Mental Toughness  

by Kevin Stacey

© 2002  TrainRight, Inc.

It’s the mentally tough who realize that every individual is the master of his or her own mind, not the other way around. The mentally weak are thrown around by every whim of their mind. Just because a thought arises, they assume it must be valid and worthy of dwelling on or obsessing over. This regurgitation of the same counter-productive thoughts causes needless pain, anxiety and depression. The mentally tough do not allow their own thoughts to be the cause of harm to themselves and others.

Increasing our mental toughness is critical, because our success and contentment in life is determined by our mental activity. The mentally tough accept and embrace the following beliefs:

  • Thinking is the grand originator of our experience; we can’t feel anything unless we think it first.
  • We become what we think about most of the time.
  • We are always the thinker, producer and creator of our own thoughts.

It easy to see how important the application of mental toughness is in the sports world. If I’m a baseball player and I struck out the last time I was at the plate, I’d better not be thinking or dwelling on that as I step into the batter’s box the next time. If I do, I’m in trouble. In any case, it’s just not going to help me.

In our own lives, there are an unlimited number of things that we can dwell on at any given moment that simply don’t help us. Negative things. Insecure and fear-based things. Thoughts that don’t get us anywhere and don’t accomplish anything except to make us feel worse and sap the joy out of living.

What are some other characteristics of the mentally tough? For starters, they practice thought recognition and resistance on a daily basis. Recognition means awareness of what you’re thinking about before your thoughts have a chance to build momentum. Resistance means putting the breaks on a runaway thought and slowing it down, just as you would if you had to stop a runaway train.

When I recognize a runaway thought, I practice resistance by saying, "CANCEL!" Sometimes I shout it (to myself silently- it would be a bit embarrassing if anyone heard me saying it under my breath). I say CANCEL to myself many times a day. I simply refuse to start going down a road that is going to lead me into the dumps. Why should I? At times I may also say something like this in addition to CANCEL "There is nothing I can do about the situation right now, and thinking this way and getting myself all upset is not helping things- the situation or me." At times, when I’m lying in bed just before I fall asleep, troubling thoughts will pop into my head. If I follow these thoughts and give them my attention and energy, I might as well forget about sleeping. Instead, I practice thought recognition and resistance, and I mentally lead myself to a good night’s sleep.

You can find multiple examples of mental toughness in both fact and fiction. General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the D-day invasion, was once asked what would have happened if the invading troops were beaten back at the beaches. He replied, "That would have been bad, but I never allow my mind to think that way." That’s mental toughness. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara said, "I’m not going to think about that now. I’ll think about that tomorrow." That’s also mental toughness. These people realize that thinking is an opportunity to shape reality from the inside out, and they are discerning about which trains of thought to follow.

I’m not suggesting that recognition and resistance is denial. If a certain thought is consistently arising and you can’t seem to let it go, it may be worthy of further analysis and a decisive resolution. One of the best ways to figure out if you should pursue your thoughts is to write them out and get them organized and clarified. For more information on how to do this, see this link for my previous newsletter on "Melting Mental Snowballs": What I’m suggesting is a very high percentage of our thoughts are just garbage and they ought to be dismissed quickly and not given any of your continued attention and limited energy.

In addition, I’m not suggesting that people who have a diagnosed chemical imbalance in their brain are mentally weak. Some folks need some extra help in the form of medication to resist their thoughts. However, just about all of us can benefit from becoming mentally tougher. Nowadays, most physicians, in addition to prescribing medication, are using similar cognitive therapy techniques to teach their patients how to help themselves long-term by resisting their negative thoughts.

Practice recognition and resistance and see for yourself how it affects your attitude and general health!

About the Author

Kevin Stacey helps companies and professionals achieve maximum productivity and effectiveness through stress management and time management training.  He is available to speak on these topics.  For more information visit or call 1-800-603-7168.

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