Stop Being a Wimp–Develop Mental Toughness and Mindfulness Mindset

Quote: ” Positive thinking and action for mindfulness —everywhere—all the time.” Dr. Brantley, Duke Integrative Medicine,

To be mentally tough is the ability to maintain clear focus, patience and determination to do your best in the face of challenging situations, stress, pressure and possible failure. It requires a person to have a clear vision of their goals and a plan to accomplish them. Generally, Mental Toughness (MT) is developed from experiencing adversity, disappointment and failure. Then learning to snapped back and try something different. When bad things happen you have the opportunity to reflect about the situation and choose what is most important to do “right now”.  Self-directed learning helps the learner to see and act on lessons that will make them stronger in the future.

Psychologists report that almost everyone can benefit from strengthening these snap back or resiliency skills , even those people we might consider paragons of mental toughness: army drill sergeants. The U.S. military is now implementing a resilience-building program, designed by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, intended to make soldiers as rugged in mind as they are in body. This effort—one of the largest psychological interventions ever attempted—holds lessons for anyone who wants to strengthen their mental muscles.

Drill sergeants were chosen to receive the training because they’re in a position to teach the service members under their command, promoting a trickle down of psychological resilience. The program’s key message: Mental toughness comes from thinking like an optimist. “People who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local and changeable,” Penn positive psychology and happiness professor Martin Seligman, describing the intervention in a recent journal article. When such individuals encounter adversity, they think to themselves: “It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.” Sergeants learn to analyze their beliefs and emotions about failure, and to avoid describing failure as permanent, pervasive and out of their control — all characterizations that undermine mental toughness.  Dr. Martin Seligman, whose work on “positive psychology” influenced Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, explains his stance that soldiers can enhance their mental toughness through optimistic thinking. By seeing situations as temporary—“It will go away soon”—or specific—“It’s just this once”—or changeable—“I can do something about it”—you can make it through adversity and perform optimally. The training also emphasizes how resisting negative thoughts such as “Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a soldier” while expressing gratitude— “I made it farther than I did last time”—are part of the puzzle to building resilience and becoming mentally tough.

George Washington Carver wrote, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.

Another pillar of psychological fortitude is the ability to resist “catastrophic thinking” — the tendency to assume the worst. Seligman’s program offers examples drawn from army life: a sergeant stationed abroad doesn’t hear from his wife back home and concludes that she’s left him; a sergeant receives a negative performance evaluation from his commending officer and immediately thinks, “I won’t be recommended for promotion, and I don’t have what it takes to stay in the army.” Participants learn to fight back against such negative thoughts, challenging their accuracy and searching for a more positive spin — while also making sure to reflect and act on genuine concerns and problems.

Lastly, the drill sergeants in Seligman’s program are taught two capacities that might seem at odds with mental toughness: gratitude and generosity. Participants learn how to “hunt for the good stuff” — to look for and appreciate the ways in which they are fortunate. And they learn not to judge too hastily subordinates who themselves seem to lack grit. The participants are offered this scenario: “A soldier in your unit struggles to keep up during physical training and is dragging the rest of the day. His uniform looks sloppy and he makes a couple of mistakes during artillery practice. You think to yourself, ‘He’s a soup sandwich! He doesn’t have the stuff of a soldier.’” The sergeants are warned against over-generalizing about others based on a few pieces of information, and encouraged to cultivate strength in junior soldiers instead of rejecting those who don’t make the grade right away.

While evidence of the program’s effectiveness for soldiers heading into combat is still being gathered, it is hoped that enhancing resilience will help reduce the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among service members and veterans, which has soared to record levels during the United States’ military engagement in and Afghanistan. The 10-day training session, which also focuses on building personal strengths and fostering positive relationships, can’t address every psychological issue that soldiers may face. But sergeants who graduate from the program return to drill practice with a new kind of mental set: a keen understanding of how to toughen the mind for the daily battle against adversity.

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In any job and profession you need to be motivated and prepared on many levels. People who need to be motivated typically may crumble when in training. It is the self-directed and  motivated who rise to the occasion when the days get long, and the nights get cold and wet.

The most important ability to have when serving your country or community is self motivation. To be honest with self motivation and determination, you can graduate any program and not be the fastest runner or swimmer, or the strongest and best athlete. However, if you do not have a foundation of fitness, even the most motivated can fail due to physical injury.

Implications for Daily Living

It is not any one’s job but yours to realize that your fitness level and your ability to perform under stress will one day be the difference between you or a loved one from living or dying.  If that does not motivate you to workout, then maybe you should consider a different occupation. Not being motivated to exercise happens in all of us. But turning that around and working out anyway is a daily dose of overcoming quitting and building mental toughness. Besides we all know that you will always feel better later in the day having exercised rather than skipping a workout.

Your whole life has to be built around these near daily experiences of waking up early and running or swimming before dawn in any weather or putting on a sweaty /​ nasty pair of football, hockey, or lacrosse pads for a second time during two a day practices. These experiences build mental toughness and you can tap into this NEVER QUIT attitude by remembering those days when you succeeded and performed at a high level.

Self-Coaching Challenge:

What are you committed to do become more mentally tough and hardy in your daily life. When will you start to life a more hardy life?


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