The Million Dollar Question...


We've been asked a lot about building mental toughness and how you build mental toughness. It's a great question. It's a great thing we all think about. And if I could phrase it out, a way to keep it in mind is...

Learn to turn what's extraordinary into the ordinary.

Think through that for just a minute, because that's one of the key things of mental toughness. Learning to change what right now to you is extraordinary and make it ordinary. When you turn that corner, you'll start to learn that everything lines up with that.

A lot of things you do in life right now are ordinary. You have ordinary routines, you have ordinary patterns, and you've got to break out of those things and make those things maybe a little subordinary to you because there are some things right now that to you seem a little bit outside the ordinary, a little bit harder than what you currently do.

For example, we make folks run outside, even in the winter. Now that always gets a little bit of a blowback and a little bit for what I call "sniveling".

Why are we running outside? It's 10 degrees or five degrees. Go do your lap outside. There's snow. We can do it inside.

But what we're doing is trying to get you into a new mindset. Ordinarily when it's cold outside, snowing, whether it's raining, hail, sleet, whatever it is, our automatic default setting is, I'm going to train inside. That's where I'm going to do my warmup. I'll do all my training inside.

But I tell people to get outside and push them to go outside, as long as you can do it safely. Why? Because that is a little bit of an extraordinary thing to do.

Is it easy? No. You've got to think through it. You've got to think through the gear you need.

I need a hat. I need gloves. I need some kind of sweat tops. I need some kind of clothing up top. And I have to have shoes that'll handle it. I can't run in boots. And there's some ice, so I can't run my normal pace.

I'm going to have to make some adjustments. Can I do it safely? Yes. Is it ordinary? No. Then go do it anyway. So take the safety precautions. Get outside.

What we're doing is we're slowly changing your mindset, that default setting. We're taking something that is ordinary - I normally train outside - we're putting that on the back burner and we're saying you're going to do something extraordinary. We're going to make that your new ordinary. From now on, you look outside, you see the snow, you see the sleet, you see the hail, you see the rain, you see the cold. You say, ordinarily I'm going outside - that is now my new ordinary. I've changed extraordinary to ordinary.


Hiking in the snow for mountain fitness training.


And so that's the key with mental toughness.

It's a matter of building the discipline to make the hard decisions as much as you possibly can, until the point that they become the habits and the older things are no longer habits. And so we've done is raise the bar a little bit at the time. Now my old ordinary is no longer ordinary. That's out of the question now. So I have a new ordinary. It's 10 degrees outside. I'm going outside. It's five degrees outside. I'm going outside. I have built a new ordinary. Now, if I do anything outside of that, that's no longer the norm. My new normal is the hardest default setting.

The same thing goes with the workouts. What is extraordinary to you right now, maybe it's "Man, I can't finish this workout" - but what you're doing is over time you're forcing yourself to finish it. 

Maybe it takes you longer than normal.

Maybe you set some extra time aside.

Maybe you got to move those weights a little bit.

But you're pushing yourself to finish the workout, even if you have to pause. I can only do eight but the workout calls for 10. I'm going to rack it. I'm going to breathe. I'm going to push myself through the 10.

What I'm doing is little by little, I'm changing what I consider normal, what I consider ordinary, and what I considered extraordinary. I'm changing that extraordinary to the ordinary.

Every week now, every day, I'm pushing that new limit. But that requires discipline. Whether it's getting up in the morning earlier than you normally do, and changing that extraordinary to ordinary, whether it's staying late to work, whether it's finishing a workout all the way through, whether it's finishing in less time than you expected, everything now is moving that needle from ordinary to extraordinary and then leaving it there because that's your new ordinary.

So everything goes that way. Discipline is a key part. Again, it goes for waking up. It goes for disciplining your time. It goes for disciplining your work habits, and it goes for disciplining your training habits. Everything goes towards that hardest new level. And don't allow yourself to sneak back to what used to be ordinary.

Now another lesson we learned a lot out of this is sometimes folks don't understand where do I draw that line? Well, the line depends on where you are. So what's extraordinary for me may not be extraordinary for you. Some of you guys are amazing athletes. You do hard things all the time. So what may be extraordinary for me right now is not for you. You are pushing yourself against yourself, not against those around you, and against your goals.

If you've read our articles, you know we talk about choosing your why. You need to define your why. But once you have that, now you're evaluating everything against that why.

When I first went to Purdue, long time ago, I walked on to the Purdue's football team. I thought I could be a football player. I was about 145 or 160 pounds, and I thought I could do this. And so I trained all through the winter, and I thought this is something I could do. Pretty soon I got to see the real football players and I realized something...That's not a realistic goal...Probably never should have been a goal. Not really wise. These guys will break me in half. Chances are I won't be a great football player.

But I learned something else though in all of that. That whole Airborne Ranger thing? I didn't think that was really realistic either based on my initial entry into the program. And those of you who've read our blogs and seen the articles, that wasn't really ordinary for me either. But I realized that goal was something I could do. I'm not physically inhibited from that. That's going to require some work. It's going to require a lot of discipline. It's going to require me to do some things that for other people are not ordinary. I'm going to have to train harder than most people do. I'm going to spend most of my Friday nights, not partying, but out running with a rucksack and training. And I'm going to have to learn to go with less sleep and work harder than everybody else.

So my ordinary became what to other people would probably be considered extraordinary. But that was me breaking through barriers one step, one month, one quarter, one year at a time, until such time that I got to the point where I got to go in 1990 and got to finish the course. So ordinary becomes extraordinary, and that goes to every aspect of your life.

The other thing is, too, you've got to design those goals such that they're stretching you, but they're not impossible to reach. You may have a why that's way out there. You've got a drive for that why. But your goals along the way have to be constantly pushing you closer and closer to it. And once you get up there, you don't stop. Even training in the military.

Again, read our blogs. You saw the story about how I ran with Mike up Cardiac Hill and how we pushed each other up. The secret to that though, even though I'm older than him, had run further than him, is not that I'm a greater athlete. The difference was I knew my max heart rate.

How many of you all know your max heart rate? You should know it. How many times a week do you test it? Get up there and push it. You can do that two or three times a week. There's no limit. If you're out there running, you do a good steady state run. You want to finish it off with a burner at the end? Go ahead and do so. Just get yourself in the habit of you know what..."Ordinary for me is I'm finishing my runs at whatever my max heart rate is. That's ordinary for me. Some days I won't do that. That's subordinary. But ordinary for me as I'm running at this intensity all the time. And that becomes my new ordinary."

So when we started doing that Cardiac Hill with guys that are younger than me, for them, reach a max heart rate, that's an extraordinary event. For me, that's an every other day event. So it's a little different as we face the same challenges together. At least I have faced this before. I am very comfortable being at this place. This is ordinary for me. Not so much for them. So that is one of the things, those are some of the things you can do.

So an increase in mental toughness. Work on that discipline. Work on moving that needle for what's ordinary to the extraordinary. And keep pushing that needle to the next level, the next level. Never settle with where you're at.

And one more thing. Every one of us faces challenges every week, every month. Some are harder than others, some are life-altering, some are not. But one of the things to keep in mind about mentally tough people is that challenges become opportunities, and how you look at them is to, it will determine how you get through them. If it is a challenge, then you will suffer through, and you will find that your mental capacity may not give you the strength you need to get through. Mentally tough people understand every challenge is an opportunity. Is it pleasant? No. But it's there. I've got to face it. It's that dragon we talked about at the starting line, but it is an opportunity to blow through that dragon.

Every surgery, every life-changing event. You can either face it as saying, wow, this is going to be really hard. Or you can just say, yep, this is going to be tough, but I'm kind of looking forward to seeing how I'm going to work my way around it.

If it's a surgery, and I got to come back off the surgery, what am I going to do to get back to where I was before, inside my new normal?

Those challenges, when your challenges become opportunities, you're starting to turn the corner from ordinary to extraordinary. It's an extraordinary event. It's another opportunity to overcome something.

I have gone through periods where every year I had a new surgery or every year a new life-altering event. And every one of those things was a challenge. And every one of those things to me, I enjoyed it. It was an opportunity, and it made me a little bit better at the next one.

So keep that in mind, MTNTOUGH'ers - Change the ordinary to extraordinary. Make that your new ordinary.

Learn to face every one of these disciplines to opportunities. Push them through. 

Take yourself and keep moving the bar up. And then don't forget, every challenge is an opportunity. If you face it that way, you'll be amazed at what you'll get accomplished.