Lift weights to gain strength. Take a math course to learn geometry. Take lessons to learn guitar. What do you take to build mental toughness?
Just like learning the guitar or improving in the bench press, mental toughness is a skill, which means you need to practice building it in order to master it.
By no stretch of the imagination have I had the toughest life/military career, but I won’t diminish the fact there have been some tough moments in my life where mental toughness was required to push through.
I have been through many tough times in my time leading up and into the military; growing up in tough neighborhoods, being broke and unable to pay my rent, leaving my family for boot camp, even boot camp itself - but I still wouldn’t classify any of these as the toughest.
Saying goodbye to my new wife and two-month old daughter as I left for Iraq was tough. Had it not been for perspective
and drive, I don’t know how would have handled it.
Perspective part 1: Look at the big picture. In any situation that proves difficult, step away mentally and attempt to grasp the end goal. This situation doesn’t have to be as dramatic as leaving your first-born child. It can be being told to clean the head (the restroom).
Sounds like a menial task, right? And why do you have to do it? Plus, the head was just cleaned yesterday, and it still looks good!
Let’s skip over the obvious “big picture” reasons why, like it instills discipline, promotes obedience to orders, hygiene, etc.
Here’s a more specific reason - in the air wing, the smallest unaccounted washer (as in the small flat ring that’s installed under a nut or head of a bolt) can cause a multi-million dollar aircraft to come spiraling down straight to earth and kill any pilots on board.
In this case, it teaches attention to detail and cleanliness. Cleaning that head promotes attention to detail and cleanliness on the aircraft so that you might not be the cause of a tragedy.
So swab the deck, and get over it.
I never wanted to leave my new family behind to work halfway around the world for 6-7 months. But it was my duty and what I signed up for. While I vowed to protect my family, I also took an oath to defend this country, and that’s what I did.
Perspective part 2: Think of the worst scenario. Probably one of the toughest training drills in boot camp for me was the gas chamber. I’m not going to lie, I was dreading it. So here’s how I pushed through it.
I thought of the worst case scenario and expected it. I thought as soon as I went in there, I would start gasping for air. And the Drill Instructors will start making me sprint and do burpees and mountain climbers. I even went as far as picturing blood being coughed out and spilling from my nose!
I fully expected this as I entered the gas chamber. And guess what? It wasn’t all that bad. It sucked, but at least I wasn’t spewing blood all over my equipment while gasping for fresh air in the middle of burpees!
Drive: this is the fuel. It’s not enough to have motivation; this is only short-lived. You have to be driven. For what? Think of the big picture and find your goal.
Do you want to get promoted? Do you want to look a certain way? Do you want to support your family? Do you want your son/daughter to have better opportunities than you did?
Now, do you really want to leave these up to motivation?
I hope not. You must be driven. And you must practice this in whatever venture you take on.
Set up realistic and smart goals and finish them. Make a 6 week fitness plan, sign up for a course, or set up a financial goal and finish it - no matter what.
Mental toughness is skill you must practice. And it starts with even the most menial tasks.