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The Quest for Mental Toughness

13 Jul

Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, defined Mental Toughness as “sacrifice and self-denial combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’”

I know many who fit this definition. Among them are cancer survivors, pilots, businessmen, marathon runners, sky divers, pastors, missionaries, scientists, professors, rugby players, professional speakers, authors, actors, and soldiers. They come from diverse backgrounds, experiencing life in its many facets, drawing from their experiences and sharpening their minds and their bodies, refusing to give in to the obstacles that they face, and overcoming them through sheer self-discipline. They believe without a doubt that they can accomplish their objective, and, invariably, they do so…because they will themselves to do it. They are mentally tough.

I am not mentally tough.

I am usually the first person to quit when things start to get hard. When the going gets tough, the tough get going…and I get going in the other direction. I want to be comfortable, and pushing myself beyond my limits is not comfortable.

So I stop.

I have always believed that being mentally tough is something that you are “born with…” that it is just a part of how you are wired from birth. Those of us who don’t have it can never get it, and those who DO have it will always come out ahead of those of us who do not. It’s the way of life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My friend Steve pushed me back hard on that idea. Steve falls into a few of the aforementioned categories, and I have always admired his ability to get things done. I have also felt a little envious of his ability to set and accomplish goals. He is currently training to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles), and he recently passed the six mile mark in his training schedule. When I commented that I had never run a mile in my life-and that there is no way I could ever do so-he said, “Oh, yeah, you could run a mile. Running is all mental. You just have to put your mind to it.” (I found that humorous, because whenever I see someone running, they are using their legs…but I digress.)

He pointed out that the “pain” one usually associates with running is really just fatigue. And telling yourself that you are not in pain, but that you are just tired, is a mindset that you have to develop. “It’s all about becoming mentally tough,” Steve said.

Last month, shortly after Steve issued his challenge, I ran my first mile. I can now consistently run two miles (I topped out at 2.3 miles this week). My first 5K is in four weeks, so I am right on target to make my goal of 3.1 miles.

You know what I have discovered since I started running a month ago?

I AM mentally tough…because the first ½ mile of every run is the worst part of the whole experience. My calves start to burn, I get winded, my knees tighten up a little bit…

And I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But then I remind myself that I have already done it many times…that I’m not really in pain…only a little fatigued…and I push through it. This happens every time I run.

And every time I reach a pass a previous running milestone and venture into the new territory of a longer distance than I have ever run before, I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But I push ahead anyway.

Running has strengthened my mind…something I never thought possible.

And it has opened up a world of new possibilities.

What are some of the areas in your life where you need to become mentally tough? How are you strengthening your mind? I really want to know.

Because becoming mentally tough is a new challenge for me.

And I need the help of my friends to build up my brain muscles!

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