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  • Writer's pictureBen Carnes

3 Effective Ways to Practice Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is a phrase that is used by coaches, parents, and athletes all around the world. It has become somewhat of a buzzword in the world of sports and performance psychology and is arguably one of the more important traits to achieving a high level of success. So what exactly is it? The definition of mental toughness varies depending on who you ask and can even sometimes look different from one arena to another, but there are certainly some common themes we can examine.

What is mental toughness?

Mental toughness is the ability to persevere through difficult circumstances and maintain a positive outlook. It's the ability to push through the pain and keep going when things get tough. For the average person, this could include difficult situations that occur in everyday life. For an athlete, this means being mentally tough enough to push hard and further than other athletes. This can potentially make all the difference in whether they will quit when things get difficult or overcome the challenge and achieve success on the other side.

Another word that is often used when you are talking about how to develop mental toughness is resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. We know from performance research and neuropsychology that developing mental toughness is a skill rather than something that some people are born with. So even if you would not describe yourself as "mentally tough," there are ways that you can improve in this area. So, how do you develop mental toughness and become more resilient? Here are three effective ways you can put to work!

1. Skill acquisition

When an athlete does not have the skills necessary to compete and directly impact the outcome of an event, this can eventually lead to feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, and low self-confidence. As a result, it becomes more difficult to maintain a positive outlook in the face of difficulties and setbacks. After all, hopelessness goes hand-in-hand with wanting to give up when things get tough and can often lead to negative thoughts like, "what's the point?" This is why skill acquisition is one of the first elements needed if you want to develop mental toughness. Here are some advantages that skill acquisition brings along with it: (Whitley, 2018)

  • Sense of competency: Feeling like you can do something provides a sense of satisfaction and purpose.

  • A sense of control: When we feel like we can impact the outcome of a situation, there is often more intrinsic motivation to keep working toward a specific positive outcome.

  • Sense of mastery: The more we practice, the better we become at something, the more of a sense of mastery we have over it. This allows us to feel confident even when things are difficult and also allows us to deploy these skills in the face of future challenges.

  • Increased self-esteem: As we become more competent in a particular area, our self-esteem improves. Each positive action we take tells our brain that we have what it takes to achieve success and overcome stress.

  • Increase problem-solving ability: As we become more skilled, we learn new techniques to overcome problems and even address things before they become a problem. We learn how to troubleshoot issues with our own instincts and develop creative problem-solving skills that can be learned and improved like anything else in life.

The first step is to assess what skills are necessary for success in your chosen arena. Once you have identified the skills that are needed, you can then begin working on acquiring them through practice and repetition. The more skilled you become, the more confidence you will have in your ability to compete and succeed. If you aren't sure where to start, find a coach, mentor, friend, or trusted family member who can help you deal with your own particular situation. Athletic coaches are often a good example of this, but there are plenty of others you can talk to and make sense of your own situation.

2. Improve your mental stamina

Mental stamina is maintaining focus, concentration, and motivation over an extended period. It is the ability to sustain peak performance for extended periods without burning out. This is a critical element for any athlete who wants to develop mental toughness. Developing mental stamina can be achieved in multiple ways: (Murphy & Jackson, 2016)

  1. Set realistic goals: Not only will this help to prevent burnout, but it will also help you to feel motivated as you see yourself making progress towards your goals. Use positive self-talk, daily habits, and accomplishing goals to build your mental muscles alongside physical muscles.

  2. Create a plan: Having a plan gives you a roadmap to follow and helps to keep you on track. This is especially important when training gets tough and you feel like giving up. This also frees up your working memory to focus on the present rather than having to keep track of a to-do list.

  3. Visualize success: Use positive visualization and imagery to see yourself achieving your goals. This will help keep you motivated and focused when things get tough. If you can also set aside time to practice gratitude during these times, you will be amazed at the positive impact it can have in your life.

  4. Find a role model or coach: Having someone to look up to who has already achieved what you are striving for can be a great source of motivation. They can also offer you an outside perspective that you can trust.

  5. Get adequate sleep & manage stress levels: Both of these play a big role in how well you can focus and perform. Getting enough sleep and managing your stress levels will not only give you mental energy to overcome negative thoughts or break bad habits, but it will also improve your physical health and help your body recover!

  6. Eat healthy foods & exercise regularly: Just like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly are important for your physical and mental health. Eating healthy provides your brain with the nutrients it needs to function at its best, and exercise releases endorphins with mood-boosting benefits. It is much more difficult to be mentally fit if you are not physically fit.

  7. Focus on the process, not the outcome: The outcome of your performance is not always under your control. Focusing on things that you can control, like you attitude, effort, what is important right now, and things you have control over. Check out our Coaching Minds Podcast-Episode #74 to learn more about "the process."

3. Do. Hard. Things.

One of the hallmarks of mentally tough people is that they can overcome uncomfortable emotions, allow themselves to feel uncomfortable, and not quit during challenging times, all while working toward their personal development and building more mental strength. But this isn't something they were born with, it is something they have built up over time, overcoming one challenge at a time.

Start with small things, something that doesn't take all that much physical or mental energy that you have full responsibility for completing and is not dependent on any other person. Maybe something related to mental fitness, physical strength, impulse control, avoiding junk food or any challenges that make you uncomfortable. Start with smaller things and let your brain experience some success. Then the next week, find something else that is even a little bit more challenging and do that for a week. As you keep working these mental muscles you will start to build resilience and the bigger picture will start to come into focus...YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS!


In conclusion, mental toughness is not something that you are born with, it is something that you develop over time through practice and repetition. Mentally tough people have simply developed the skills that it takes to do difficult things and along with that comes the intrinsic motivation to keep going further and trying to achieve even more.

  1. Develop your skills

  2. Improve mental stamina


By using these three effective ways to improve your mental strength, you will be well on your way to developing mental toughness and allow yourself to overcome any challenges that come your way!

If you want help improving your mental toughness don't hesitate to schedule a free consultation with Ben today: LINK

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