I am not a naturally tough person. I am a cry baby. Honestly! My best friend calls me "a fuzzy peach of emotion" because I am one of the most sensitive, emotionally volatile people I have ever encountered.
That being said, I put on a fairly good show. I can be misread as callous or overly sarcastic because if I don't put up that wall, a flood of tears will rain down upon the first person who makes me too happy or too sad. I am not tough.
I've shared before about my numerous sparring sessions that ended in full blown sobs. Not because I was physically in pain (which trust me, pretty much is always the case), but because I was mentally collapsing. Combined with asthma attacks and mental pressure, every now and then, I'd be crying DURING sparring!
So I started doing research. Hours and hours of reading articles, signing up for seminars, buying books, following athletes on social media that I wanted to replicate. I have a folder called "Happiness" with 35 ARTICLES bookmarked. I saw what I lacked and wanted to know how to gain it; I wanted to increase my mental strength and toughness.
While I could write a straight up novel about all the things I found, here are the most impactful methods I've tried and found to be effective.
Ways to Increase Mental Strength and Toughness
- Embrace Who You Are: First and foremost, if you're a crier like me, OWN THAT. There is so much power in accepting yourself where you're at; only then can you try to improve. If you're in denial or angry/ashamed that you're an emotional person, all of your efforts to improve your mental strength are coming from a place of, "I should already be good at this," (which is a seriously defeating place to start at) as opposed to, "I am actively getting better at this." The second mentality will make the entire process more effective, enjoyable, and lasting.
- Meditation: If there is anything I've preached about and will continue to promote, it's meditation. Especially for people who are already high-stress or anxious, taking time to allow your mind to be quiet and still will make you so much more prepared to handle challenging situations. I strongly recommend trying Headspace, they offer the first 10 days for free as well as sports and problem specific guided meditations with a membership.
- Positive Reframing: This does not mean always pretending everything is fine. This means looking at a situation in a new light. When any experience doesn't go as planned and it leaves you upset (or in total meltdown mode), list out the good things you learned and how you can improve upon them next time. The only things you can control are your attitude and thoughts; reframing is a powerful tool to help you choose thoughts and feelings that move you forward, as opposed to beating yourself up and remaining the same.
- Study What You Lack: I hate to give you homework, but if you truly struggle to combat negative and self-defeating thoughts and behaviors (like crying at the first sign of mild tension), you need to do some heavier reading. I highly recommend Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. The most important takeaway from this book is that effort counts twice as much as talent, so if you're not a naturally "tough" person, practice can make up tremendously for what you naturally lack. For a (free) synopsis on developing mental toughness, check out this article by James Clear titled The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Your Health, Work, and Life.
Just like doing one bicep curl is not going to turn you into Hercules, doing one day or even one week of mental exercises will not make your mind an unshakeable steel trap. But, by using these tools and consistently practicing over days, weeks and months, you will be able to handle any challenge that comes your way.
And as an added bonus, here are my favorite articles that I browse through when I need help calming down and engaging in my own mental strength.
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