Mental toughness sounds cool, even useful, but what exactly does it mean? A mentally strong athlete is dedicated, comfortable suffering and driven. When the going gets tough they hunker down, embrace the suck and remember what they’re working for. It’s someone who has the ability to cope with many demands in a consistently superior way to their opponents while remaining focused, confident and determined. That’s the kind of athlete East Coast Run Project builds.
An invaluable asset in competition, mental toughness is more than just being dedicated. Yes, believing in your goals is a huge part of succeeding but ‘mind over matter’ isn’t just something people say for the sake of saying something. It’s true. Your brain is programmed to sell you short. Ever feel like you can’t run one more step then accelerate when the finish line comes into view? A big fan of the status quo who’s adverse to pain and suffering your brain will shut things down long before your muscles. Here’s a study that explains it in detail. In short, your mental state does not always reflect your physical state. You are truly stronger than you think you are.
Part of mental toughness is about accessing everything you’ve got. Most importantly it’s finding the strength to use your brain to beat, well, your brain. After you’ve accepted that your body can do more than your mind wants to you can use it perform at a higher level. By misleading cyclists about a competitor’s speed this study discovered they magically had the ability to perform at a 2% (!!!) higher ‘maximum’ speed. They pedaled faster than their ‘100%’ because they thought they weren’t there yet. Their brains were tricked into thinking it was status quo when it wasn’t.
The fastest way to trick our brains? Positive self talk. Instead of muttering ‘this sucks’ or ‘is it over yet?’ in the middle of a muscle shredding workout, smile. Saying ‘I got this’ or ‘this workout feels good‘ can actually make it easier. It’s been shown that a repeated positive statement can give you the extra push you need to hit a new PR, finish within the time limit or conquer that fear. Step one in developing mental toughness is finding that phrase. Find the words that will keep you moving forward when things get hard and learn to use them.
Note: Telling yourself you’re fine when you aren’t isn’t always a good idea. Injury and over training happen when we ignore and push through pain signals from our bodies. Part of being a mentally tough athlete is listening to your body, knowing the difference between good pain and bad and knowing what’s on the line if you push past it.