Mental toughness, to me, is the will power within it to control and resist our temptations, so that we can do the things that will give us our desired outcome.
For example; when the alarm goes off for the morning run, how does one resist the temptation to hit that snooze button? Similarly, in the course of developing healthy eating habits, how will one forgo that supper before going to sleep? These are some of the obstacles that I face in my journey of running, keeping fit, and staying healthy. I believe many of you out there would share similar sentiments.
Over the years, I have developed a metaphor for mental toughness.
IT’S LIKE A BUCKET OF WATER
Think of mental toughness as a form of a bucket, while will power is the substance (i.e. the water) in this bucket. For every obstacle I faced while carrying my mental toughness bucket, some will power water will spill out of the bucket. I arrived at a conclusion that will power is a finite resource.
And it didn’t stop there.
It had dawned on me one day that this bucket is omnipresent everyday, everywhere. Through our day-to-day interactions, our will power depletes with every passing decision we make. Every decision will take away some of our focus and energy. Therefore, it is important to take stock of the water in your bucket. Can you imagine the prospect of starring into an empty bucket?
So how do I apply this metaphor to enrich myself?
1. TRIVIALISE YOUR OBSTACLES
Imagine you are faced with many daily decisions to make and many daily actions to take. By the end of the day, your bucket will be substantially depleted. In my case, how much would there be any will power left in the bucket for me to pull through a run?
To circumvent this, one should not dwell too much on decisions that don’t yield significant outcomes. Far too often we stress over small decisions with little or no payoff, such as what to eat for breakfast, what clothes to wear, etc.
I have changed my approach, from running in the evenings to the mornings when my willpower bucket is full, as I believe it will put me in a better stead. It’s always better to negotiate an obstacle with a better state of mind.
Automate your decisions. For example; I run daily at 7am. I don’t have to fret every day what time to do it. Just like brushing my teeth, its automatic. Don’t make things hard for yourself, remove unwanted obstacles.
The central idea here is to adopt a course with the least number of obstacles or decisions to make, adding elements of predictability. Automate as many of your decisions as possible, rather than excessively spilling your will power bucket. You will end your day with more remaining in your bucket.
2. TRAINING ON THE OBSTACLES
We all know practice makes perfect. The habit of running daily at 7am enables my body to be more accustomed to the rigours and fatigue involved. With a body that is more accustomed to the training, it naturally takes less will power from you when you approach to complete the next training.
This further reduces the amount of spilling from the bucket.
3. REFILLING YOUR BUCKET
Be it running or facing day-to-day issues, even a person with extremely strong mental toughness can succumb if he has completely depleted his entire willpower. This creates burnout and leaves an enormous void to refill.
It is important to refill your bucket, akin to resting and sleeping. A well-rested person has more in the bucket to negotiate the challenges and trainings for each day. A tired person will have less in the bucket to start the day off, resulting in a less fruitful day than he intended it to be.
4. PLANNING AHEAD
Planning gives you the confidence and assurance that you are well on track for your fitness if you keep to it. On the other hand, if you don’t plan you will be faced with many uncertainties and even more decisions to make. What training do I have to do today? How hard should the intensity of the training be? Is the mileage of today’s run enough?
With uncertainties, you will have to draw more from your bucket, as there are more decisions to make and thereby spilling more from your will power bucket.
5. SEEKING HELP
Sometimes in life we are handed a bucket too big for us to handle, say, a tough assignment from your boss. Or an obstacle course that is hard to negotiate, say, a race of a magnitude that you have never encountered before.
Do not be afraid or feel small to seek help. Look up to people whom you think can mentor you at work, find that buddy who wants to do that race to train alongside you.
Sharing the bucket load allows you to go through that course and that experience could put you in a better position to subsequently try it out on your own.
Will power is ever present in all things that we do. It is not just running or training. This metaphor has paved my way to a successful career, a healthier me, a happier family amongst many other things.
I am happy to share with you my thoughts and likewise, I will be more than happy to hear your insights should you have any experience on this subject.
With strong will power, you will be able to achieve dreams and great things beyond your imagination. One of my friends went on to become a runner on the National team, and this is what I learned in our short exchange.