Building Mental Toughness

Legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Mental toughness is spartanism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love.”

In his book “The Mental Toughness Handbook” Damon Zahariades states that “mental toughness is our durability in the face of adversity.”

Here’s the truth. Any fool can act tough when everything is going well. But, when life begins to crash down around you, that’s when the world finds out how resilient you really are.

But let’s take a minute and differentiate between mental toughness and mental health. There are times in our lives when, through no fault of our own, our minds aren’t what they should be. Everything from brain injury to chemical imbalance and sleep deprivation can play a role in a lack of mental health.

When we talk about mental toughness, we’re assuming good mental health. Those who are experiencing legitimate mental health challenges have a reason not to be “mentally tough.” In fact, faking mental toughness in the midst of a mental health crisis can be detrimental to recovery.

So there are those for whom this article is not entirely applicable – especially during treatment and recovery.

But for the rest of us, it’s important to exercise our mental muscles, so we can be as inflexible as steel when needed and as expandable as a rubber band when necessary.

Damon Zahariades notes that mental toughness involves three things:

  1. Our Reaction to Stress
  2. Our Responses to Our Own Emotions
  3. Our Resilience When Things Go Wrong

Mental toughness has a close relationship with what the old timers called “true grit.” Grit is an important element in developing mental toughness. It’s that part of us that chooses not to give in. The part of us that won’t quit. The part of us that keeps on fighting.

True grit teaches us to choose our reaction to stress, enables us to objectively view and respond to our own emotions, and helps us bend without breaking when circumstances go off the rails like a freight train around a tight mountain curve.

Paul the Apostle, an early Christian leader, saw mental toughness as the ability to discern the difference between what is true and what is not. By rejecting false narratives about himself that his enemies or his own imagination/emotions tried to impose upon him, he was able to endure unimaginable pain and deprivation at the hands of Jewish and Roman governments.

You can see, in this excerpt from a letter to the believers at Corinth that Paul used what he knew of God’s truth as the yardstick by which he measured those thoughts that would cause his mental toughness to deteriorate.

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

In Paul’s reaction to stress and pain, we find the first step in building mental toughness.

  1. Have an unwavering standard by which you can evaluate your own thoughts and emotions as well as the opinions of others.

Let’s get back to that Vince Lombardi quote:

“Mental toughness is spartanism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love.”

You’re familiar with what Mr. Lombardi means when he describes mental toughness as:

  • Sacrifice
  • Self-denial
  • Fearlessness
  • Love

But “spartanism” is something that may not be as familiar to you.

Sparta was a city-state in ancient Greece that gained legendary status because of an ethos that permeated everything from their political system to the mindset of their warriors.

This Spartan ethos was marked by an indomitable spirit, stark simplicity, and a willingness to endure to achieve.

From the Spartans, we discover the other steps to mental toughness.

2. Don’t let the enemy get into your head and drag down your spirit.

3. Don’t let stuff and baggage pull you under the waves. Let go of it.

4. Be willing to push through the pain to get to a better place – even if you can’t see the path or the destination.

Until next time, have a happy day.

* I cannot recommend every artist, author, or everything written in every book I mention in my blog. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and where a person or book is right or makes a good point, I will give credit where credit is due.

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