When you hear the term “mental fortitude,” what comes to mind? Grit? Mental toughness? Determination? Stick-to-it-iveness? Resilience? There’s probably a dozen or more words, but they’re all synonymous with one thing: SUCCESS.
You see, the biggest factor that distinguishes elite and successful people in all walks of life is mindset and mental strength. In fact, sports psychologist Terry Orlick, PhD, Founder of the Zone of Excellence, has worked with the most successful people in every aspect of life—thousands of Olympic and Professional athletes and coaches, corporate leaders, astronauts, surgeons, top classical musicians, dancers, opera singers and other performing artists, mission control professionals, and many others engaged in high-stress performance missions.
And Dr. Orlick has found the common denominator among these elite performers is mental fortitude. Or, as Dr. Orlick would say, “Human excellence in virtually all domains is guided by mental factors.”
Success is not an accident. It’s a byproduct of mental fortitude. Your mind is an incredibly powerful tool. Along those lines, what you think becomes reality—YOUR reality. I know, it’s very, very easy to be self-critical, and there’s no question that we can be our own worst enemy. But the great news is that YOU are in control of your mental environment, and there are things you can do to enhance your mental toughness.
When it comes to exercise, most of us think about physical activity and training our bodies. But today, I want to talk about a different type of exercise: Mental training, or what one of my mentors, Krista Dixon-Scott, likes to refer to as sharpening your mental ninja skills.
How can you sharpen your mental ninja skills? Just like any skill, it takes practice. Here are some validated strategies to help boost your mental fortitude.
13 Tips to Boost Your Mental Fortitude (and become a mental ninja)
1. Mindfulness and awareness. The first rule of the exclusive mental ninja club is don’t talk about mental ninja club. No, not really. Seriously, the first rule of becoming a mental ninja is raising awareness. In a non-judgemental way, start identifying times, places, and areas of your life when you are being self-critical, experiencing self-doubt, or thinking self-defeating thoughts.
2. Ask important questions. What are the thoughts and images going through my head? Are they helping me, or are they hurting me? Are they holding me back, or are they pushing me toward my goals? Are these thoughts of success, or am I focused on failure?
3. Drop and give me 5! Pushups, that is. When you do catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, beating yourself up, or having self-doubt, do five pushups, squats, jumping jacks, burpees, whatever. Choose your favorite because the idea is not to punish yourself; rather, it’s to break the cycle and raise that awareness.
4. Embrace a growth mindset. Too often, we succumb to a “fixed mindset,” which basically means we believe we are born with a “fixed, unchangeable amount” of our “natural” capabilities (things like talent, intelligence, or math skills). Instead, we need to embrace a “growth mindset” where we view our abilities as things that can be developed or grown over time.1 The growth mindset promotes resilience and mental fortitude while the fixed one does not.
5. Put on your success-filtered glasses. Part of embracing a “growth mindset” involves viewing experiences through a “success filter.” Instead of viewing setbacks as failures, put on your “success filter” glasses and view those setbacks as “learning experiences” and “growth opportunities.”
6. Become a problem solver. Folks with a growth mindset view things differently. They see setbacks and effort as opportunities to improve ability, intelligence, and experience. Instead of viewing challenges as obstacles or excuses, become a problem solver. Meet them head on with resilience and creativity.
7. Be persistent. Persistence is an awesome word, and it captures the very essence of mental fortitude. However, it does not just mean working hard at something. In Steven K. Scott’s book The Richest Man Who Ever Lived, persistence is the centerpiece of diligence, which he defines as “a learnable skill that combines: creative persistence, a smart-working effort rightly planned and rightly performed in a timely, efficient, and effective manner to attain a result that is pure and of the highest quality of excellence.”
8. Sleep. Most people know that not getting enough sleep affects energy levels, mood, mental and physical performance, appetite, metabolic function (e.g., carbohydrate tolerance), and more. Along those lines, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that inadequate sleep affects decision making and cognitive function.2 And there’s no question that sleep loss and fatigue can be tremendous threats to mental fortitude.
9. Take care of your body. Although we’re talking about mental training here, there’s no question that there’s a direct tie between the health of your physical body and your mind. So, treat your body like a temple and nourish it properly with plenty of clean water and whole, minimally processed foods, including plenty of plant-based foods. After all, “garbage in, garbage out.” Likewise, exercise regularly, which unequivocally improves cognitive performance and mental fortitude.3,4
10. Be compassionate. Listen, it’s okay if you get distracted or fall off the wagon, so to speak. We all do—even the best athletes, meditators, and successful professionals. However, what separates these highly successful folks is that they’re really good at returning to focus. In other words, if your thoughts wander, you get slightly off track, or you experience a mentally “weak” moment, realize it’s both normal and okay. Pick up the pieces, learn from the experience (e.g., important lessons, patterns of behavior, environmental circumstances), re-focus, and bounce back as quickly as possible—better than ever.
11. Meditation. One of the most effective, tried-and-true strategies for enhancing mental toughness is meditation. According to Dr. Claudia Aguirre, just like physical fitness, “Mind fitness can be strengthened through attention and concentration practices (i.e., meditation) that literally change the brain structurally and functionally—a process called neuroplasticity.” Dr. Aguirre goes on to say, “Meditating builds our mental resilience against future stress by strengthening the resilience of our very genes.” Keep in mind that meditation is a practice. If you’re new to meditation, start small (even just a few minutes a day), and consider using a guided app like Headspace.5
12. Use a mantra. A mantra is usually a word, phrase, image, or sound that’s repeated to improve concentration. Even though a mantra is often a centerpiece of meditation, it doesn’t have to be relegated to that practice. Consider choosing a mantra that’s important and relevant to you, and use it to remind you what’s truly important. For me, a great example is the mantra that the 2016 Chicago Cubs embraced at the start of the baseball season: “Try not to suck.” Sure, it was tongue-in-cheek, but it was a reminder for the team to go out every day and play its best and be compassionate when things didn’t go right. The Cubbies went on to win the World Series.
13. Visualize success. According to renowned speaker, author, and coach Bob Proctor, whose name is synonymous with success and inspiration, visualization is “the great secret of success.” No matter where you are in your journey right now, you have to have a clear, vivid image of who and where you want to be. Etch that vision into your mind’s eye and refer to it often. It’s the compass that will guide you and your actions, decisions, and behaviors. As Bob Proctor says, “The only limit on our life is the limit on our own thinking; the limit we place on our imagination.”
Regardless of whether you want to successfully lose weight and keep it off, improve your performance at work or in the gym, or simply be the best you can be, there’s no question that mental fortitude is one of the most important tools you can have in your toolbox. There’s also no question that you can train your mind in a similar way that you can train your body. And, if you begin using these tools regularly, you’ll soon be a member of the exclusive mental ninja club!