How to Increase Mental Toughness

In “How to Increase Mental Toughness: 4 Secrets from Navy SEALs and Olympians” in Time magazine I was encouraged by their methods of handling particular situations.

  • Talk Positively To Yourself

Our brains are constantly working. You say approximately 300-1000 words to yourself a minute.  Both Olympic athletes and SEALs agree these words need to be positive.  SEALs are not allowed to panic in even the worst of situations.  This is why they must think positive thoughts to keep calm.

Everyday Uses

If you have a big presentation at work or obstacles to overcome think permanence, pervasiveness and whether it is personal.

Negative People tell themselves that bad events:

  1. Will last a long time or forever. (I’ll never get this done.”)
  2. Are universal. (“You cannot trust any of those people.”)
  3. Are their own fault. (“I’m terrible at this.”)

Positive People look at setbacks in the exact opposite way:

  1. Bad things are temporary. (“That happens occasionally but it’s no big deal.”)
  2. Bad things have a specific cause and aren’t universal. (When the weather is better that won’t be a problem.”)
  3. It’s not their fault. (“I’m good at this but today wasn’t my lucky day.”)

When you talk to yourself, try to be positive not negative.

  • Set Goals

The best athletes had focused daily goals. They knew what they wanted to accomplish each day and were determined to accomplish these goals.

SEALs are taught to set goals too but normally really small goals. One former Navy SEAL had a goal to make it to lunch then to dinner.

Everyday Uses
    1. Write your goals down.
    2. Track your progress.
  • Practice Visualization

Close your eyes. Can you see the big challenge?  Now walk through every step of it.  Sound silly?  Could be, but the best of the best do this all the time.

Olympians use visualization daily to prepare themselves to get what they want out of training, perfect skills, imagine being successful in competition and achieving their goals.

SEALs are taught to visualize themselves succeeding in activities and going through the motions.

Everyday Uses

Visualize your presentation. However, do not merely fantasize about being perfect just to make yourself feel good.  That kills motivation.  You will need to visualize the problems you could encounter then see how you will overcome them.

  • Use Simulations

Visualization can take place anywhere. In the end, you need to practice as close to the real thing as possible.

Top athletes would use simulation training in competitions, plays or scrimmages, even wearing what they would wear on game day.

Before the raid on Bin Laden’s compound the SEALs built a full-size replica of the location so their training would be exactly what they would face.

Everyday Uses

How do you overcome the fear of standing in front of a big crow to give a presentation?

Practice in front of a small, supportive group


How to achieve mental toughness:

Talk Positively to Yourself — Remember the 3 P’s. Bad things are not permanent, pervasive or personal – but good things are.

Setting Goals — Know what you want to achieve and write it down then focus on progress.

Practice Visualization  — See yourself overcoming specific obstacles instead of fantasizing about getting what you want.

Use Simulations  — Make your practices as close to the real thing as possible

These techniques that the best of the best use do not rely on muscles or natural talent. It is about good preparation and hard work.  If you apply these techniques you too, can improve your mental toughness.