I’ve heard a wide variety of definitions around mental toughness. Many of them are something along the lines of getting back up after failure, being bigger than the moment, being strong in the face of adversity, etc. Although well-intentioned, I think many of these take individuals down a dead end path. They hear those definitions and try to get better at “toughening up” in the moment. Here’s the problem. Mental toughness is never an “in the moment” thing. It’s a million moments before the moment that make the difference.
I’ve got a client who, at the start of practice this week, told me he’s got a crisis situation on his hands. He’s gearing up for an explosive family situation that is likely to explode even bigger this coming week. And he’s going to walk right into it. I scrapped the practice plan I had and instead we prepared. We talked about tapping into his parasympathetic system in the moment – when tensions rise, take a deep breath. Remember what you’ve practiced. AND we pre-loaded his response. When a family member goes ballistic, will he fight fire with fire and feed the flames? Or will he choose to be core-centered and calm.
You see combustive situations don’t need an accelerant thrown on, like you raging and firing back. They need a suppressant. They need a non-anxious, calm and core-centered leader. So he got clear on his aim and what he believes about handling crisis moments, standing up to an agitator, and a few other beliefs. He came up with a mantra, a plan and a back up plan. He prepared for the moment before it ever came. By the time our call ended he had clarity and conviction – he knew his way.
There’s no magic involved when it comes to mental toughness in big moments. If you want to be the calm leader when the storm is raging, or the clear-eyed competitor when the lights are brightest, then prepare. Practice the moment and practice your response. We don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to the level of our training – just ask the Navy Seals.
So how are you training? What’s your aim? What do you believe about stress and stress responses? Who are you and who do you want to be in the big moments? Write and then go practice.