Mental toughness is a psychological quality that allows peak performance in any endeavor. Since the brain acts as a central processing unit for the muscles and nerves, mental toughness is particularly relevant if you seek to maximize performance in sports. Sports psychology has developed into a profession and focuses on the development of mental toughness for athletic purposes.
Mental toughness is the psychological edge that allows you to perform at the peak of your ability in a challenging endeavor. It consists of six attributes: self-confidence, motivation, focus, poise under pressure, courage and resiliency. These attributes can be developed through the use of goal-setting, imagery and focus training.
In order to motivate yourself, you must set clear goals. These goals must be realistic, because self-confidence in your ability to attain unrealistic goals in unjustified and ultimately discouraging. Your goals must also be challenging, because it is difficult to get motivated over a goal that is too easy to achieve. Finally, goals must be specific and measurable, so you will know when you have attained them and can regularly chart your progress.
Visualization is simply using your imagination to train. This will help build neural pathways that can produce measurable increases in your coordination. In some ways, it is superior to physical training–although it should be used to supplement rather than replace physical training–because you can train anywhere, any time without exhaustion.
Nevertheless, it may take time for you to develop the visual imagination necessary to vividly imagine knocking out an opposing boxer time and again. At advanced levels, you will be able to “rewind” and “fast forward” your visualization, and even put it into slow motion, so you can carefully analyze each move you must make. In addition, vividly imagining success in advance can improve your self-confidence.
Athletes and coaches talk about the mental game being as important as the physical game. The U.S. military tries to instill mental toughness in soldiers. Mental toughness allows you to persevere through adversity to achieve your goals, whether they be athletic, military or intellectual. You can cultivate mental toughness by following the practices of others.
Dr. Curt Ickes, a clinical psychologist and author of “Mental Toughness: Getting the Edge,” says athletes need to be relaxed a times when the instinct might be to be tense, such as when the batter steps up to hit against a pitcher. He teaches athletes to empty their minds and not think about anything but what he calls “the instant of performance.”
The Marine Corps has used mindfulness training to prepare soldiers for duty in Iraq. Mindfulness training teaches soldiers to be fully aware of their surroundings without reacting to them emotionally. Reacting to stressful situations can cause cognitive impairment that can inhibit decision-making and delay reaction time.
Visualization involves picturing yourself accomplishing your goal, whether it’s hitting a home run or completing a term paper. Imagine how achieving your goal will feel and take yourself mentally through the steps needed to achieve your goal. Positive affirmations can be another part of the process.
Trusting in your own abilities–having confidence that you will meet your goal–can carry you over many obstacles and keep you mentally tough. When John Wayne Creasy of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University surveyed 10 National Collegiate Athletic Association coaches, they ranked confidence in one’s own ability as the No. 1 attribute necessary for mental toughness. Preparation builds confidence, asserts David Yukelson, coordinator of Sport Psychology Services at the Morgan Academic Support Center at Penn State University. Dwelling on past successes instead of failures can also build confidence.