What is mental toughness and how do we train it…?
Mental toughness means no matter what happens you can’t be thrown off your game. Whether you’re trying to be a better athlete, a better business person, a better parent, whatever it is – developing mental toughness will help you to be better.
Your ability to tolerate pain does not equal mental toughness…
There’s a difference between being able to tolerate, push through or withstand physical pain – this is not mental toughness. You can tolerate pain but still complain about it – this is not mental toughness. Mental toughness is holding it together when others fall apart, staying positive in your mind and your attitude when faced with adversity and hardships. Mental toughness is how you conduct yourself under pressure.
As Ben Bergeron says – to get better at anything you have to be committed to the process, not the outcome (1). You need to be tough enough to not be distracted by external influences. Rather than focusing on the result of the effort it takes to get there – you need to focus on the effort it takes to get there. As Orebela Gbeng says: “Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do,”.
Training mental toughness in the gym will translate into other areas of your life the same way becoming more physically fit will serve to improve all other areas of your life. Whether it’s that you decide to compete at CrossFit, or the pressure is on you at work or in your personal life, training mental toughness in the box will serve to make you better. As athletes, one of the most important muscles to develop is the one that sits right between our ears. Our brains require training just as much as our bodies require accessory or skill work to help us propel to the next level.
Generally in life we all approach problem solving the same way – when we encounter a problem, we identify it, solve it and eliminate it. With CrossFit the “problem” we are usually talking about is how hard a workout is – but the “hard” is why we do CrossFit – it’s rewarding because it’s hard, because we push through and overcome. The hard isn’t going away… and we don’t want it to.
CrossFit workouts are tough and often really gruelling. Sometimes we walk into the gym and get dejected when we see the WOD has a bunch of movements that aren’t in our favour. These are exactly the types of workouts that we should be doing to get better both physically and mentally. By having a positive attitude you can change your perception of the workout and your overall performance.
There is a modern psychological approach to this called acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT (2) where the goal isn’t to get rid of what is making you uncomfortable but to increase your ability to tolerate it. Through a process called “cognitive diffusion” people learn to separate themselves from negative thoughts or feelings and look at them from a different perspective – that perspective being that we have negative thoughts or emotions but, our thoughts or emotions aren’t who we are. This gives you more flexibility to choose your thoughts and emotions in stressful situations.
So… how do we train mental toughness?
- Stop complaining about what is out of your control. If it’s cold, complaining about it being cold isn’t going to make it any warmer, all it’s going to do is make you focus on being cold and probably remind people around you how being cold is making them unhappy too. Instead focus on what you can control, sure it’s cold, put on something warmer, get moving and warm up – think about how the workout will be easier once you get going because you wont get too hot.
If thrusters make you uncomfortable down in your soul when you see them on the board, shift your mindset about them – you don’t have to do thrusters – you get to do thrusters, you are physically able to do them – there are people in this world that would give anything just to walk, but you get to hit the gym, bang out some thrusters and become fitter and healthier because of it.
- Stop complaining about what is within your control and make the change. Actually… stop complaining in general – you not only bring yourself down but you bring the people around you down too. There’s nothing worse than walking into the gym pumped for training only to walk into a wall of negativity, even if you’re joking, negativity breeds negativity.
Instead of “I can’t do…” break it down: What can’t your do? Why can’t you do it? What do you need to do step by step to be able to do that thing? Talk to a coach. Focus on what you can do to get to the point where you can do what you couldn’t before.
- Be consciously aware of how you react. When the rope whips you in your double-unders instead of swearing and throwing the rope down, take a deep breathe compose yourself, pick it up and go again – I’d put money on the next set being better than if you’d thrown a temper tantrum. When the WOD is over instead of lying on the ground moaning, stand up, steady your breathing and calm your composure, appreciate what your body just did for you and that you are stronger and healthier for it – smile, high five the people that just went through that with you.
- Be mindful of how you talk to yourself and control your self-talk. Self-talk and anxiety go hand in hand, because it’s often what we say to ourselves during a workout that induces anxiety. Examine Your Focus – it’s as true in sport psychology as it is in life; you are what you focus on. To increase your performance during CrossFit workouts, take a moment to assess yourself. What do you think about before a workout? During? After?
Physical training is the key to becoming good at CrossFit, but training the mind and becoming more mentally tough will reap huge rewards! Mental toughness is a measure of one’s resilience in their efforts to achieve their goals.
Can’t wait to see you in the gym getting Better Everyday!
Lynette Theron Moss – Coach & Co-Owner – H1 CrossFit
- Chasing Excellent, Ben Bergeron & Patrick Cummings, (4 February 2020), Mental Toughness Isn’t What You Think , Available at: http://apple.co/2lCdeWb
- Hayes SC, Strosahl KD, and Wilson KG. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. New York: The Guilford Press, 1999.