Optimize Your Life

Episode #44: Mental Toughness

Show Notes:

Welcome back to another edition of Optimize Your Life and today we’re going to talk about mental toughness. Now this is a topic that’s become really popular in recent days, recent times and for good reason. And it’s because so many people are looking for ways to be resilient in the face of stress. And if you are somebody who wants to really optimize your life, mental toughness comes in super handy. It is something that allows you to reach really great heights and really meet your potential. I’m going to share with you a few different things in this episode that can help you increase your own mental toughness but also have some insight into the subject. 

One of the things that I’ve recently done is I watched the Netflix show Untold about Mardy Fish and if you’re not familiar with Mardy Fish, he was a tennis pro and what was so fascinating about this show was that it really talks about his mental toughness and it shows how hard he really worked and the heights that he reached with the accomplishments that he made based on his mentality and based on his brain in the way that he kind of trained himself. So of course there’s a lot of physical preparation and training that happens, but so much of it is mindset and I’m sure you’ll be able to identify with that as we go through this. 

So just a little bit of background about Mardy Fish: He is somebody who’s won 16 tournaments on the main ATP Tour. He also reached the final of 4 Masters Series events. He got the silver in the 2004 Olympics and a lot of other things. So he was a guy who really was able to go from a mediocre player to somebody who was top-notch and it really shines a light on his dedication and what he learned along the way about what it takes to be mentally fit or mentally tough. 

Another thing that I also did recently was read a book called Relentless and what I did was I took some of the things that the author mentioned in the book and I thought I’d share them with you. These are quotes that I took out of the book that I think really speak to this idea of mental toughness so we can really talk about these things from this perspective. This author not only wrote this book because, you know, he knows about the topic, but he really is an expert in this because he trains the likes of Michael Jordan and all of these top notch athletes. If it works for them I figured I can work for the rest of us so let’s dive in. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can think about things that you are perhaps working on or maybe things that you’re staying away from because there’s some fear involved. And I think maybe a little bit more mental toughness can help you a great deal. And the reason that this is so important is because mental toughness is really about perception. It’s all about how you manage your thought processes and so let’s start with that and then go through some of these quotes and then I’ve got some tips that you can take away so you can really start to implement this right away in your life. All right, here we go. 

So the first quote from the book says this:

For all the time we spend working on our careers and talents – going to school, building a business, making money, training the body — it’s ultimately your mental focus and concentration, your ability to control your environment and the heartbeats of others, that determines whether you succeed or fail.” 

Now one thing is so fascinating about this quote is he basically breaks it down into two things: one is your internal world and the other is your external world. This is really interesting. He talks about this in the book — one thing that kind of pops into my mind as I’m reading this quote is something that Michael Jordan used to do. 

So first of course, you want to train really hard and when you’re pushing your body physically you’re also pushing yourself mentally. You’re kind of saying to yourself, “Okay, maybe I’ve never done this before but I’m going to go and I’m going to do it anyway” and then that just stretches you to think bigger because then you’re like, “Okay, I was able to accomplish this thing that I never thought I would. Now I know it’s possible. What’s next?” 

So that’s mentally, internally kind of going through this process. But there’s a whole other piece here. He talked about the environment. One thing that Michael Jordan used to do is right before every game, he would go into the opposite team’s locker room to supposedly say hello and kind of high-5 people before the game. But what he was really doing was messing with their mind because before they were kind of strategizing about what they were going to do during the game so that they can beat the Chicago Bulls but after he left their locker room, all they were talking about was Michael Jordan, what is he going to do, what kind of car does he drive, how amazing he is. And so their performance actually went down because now they weren’t focused. So a lot of this is really managing your own mind so that you are hyper-focused, that you are laser focused, and then you know somehow manipulating your environment so that you have an advantage.  I encourage you to think about what that might look like for you. What kinds of things do you need to do in order to optimize your environment so that you are set up for success?

Okay. The next quote that he has says as follows:

Most people are the lion in the cage. Safe, tame, predictable, waiting for something to happen. But for humans, the cage isn’t made of glass and steel bars; it’s made of bad advice and low self-esteem and bullshit rules and tortured thinking about what you can’t do or what you’re supposed to do. It’s molded around you by a lifetime of overthinking and overanalyzing and worrying about what could go wrong. Stay in the cage long enough, you forget those basic instincts.”

One of the things he talks about in the book is the importance of training so hard and so much that it becomes second nature, that instead of having to think about what you need to do, that you are basically relying on instinct to lead the way. And that only happens when you’ve done something a million times, right? 

Think about when you drive your car how instinctual it is now that you’ve driven a million times, right? You don’t have to think about all the nuances of driving but I guarantee you when you first started driving it was kind of Overwhelm City because you have to think about looking in the mirrors, turning the steering wheel, shifting gears if you were not driving an automatic. There were so many things that you had to consider: turning lanes, other cars. There was just so much going on that it can feel like a lot. It’s overstimulation. But at this point in the game, it’s so easy, right? Now imagine if that is something that you’re trying to do, whether it’s physically to get your body to achieve something great or whether it’s something in your business or in your career. Think about what it is that you really want to achieve and how to get there. And the more you practice it, the easier is going to come to you. 

So if you’re going to go give a TED Talk for instance, you have to know what you’re going to say and then you have to practice it so much that when you get up there on that stage, it just rolls off your tongue, that you don’t have to overthink, you don’t have to get nervous. You’ve done this so many times you can do it in your sleep. That’s what we’re talking about here. 

The next thing he talks about is a stress-related quote and he says:

Stress keeps you sharp, it challenges you in ways you never imagined and forces you to solve issues and manage situations that send weaker people running for cover. You can’t succeed without it. Your level of success is defined by how well you embrace it and manage it.” 

So as you probably know by now I am a burnout coach and people become burned out because of chronic stress but what differentiates the people who are burning out from those who aren’t is all about your mental toughness and how well you are managing stress. And that’s true and you know it’s true because if you look at your environment, your circumstances and you can see that one person’s burning out in that environment and another one isn’t, the differentiator is not your circumstances, it’s what you do to manage your stress. So that’s why managing your stress is so important and that’s what he’s saying here that stress is not the enemy. It is actually something that keeps you sharp. 

So think about your situation and something that really stresses you out. And it’s all about your perception of that situation that either causes you to feel stressed out and then you cave in or you break down or if you have that mental toughness, what are you doing with that stress that actually leads you to optimize and to have higher performance? If you look at these athletes not everybody who is into sports gets to be a top-notch athlete. So some of it sure can be your natural abilities, but so much of it is really your training and a lot of that training comes down to mental toughness because it is hard work. And a lot of people are going to cave. They are going to crumble because it’s a lot. You’re asking a lot of your body and your mind and the way to really get to the top level, that top-notch is by allowing stress to sharpen you rather than dull you.

He goes on to saying:

Of course, you have to be able to recognize the difference between stress that can bring great results, and stress you create yourself that just causes chaos. Showing up unprepared, not putting in the work, blowing off commitments and obligations…that’s the stuff that creates pointless stress.”

One of the things that I would have you consider is — is your stress pointless or not? Is it working for you or against you? And if you have pointless stress, is it something that you can do something about? Absolutely. As he mentions, if you want to turn your stress around you have to show up prepared which means doing the work ahead of time. So if you have a presentation at your job, you have to prepare for that presentation so you can come in feeling confident that you know what you’re going to do, say, and that way you don’t have to worry about not getting it right. If you come unprepared, what’s going to happen is you’re not going to feel confident, you’re going to probably mess up, you’re going to have a lot of anxiety, your heart’s going to be beating a million miles an hour. You need to be thinking about what can you do to help yourself decrease stress and have it work for you. 

All right, let’s look at the next one:

You can’t control or anticipate every obstacle that might block your path. You can only control your response, and your ability to navigate the unpredictable. Whatever happens, you have the smarts and skills to figure it out and arrive at the outcome you wanted in the first place. 

I love this quote because I’m always a proponent of telling my clients that the best thing that they can work on is there ability to trust themselves. I work with a lot of people who are overthinkers. They’re overanalyzing every situation. They’re always thinking about the worst case scenario and they’re catastrophizing, and they’re full of anxiety and worry. And hey you can try and plan for those kinds of things and if it helps you feel more confident, cool. But think about how many times you have planned for these catastrophes and they actually never happen the way that you thought but other things do happen that you didn’t think would happen. So you really can’t plan for everything. Instead of constantly trying to worry and plan and control, think about how you can just get yourself to the point where you are ready for anything, that you trust yourself to be able to manage anything that comes across your lap. That way you can show up confidently and not have to worry as much. And when you stop worrying, guess what? You burn yourself out so much less because you’re not spending all that time and energy and mental focus focusing on things that are negative that may or may not happen.

Let’s keep going:

The most successful people are those with the instincts to respond quickly to anything, without having to go back to the drawing board, watch more film, schedule a meeting, schedule a meeting to discuss what will be discussed at the meeting, or do any of the other countless things people do to put off making a decision.”

And I really love this because it really speaks to the people that are those overanalyzers, right? How many times in Corporate America are we having meetings that are completely unnecessary so that we can talk about things and make plans for things and then we have another meeting and another meeting? My husband was recently interviewed for a job and I won’t say which company but this was a crazy process where they were having literally like five, six, seven interviews each time meeting with somebody else and it’s just like such a waste, in my opinion, of your workforce’s time and energy to have that many meetings. Just figure out how to make it more efficient rather than scheduling so many different meetings to discuss and discuss again and then have another person talk to you. It just seems very inefficient. 

I have this sometimes happen with potential coaching clients. They sign up for a breakthrough session. They clearly self-identify as somebody who’s burned out, who needs coaching, who needs something to help them get unstuck. They share all their pain points and where they’re at and where they want to be and that the end of it when I tell them about what coaching could do for them and if they want to work with me, then they end up saying (not everybody of course, but the people who are those overanalyzers  that need to control everything, that need to plan and think about everything a million times) is that they need to think about it or that they’re not sure. They have all these ideas. These are all their obstacles, their objections, and I just say think about how that’s holding you back in life in general, not just with coaching but with everything. If you can’t make a decision quickly, if you don’t know yourself, if you don’t trust yourself, if you can’t listen to your instincts and your guts then you’re going to really hold yourself back. And I think about those people who didn’t sign up with me for coaching and if they’re not going to do anything because they’re so indecisive, where they have lost opportunity because now if they had signed up within a period of 12 weeks at the end of the program that we have, they’re completely transformed and they’re living this most amazing life. So many of my clients have gone through that process and it’s such an amazing thing to walk them through that and to see them transform. And then I think about the people who didn’t take that challenge who weren’t ready to go in on themselves and really invest. Those people could have had that story but instead they’re just stuck in their burnout. And I just think that is a real tragedy. 

I’m going to share one final quote with you from the book and it says, very simply:

You can’t make things better until you stop making things worse.

How poignant is that quote? “You can’t make things better until you stop making things worse.” So think about what’s going on in your life right now and how much of that chaos, that stress, that anxiety is coming from you making it worse? What are you doing to contribute to the problem? And if you can figure that out, you can also figure out how to unravel yourself from that situation so that you can optimize the way that you do things in life and in work.

Now I want to leave you with some really clear calls to action so that you can really take this concept of mental toughness and start running with it. 

  1. The first thing, again to reiterate, is that you have to manage your thinking because so much of your perception is what is leading to that indecisiveness or for you to be a more efficient person in your work and somebody who can make decisions more quickly. 
  2. A great tool to really become more mentally tough and fit it is a practice visualization. So visualize what it is that you want. Visualize yourself actually doing it, accomplishing it, running through that finish line. And when you can see yourself doing that in your brain you are actually programming yourself to be able to achieve those things.
  3. You want to take really good care of your body because if you are doing something that requires a lot of effort, you got to make sure that you are de-stressing, that you are getting enough sleep, that you are eating well. You are feeding your instrument. You are taking care of your instrument so that it can perform for you. I can’t stress that enough. 
  4. You want to monitor your language. This is so important because this is really a reflection of our thought processes, your beliefs. The way that you talk is indicative of how much confidence you have and how much you believe in yourself. So are you using words like ”I’ll try” which means that you’re not a hundred percent committed? You’re not saying, “I’m going to accomplish this.”  You’re going to say, “I’ll try to do it,” which means that you don’t lack that confidence in yourself. So try it out where instead of saying “I’ll try” you say, “I am going to accomplish this” and then you can of course use visualization to help you really program your mind to be able to do it. 
  5. You want to take risks. You want to be able to push yourself out of that comfort zone, to push your physical limits. Remember, when you push yourself physically you train not only your body, but your mind. They work in tandem. Your mind and your body are the absolute Dream Team. use them well so you can optimize your life. 

After hearing all this, if you’d like to speak with me personally, book a complimentary Breakthrough Session where we can explore what’s holding you back and how to help you have more mental toughness so you can attain your goals without the burn out. Go to bookachatwithsharon.com. The link is also in the show notes and I’ll talk to you soon. 


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