“Mental strength is key to success.”
– Vince Lombardi
Last spring, San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary brought a new kind (and a new level) of pain to his team’s training camp. Known simply as “the hill,” it’s a 45-degree incline he made for running. Singletary first witnessed the use of the hill run when he was a Hall of Fame middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears of the 1980s. While it obviously increased a player’s stamina, its primary benefit was a significant increase in player persistence and persistence. Walter Payton, Singletary’s teammate in the 1980s and the Bears’ rushing record holder, believed that hill running helped players overcome the mental obstacles that stood in the way of their success. Many people still believe that the 1985 Bears were the best NFL team in history. Almost all so-called “experts” still believe they were the toughest.
Dave Goggins is a Navy SEAL living in Chula Vista, California. He joined Navy as a 240 lb power lifter. SEAL training began his journey to well-rounded fitness. After that, he started running marathons, ultramarathons and (later) competing in triathlons. He also completed the Ultraman – a mega-triathlon involving a grueling combination of a 6.2-mile ocean swim, a 261-mile bike ride and a 52.4-mile run. Dave is doing this ostensibly to raise money for the Special Ops Warrior Foundation. People who know him insist that if SOWF didn’t exist, he would find another reason to compete. Dave believes that with focus and discipline, anyone can do almost anything. “I want to see if there is a limit to the human soul,” says Goggins. His motto is “don’t show weakness”. He visualizes success before taking on any significant challenge, adding: “I remember when I was younger, when things were really hard or difficult, they could be so hard that they made you want to give up. It’s a feeling I’ll never have again.” Dave is one of the toughest guys walking the face of the earth.
Lance Armstrong competes in a sport whose “main event” (the Tour de France) is the cycling equivalent of running a marathon on steep hills every day for three weeks. His workout routine is HILARIOUS! After taking a few years off (I use that term VERY loosely) to focus on his charity work, he returned to the Tour in 2009. When he’s racing, Lance is a silent killer. This comment from someone who knows him very well sums up his approach to competition: “The way to plant a seed of doubt in another guy’s mind is to keep your mouth shut. Lance is nice – then he punches you!”
Lance believes that mental strength is shown by breaking through points to quit. When others are ready to give up, he overdoes it.
Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and two NCAA football championships as a quarterback for the University of Florida Gators. He is widely regarded as the best leader in the history of intercollegiate football. Oh yes – The team is much more than football. During the first semester of the last year, he has an average grade of 3.6. Missionaries during “free” summers. In 2009, he completed 700 hours of community service. He is also a model of humility. Some bitter college football fans don’t like him…calling him (condescendingly) “Mr. Perfect.” Many of them are people who admire NBA stars who carry guns. Go figure it out!
These guys come from very different backgrounds and they all own their own lives. Each of them considers himself responsible for his actions and responsible for his results. Everyone accepts that practice doesn’t really make perfect – PERFECT practice makes perfect! This extends beyond physical preparation to mental preparation and developing mental strength. Their fervor preparing for victory, however, does not tell the whole story. The fact is that great mental strength is not preparation for victory; it’s about learning how to lose and learning how NOT to lose. Namely:
Tom Veneziano wrote the book The Truth About Victory. Tom is a tennis pro in Texas. He wrote his book to help tennis players win. Tom talks about cultivating the right attitude toward loss. According to him, until a person develops a correct perspective on losing and making mistakes, he cannot sustain success. That perspective includes accepting losses (NOT resigning yourself to the loss – more on the difference later), staying “in the moment”, letting go of defeat while learning from it, cultivating wisdom and fighting back.
In order to maintain success in life – regardless of your personal definition of it – you too must develop mental toughness. Here are some recommendations:
o You must learn to distinguish between your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings and the facts in any situation. We all carry baggage from our past, especially from our childhood. The lessons imparted to us by our early caregivers condense at a very young age and create each of our own unique worldviews. Some pieces of it serve us well; some don’t. Most people accept this notion in the abstract or lightly see its effects in other people, but never examine the exact impact on them.
o Accept 100% responsibility for everything in your life. This does not mean stubborn independence or not asking for help. This SOMETIMES implies that liquidation and blame bring bad outcomes. At one point or another, each of us has been a victim of forces beyond our control. However, there is a big difference between being a victim and seeing yourself as a victim. Try to look in the mirror every morning and say the following: “I own my life. I am the problem and I am the solution!”
o Monitor your self-talk, especially after a loss. We all have a constant internal dialogue. What does yours say about how you value yourself? How does your internal dialogue position you for future success?
o Learn to accept your flaws without putting up with them (this is REALLY hard for me). Acceptance means “surrender to reality.” Resignation means “giving up an opportunity”. There is a huge difference; not a hair-splitter.
o Ask yourself (and give examples) how skilled and consistent you are in demonstrating the following character traits:
o Openness and honesty – towards yourself as well as towards others
o Commitment to “truth”
Find a coach or mentor to help you cultivate mental strength in 2010 and make it your BEST YEAR YET!
Copyright 2010 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.