Mental Toughness: Tough is as Tough Does

One of our Basics’ members, Priscilla Tallman, has offered to blog for us and recently wrote a great article on Mental Toughness-check out what she think about being mentally tough.

CrossFitter, Kory Stearns, stays mentally tough through a deadlift wod.

Okay, close your eyes. For the next few moments think about the two words “mental toughness.” What did you come up with? For most of you, you probably imagined a hardcore athlete in some kind of body-wrenching, face grimacing, beads of sweat dropping off your face kind of workout. You may have pictured the calm, still look on the pitchers face as he stands motionless on the mound that last second before he lifts his leg and cocks his arm back for what will be the third strike in the last inning of the World Series. You may have envisioned any Nike commercial with any number of professional athletes doing what they do and just.not.stopping.ever. Impressive, right?

Most of us have a general idea or some loose definition of what it means to have mental toughness. But can that apply to you? Are you mentally tough?

Here’s the problem. As awesome as those Nike commercials are, there is a group of people who will never identify with them because they get stuck on what those athletes look like. Being mentally tough does not mean that our bodies need to physically match how we feel on the inside. If I feel strong or I feel determined my body may limit me, but my mind allows me to get in one more set or one last pushup. I may not always finish at the head of the pack, but I usually keep moving and I always finish. I may not look like I am strong, but my mind tells me that I am and in turn that allows me to push just a little bit more. We dig deeper, we focus longer and we finish. Our CrossFit coaches call us athletes, if we believe we are…then we are. If we choose not to believe them or doubt ourselves, we limit ourselves. My brother said this to me today when we were chatting “mental toughness is the ability to protect your visions and goals from the toxic onslaught of critics and cynics, even if those critics and cynics are ourselves.” In CrossFit, in business, in family life this is a great mantra.

Basics’ member, Lisa Soeby, embodies mental toughness, pushing herself in every wod and encouraging her husband and son to do the same.

Here’s the other problem. Just because you think you are mentally tough and can push yourself physically further than ten other people does not make you the tougher person. Mental toughness encompasses so many other things. For example, the mother who loses her three year old son after a fifteen month battle with cancer is mentally tough. The soldier who plugs back into society and works hard at a job that he doesn’t love just to provide for his wife and children is mentally tough. The single father who has full custody of his children so that he can give them opportunity that he didn’t have growing up is mentally tough. The mother who finishes her last 300 meter run without walking so that she can set an example of physical health to her six children is mentally tough. The seventy year old grandparents that cycle 60 miles three times a week and refuse to let age limit their lifestyle are mentally tough. The sixteen year old star quarterback recently diagnosed with cancer and still standing on the sidelines with his team in between chemo treatments is mentally tough.

Basics members pushing themselves through a grueling sandbag wod

The guy or girl in your CrossFit class who always finishes first or second and works out every day, maybe twice a day…that person is also mentally tough. They are also seriously ripped, but that is a whole different subject!

This is the deal. We all have access to mental toughness. Every single one of us. We all have a “go” button in us that pushes us out of our comfort zone and out of our normal everyday routine. If we are going to find that button and use it, we need to start with accepting the fact that we either choose to use it or we don’t. You do not need to throw up after a workout to be mentally tough; you just need to choose to keep moving. You don’t need to throw out your back to be mentally tough; you just need to choose to go up one more plate. You don’t need to full out sprint every single running workout; you just need to choose not to walk. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. You just need to choose to accept that you have the ability to do a little bit more of whatever it is that tells you that you can’t.