over and you’re in the clear.
2. Redirecting: Turning Attention to Others
Intentionally shifting your attention away from your own struggles and focusing instead on the experiences and needs of others is a technique that keeps your mind in check. Redirecting your focus to others often renews motivation and energy to tackle your own challenges.
It's a lot like the concept of Christmas presents as an adult or volunteering at an animal shelter, where the joy comes from giving rather than receiving. Even if the motivation to give isn't motivated by selfishness there's still a reward on the other side.
In the context of mental toughness and the MTNTOUGH mindset, redirecting is the best way to distract your mind and find yourself refilled with juice to tear through an obstacle.
Humans tend to shrink inward during challenging situations, like putting blinders up to anything and anyone around them will lessen the struggle. It's a survival technique where the most important goal is getting yourself back to safety, even if it means abandoning the ship.
This is a slippery slope. It gives your mind a permission slip to think you're the only person in all human history who's going through something tough. This will never be true, despite what your mind will tell you. If you give your mind the leeway to send you down this line of thinking, you'll end up in a place where making excuses is acceptable. This is the antithesis of mental toughness.
During tough workouts here at The Lab, consistent top performers shift their focus outward. They help others push forward instead of focusing on personal suffering. Don't get us wrong, those who redirect are still very much aware of the pain their body is feeling, but they override the instinct to self-soothe by drawing strength from the idea that everyone else is feeling the exact same thing.
It can be an encouraging word. A high-five. A shout to keep pushing. Redirecting is a simple action with profound consequences, helping these top performers and those around them power through. So get out of your head - focus on others.
Common Pitfalls and Challenges in Building Mental Toughness
1. Avoiding Challenge for Fear of Failure
Mentally tough individuals know that difficult tasks are not something to shy away from, but rather, opportunities for improvement. This is a growth mindset, which is about embracing the belief that your abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication, rather than thinking that you're just stuck with what you've got. When you adopt a growth mindset, failure is no longer something to be feared or avoided - it's an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve. So don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
2. Not Practicing Self-Discipline
It's all about setting reasonable goals and developing habits that keep you on track to achieve those goals, no matter what obstacles come your way. By practicing self-discipline, you'll be able to stay focused and motivated, even when things get tough.
From setting daily routines to breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps (chunking) there are many ways to start small and build your craft of self-discipline. Whatever approach you choose, just remember to hold yourself accountable - never point fingers or make excuses.
3. Negative Self-Talk
It's easy to confuse a "never give up" attitude with thinking negatively. Being tough isn't about being mean to yourself. Positive self-talk is a powerful tool for overcoming negative thoughts and beliefs. Meeting negative thoughts with a poor attitude about yourself is like putting a housefire out with gasoline.
Willpower, grit, and determination require a positive mindset, where you're thought instinctively goes to "I can do this" rather than "I bet you can't do this." So don't mistake mental toughness with treating yourself poorly.
4. No Rest, No Recovery
This is where motivation can get the best of people. Wires get crossed somewhere along the way that consistency means day after day. It means frequent, for sure, but it's also about regularity. And part of the schedule needs to include downtime. If you're constantly running on fumes, both physically and emotionally, you're going to struggle to cope with life's challenges effectively. It's just a recipe for burnout, which will sideline and demotivate like no other.
Prioritize and schedule your rest and recovery times. This means establishing a regular sleep routine, taking breaks when you need them, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction. When you recharge your batteries you'll be able to maintain your energy, focus, and resilience over the long haul.
This is self-care, and although it sounds like being soft when the goal is toughness, it's a way to make sure you have long-term success.
5. Too Many Distractions
Whether you're facing distractions or under intense pressure, the ability to stay locked in and maintain accuracy is crucial. That's why practicing mindfulness, establishing clear priorities, and eliminating any unnecessary distractions are tantamount to mental toughness.
Overcommitment is a big one here. When you start saying "yes" to too many activities outside of your family, your work, and your training, you immediately have to deprioritize something. And usually, your training is the first to go. And if you figure out a way to squeeze it all in, you'll simply burn out.
So being clear about your goals and stating the priorities will guide you to what's important and what isn't. This acts as your decision-making weapon to prevent over-commitment.
This will make sure your focus and attention to detail stay in top form. You'll be able to enhance your cognitive abilities, boost your productivity, and build your confidence in your ability to perform at your best, no matter what challenges come your way.
Mental Toughness Is a Winning Mindset
The path to a winning mindset isn’t exactly easy. And it’s certainly not a final destination. A great outlook and positive attitude one day doesn’t mean you’re good to go. It’s a constant struggle, a constant battle. Everyone has an off day now and again. Maintaining a winning mindset is something that takes significant effort all the time, and it can be easy to slip out of that positive outlook. Like making your bed or eating breakfast, it’s a daily routine that requires daily attention.
Feel like getting started on a new approach to mental toughness? Try the first 14 days on us.