Mental Toughness “16 Second Cure” and other ideas for Surviving Stress

Teddy Roosevelt’s Way, “When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.”

Winning seems so easy and natural for the Nadal’s and Feder’s of the tennis world. And in other sports too. But the real secret seems to be mental preparedness and toughness.  The perception that winning is easy we know is false but it does look like their work is play. Many of us chalk it up to just being a “natural” or born with the right genes. The old nurture vs nature argument. Now with new neurological research we are starting to see the power of the “brain” and it’s plasticity and ability to be re-wired through practice and cognitive behavioral techniques. Maybe it is time  for all of us to better understand how these new discoveries can provide a better quality of life and explore how we can develop new skills and through mental training.

In other world’s such as politics and business MT is also an important factor in being successful.

Obama seems to have it –calm and”kool” under pressure yet lacking some toughness in regard to negotiating big deals HCR, Oil Spill etc. Especially, if you are a progressive which we now he maybe in his heart but has difficulty turning it into acceptable and practical ways when the opposition just wants to say “no” to most policies he introduces.  So for leaders in the 21st Century maybe “Mental Toughness” becomes the X-factor for success.

So what is mental toughness? It can be defined as the ability to access and maintain focus and determination to complete a course of action despite complexity, difficulties or unknown consequences. Some say it is the will to never give-up or quit. So the question is: Can “mental toughness” (MT) be taught or is innate? Let’s look at the sports world where MT is often used to describe super stars. Many athletes and coaches think, MT is an innate quality or talent that you are born with and they believe can’t be taught or learned because it is a part of your DNA or it isn’t. According to this school of thought mental toughness is usually something you’re born with and is reinforced early in life by your parents and environment. These authorities believe  it’s hard to take a sensitive “mommies boy” and make him tough no matter what you do. This obviously is the nature argument. The nurture position states that people can be shaped and learn from different experiences, modeling and teaching.

Motivation and MT roots
The root of mental toughness lies in motivation. Those who are deemed mentally tough typically exhibit what sports psychologists call “intrinsic achievement motivation.” A study featured in Psychology of Motor Behavior and Sport defines this as the desire to be self-determining. People who are intrinsically motivated are self- starters, willing to push themselves to the brink for the love of their sport or activity. They need little encouragement to give their best effort, and they often do well setting their own goals. For others, who are called “game players” they only begin to jell when the pressure of competition is on. They go through the motions in practice and drive coaches crazy. They only shine in the chance to compare themselves with others. These guys have what’s called “achievement motivation”  and play best under the gun. You hear them say things like give me the ball I want to take the penalty kick or final shot when the BB game is on the line. They do not fear failure failures and  all things being equal between two competitors, whoever is higher in achievement motivation will be the better athlete, hands down.

Other researchers have said that motivation is important but brain chemistry can over ride desire/motivation if  the player experiences anxiety. With too much anxiety detrimental changes in our brain and biochemical reactions take place. Stress research calls this the flight or fight response.  Now we have new brain research evidence reported by Dr. James Loehr, a famous performance psychologist, and Daniel Goleman, known for his work in  Emotional Intelligence, that links negative thoughts and arousal with the stress hormone cortisol.  Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex.  Cortisol has been associated with feelings of anxiety, tension, helplessness, and loss of control.  Positive thoughts and pleasant experiences are linked to a positive trigger or rush of adrenaline, and an increase of epinephrine and norepinephrine. The positive jolts make for better performance.

Having an optimistic attitude can help increase the positive effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine.  Optimism, which produces these positive brain chemicals reduce many anxiety symptoms and can provide performers with the positive energy to focus and concentrate on the activity at hand.

By learning to “look on the bright side,” of challenges and seeing stressful situations as opportunities for growth, you increase the likelihood of producing a positive mental and arousal state.  This positive mental state leads to a chain of biochemical events that mobilize the brain and the body to cope more effectively with the situation.  A positive reaction to stress can then lead to what Dr. Loehr, calls the challenge response, which counteracts the negative effects of stress and improves your performance and enjoyment in presenting and speaking to groups. The challenge response helps leaders and high performance jocks to be more calm, relaxed, alert, energetic, inspired, and enthused. Mental Toughness, a phrased coined by internationally renowned peak performance guru Dr. Jim Loehr, has it roots in tennis, where Loehr first came to prominence. Applied to tennis, Mental Toughness training specifically targets physical rituals before and after points to help create focus and calm during a tennis competition. Practicing Mental Toughness techniques prior to your matches will help you handle more stress during your matches.Read more:


In his research, Loehr noticed that top champions followed similar behavior patterns between points. For example, as soon as a point ended, whether the player won or lost the point, he would change the racket to his non-dominant hand to release tension in his playing arm. At the same moment, the player would turn away from the net and begin his walk to the baseline. Top players looked only at their strings, the ground or their opponents between points. They did not look into the crowd, at their coach, passing airplanes, ballboys or umpires.

Loehr created a ritual for players to use to improve their mental toughness, starting with the racket switch, turnaround, walk past the baseline to the far end of the court while looking at the racket strings, then returning to the baseline to serve or return serve. Loehr called this pattern the 16-Second Cure.


As the concept of Mental Toughness grew in popularity, other sport psychologists began to develop their own variations of the concept. A devotee of Loehr, Dr. Bryce Young, developed his Play, Recover, Prepare system for mental training, which is similar to Loehr’s 16-Second Cure. Like Loehr’s four-step cure, Young’s three-step system requires players to follow a set routine between points. Young also promotes self-confidence, breathing, imagery and pre-serve and pre-return rituals.


“You idiot!,” “You can’t play tennis!,” and other negative self-talk not only brings you down emotionally, it can improve your opponent’s attitude as she sees that you are not as confident as she thought. Regulating self-talk is a key component of Mental Toughness training for any performance activity. Remaining outwardly and verbally positive is important enough that some coaches recommended complimenting an opponent on a winning shot immediately after they hit it, to take away any notion in them that they have beaten you mentally.

How is your mental game in life?  Try to develop healthy rituals and positive self-talk to handle the pressure at work it’s worth the effort and will help you triumph over burnout.


2 thoughts on “Mental Toughness “16 Second Cure” and other ideas for Surviving Stress”

  1. Reblogged this on The Wick and commented:

    In case you missed this post and are experience a high level of stress or in need of more mental toughness this may help.. One of the most popular posts on thewick for 2012. Coach Mark

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