If you’re reading this the answer is most likely “yes,” because being a person requires a certain level of mental and emotional toughness, period. And like most things in life there are levels to it. If you have goals, ambitions, things you desire in life that you wish to create, then being mentally tough at an above average level is important. Many people don’t reach their goals not because of skill deficiencies, lack of want, or some other factor such as a bad game plan, although those are also factors on many occasions, but when all of these other components are being put into practice and we’re just not making progress, then increasing your mental toughness is never a bad idea.
What do I mean by mental toughness? Glad you asked. For the purpose of this writing, it is the ability to move forward. Let me give you an example.
I have been fortunate to coach hundreds of business owners and entrepreneurs over the last 8 years. When you’re growing a business, whether hatching it from a baby egg or taking an existing business to the next level, there will be “problems.” Being in business is essentially solving problems all day and then creating more problems as you advance the business and then solving those problems. People problems, operational problems, production problems, sales problems, problems. I originally put the word problems in quotation marks because another way to look at a problem is simply to call it a “challenge.” Have you ever faced a challenge in life? Sure you have. Every day would be my guess. A problem is just a challenge in disguise.
Recently I was working with someone who had a very specific deadline for generating a certain amount of revenue for his business. It would not have been the end of the world if he missed the deadline, he simply could have gotten a 30 day extension. The extension would have delayed his ability to create income from the business for another 30 days, and also would have made his existing clients wait 30 more days to participate in the project, but, this is common in business so again, it would not have been devastating, but he didn’t want to go that route. He decided to put every ounce of energy and thought into making his goal happen now and put the idea of an extension either in the back of his mind or out of his thoughts completely.
I talked to him daily on the phone for several business days going into the deadline, sometimes multiple times per day. Working with him is a joy because he is strong willed but at the same time what some might call “coachable,” although really I would say he was willing to shift his thinking towards progress and he loves a good challenge. These types of folks are rare and great to work with, because you can simply have conversations with them and share ideas and don’t have to worry about two egos clashing. It takes a high level of humility and emotional intelligence to work together in a joint venture capacity such as this.
Each day he was creating consistent wins and getting closer and closer, then Monday came the week of his deadline (his deadline was Thursday at midnight), and he labeled the start of the week “bad” or “not looking good.” I’ve seen many people throw in the towel this close to a deadline when something doesn’t go the way they wanted. He didn’t. We spoke and he decided there was plenty of time on the clock. The next two days Tuesday and Wednesday was a wild ride, mixtures of wins and disappointments, and every time we spoke he was figuring out ways he could call new people and get in touch with new decision makers who might decide to do business with him. He did this all day nonstop, even on the day of his deadline going to dinner with his wife and trying to pitch the restaurant. In the end it paid off. A few hours ahead of midnight on Thursday, he reached his goal. He had made it, his business was going to launch.
This is mental toughness. This is grit. This is the human spirit willing itself forward. This is what makes us special, and something that we are also born with as a right particularly in the United States - the right to make it happen. Whatever “it” is for you. What I didn’t put in the above story was how many times he was told “no” over this stretch of time. Dozens…hundreds… I’m not entirely sure because we didn’t talk about the rejection, we focused on the opportunities he created for himself daily and how to create more, never really looking back. We, and he especially, focused on what could he do now, not what didn’t happen. No means next.
I often use the analogy that business, and life, is like driving a car. When you think about driving, the windshield is very large in proportion to the rearview mirror. Why is that? Well because driving backwards might be fun to watch in a movie or to do on a side road when you’re 16 and just got your license, but if you’re trying to go places, then spending a lot of time in your rearview mirror is going to get you in trouble, and you most likely won’t make it very far. You need to be looking forward, through the windshield, with your foot on the gas. That’s mental toughness. Driving forward. Moving forward. Advancing at all costs.
I recently heard a great person, Dave Durand, compare resilience to fighting. Mental toughness is a component or maybe a synonymous label for resilience. He said when you're sparring or in combat, and you get hit, resilience takes into account a few things such as how much do you react and emote when the strike takes place. How long do you think and sit on the pain of the impact? What do you do next and how fast do you do it? That analogy made me think of recently being in some jiu jitsu rolling with world class competitors at 10th Planet San Diego. 3 rounds in a row my partners were way more advanced and experienced, which led to fun and exciting exchanges of combat, and, to me being submitted more than once in each of the 5 rounds. But the moment I tapped and was let go I jumped right back to my feet without even a millisecond of shred of doubt sadness or any type of negative emotion. In fact I jump back up smiling and slapping hands and impressed by their skill and technique and excited to engage again to see what I might accomplish or learn regardless of who is across from me. Sometimes I can even see their eyes go wide the second or third time as I jump smiling in excitement at how they just strangled me to submission hehe. That is just my approach to life and everything that I do. Smile, laugh, acknowledge, and let's go.
Some great books about mental toughness (Click the title to see them on Amazon)
The Old Man and The Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Turning Pro - Steven Pressfield