Filed under: Mind tactics
The term “mental toughness” is often tossed about, but what is it really? And do you have it? Mental toughness is important to the success of Warfighters, athletes, business people, and others who have to overcome adversity to be successful.
Sport psychologists and others interested in optimal performance talk a lot about mental toughness, but it’s a bit complex, so it’s often misunderstood. Mental toughness is not just one trait; it’s a mixture of them.
Boiling it down, mental toughness is a strong belief in yourself and an unshakable faith that you control your own destiny. If you’re mentally tough, you can remain undaunted by adversity.
If you have these 4 Cs, you’re mentally tough:
1) Control: You feel in control of your emotions and influential with the people in your life.
2) Commitment: You embrace difficulty rather than running from it.
3) Challenge: You believe that life is full of opportunities, not threats.
4) Confidence: You know you have what it takes to be successful.
Mental toughness is a psychological edge that some are born with and others develop. It allows you to consistently cope with training and lifestyle demands better than those who don’t have it.
You can develop mental toughness through a long-term process of developing mental skills. Leaders can promote mental toughness by creating a learning environment centered on the mastery of those skills (listed above) and by being generally supportive, encouraging Warfighters to maintain positive relationships. Over the long haul, to maintain your mental toughness, you need to continue honing mental skills, and you need a self-driven, insatiable desire to succeed.
Bad things happen. Unfortunately, you can count on experiencing different traumas, deaths, illnesses, and injuries. As a Warfighter (or military family), you can probably expect to face these kinds of situations more often than other people. That doesn’t make these experiences any more pleasant, and often it doesn’t make them any less surprising. After a major trauma, illness, or life-changing event, it is often necessary to adapt and create a “new normal.”
Studies of “post-traumatic growth” have found that trauma survivors can grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after horrendous experiences such as cancer, terrorism, sexual assault, plane crashes, and even combat. It’s common to react with an emotional roller coaster of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Your natural instinct might be to run from these feelings. However, post-traumatic growth can be accomplished better by taking steps to approach them. The people who support you (including but not limited to therapists and family members) can do the following:
- Listen empathically, accepting and encouraging full expression of feelings.
- Avoid clichés and easy answers. Hearing “there will be brighter days” is not helpful.
- Be patient. Changing perspective won’t happen overnight.
- Offer a helpful relationship, recognizing there is no “magic technique” or “quick fix.”
You can also be an active agent in your own healing. One technique that can be useful to you is to tell and retell versions of your story in order to become more immune to the hard parts and to reach a point where you can find new meaning in it. People of any age, including Warfighters, can benefit from actively embracing a “new normal” through taking advantage of your relationships and developing a new twist on their story, even when this initially might seem far-fetched.
Whether training for a mission, an athletic event, or simply to maintain your edge, there are strategies you use to enhance your chance of success, including “rules” such as figuring out where you are before you start and setting up an environment that supports your new plan. Check out HPRC’s new card, “Peak Performance: Rules of Engagement,” to learn all of them. And for even more information, check out the accompanying Performance Strategies.
Hypnosis is a trance-like state produced from a heightened sense of focus and concentration. Like other mind-body strategies, hypnosis can sometimes provide temporary pain relief for many pain conditions. Learn more about what hypnosis is, the research on what pain conditions it can help, things to be aware of, and its relevance to the military in HPRC’s “Hypnosis for Pain.”
Some intense military training, such as in the Special Operations Forces, screens personnel by ultimately selecting those who can handle extreme adversity. In fact, how you view stress can have a big impact on whether the stress you experience is helpful or not. When you have a positive interpretation of your stress—that is, “eustress”—you may feel “amped up” enough to perform your best without experiencing any negative effects.
How do you experience stress in a positive manner? Try reframing it. Your situation doesn’t have to “suck”—it can just be a challenge that ultimately helps you grow more resilient. When you use this approach, it’s easier to take on whatever comes your way instead of engaging in unhelpful practices that may just increase your stress. Learn to find meaning in what’s difficult with your word choices. Here are some examples of statements you may find helpful:
- “Go beyond!”
- “I can!”
- “I am!”
- “Makes me stronger.”
- “For my buddies.”
- “For good.” (Or if you are spiritual, “For God.”)
- “Feel it!”
- “Dig deep.”
- “You got it!”
- “It’s all good.”
The list goes on. Figure out what words or phrases help you switch from seeing stress as a negative to feeling it’s just another challenge to tackle.
For more information on how to handle stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
Routines often help performance, and some of the world’s best athletes have scripted routines that begin with what time they wake up. This type of rigid approach can be useful when the environment is predictable. Top performers find that routines can help shift them from the stressful anticipation of how things are going to turn out to a focus on what’s most important in that moment; in other words, routines can provide an escape from anxiety. But overly rigid routines can morph a helpful tool into a superstitious or obsessive ritual. The best athletes regard flexibility and adaptation as crucial to their own, often finely honed, routines. With Warfighters, for whom crises are part of the job, the best teams are able to go “off-script” when needed in order to work together most effectively.
For more information on mental aspects of performance check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
Misinformation abounds regarding ideal nap lengths for optimal cognitive performance. You need sleep to function at your best. If you do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night, then napping can help. Learn more in HPRC’s Answer, “Nap to be at Your Best Mentally.”
Happy Thanksgiving! In HPRC’s series on “Keeping the Happy in the Holidays,” this week we focus on being a gratitude-seeker. Gratitude is a state of mind that that can be hard to foster in our busy lives, particularly during the holidays. This holiday season set some time aside for gratitude.
The Defense Centers of Excellence suggests some tips for cultivating this skill, including:
• Spend two minutes a day thinking about what you are grateful for,
• Write five things daily in a gratitude journal
• Look for things to be grateful for in your everyday life.
For more ideas on fostering happiness, check out HPRC’s section on Mental Resilience.
HPRC’s series on staying happy over the holidays started last week (read the first BLUF here). This week, try experimenting with your expectations in order to sail through the holidays with a smile.
If you have visions of the holidays being a certain way—with lots of fun, togetherness, love, joy, and no discord—you may feel disappointed when the reality turns out to be something else. It’s natural to feel this way, but take stock of how your expectations perhaps contributed to your disappointment. Try experimenting with different ways of looking at things. For example, think about what’s behind your holiday expectations. Is it really a happier holiday when you spend more money? Can the entire holidays be filled with fun? Can you get along with everyone all the time? Are your expectations realistic?
Afterdeployment.org describes how to foster realistic thinking and have a clearer lens to the world by focusing on what is probable instead of wasting time thinking about things that are unlikely. In other words, focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. This can be particularly helpful for your relationships.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but for many the expectations around the season leave them feeling depressed, lacking in motivation, feeling family friction more acutely, and on top of all of that, vulnerable to overeating. Now’s the time to shift your thinking to stay happy this holiday season. Check back every week as we present tips on how you can do this for yourself.
Tip #1: Shift your thinking to decrease stress
Realistically, it’s unlikely you can make holiday stress just go away, but you can change your response to that stress. Noticing your thoughts and emotional reactions can empower you to experience different, less-charged reactions, resulting in more positive thoughts and actions. Learn about the common thinking traps that you can get stuck in and how to reframe them. Noticing and then shifting your thinking can have a big impact on what you feel—try it out and see for yourself.
For more ideas, check out HPRC’s section on Mental Resilience.