What is mental toughness, and I can I have it too?
Have you ever gone on a run and been absolutely inundated by what feels like (incredible) sensory overload? Listening to soft leaves crunching underfoot, taking in the scent of newly fallen rain on the trail, or even just admiring the paintbrush strokes of a sunset sky can boost your mood nearly tenfold. Yet taking time to reflect or acknowledge these things during a tough workout can feel impossible. Shifting your perspective from the inner critic yelling in your ear to letting go of all the constraints it imposes on your body will not only elevate your performance but make you a more mindful athlete and human being.
What is mental toughness?
Learning how to keep pushing when, as the saying goes, “the going gets tough,” is a muscle that like anything needs to be exercised to get stronger. Much of the discomfort that is associated with those sneaky symptoms of failure are often completely contrived in our head. If you don’t take the time to practice positive self-talk, how do you expect to navigate troublesome waters? This is something that I admit I am absolutely horrible at. Over the past couple of weeks while having been sidelined by a rather nasty injury (can we even call chronic pain that?), I’ve had a relatively negative headspace. A dear friend of mine asked me recently, “how can you expect your body to heal if all you do is degrade it?” It’s like how flowers can’t bloom in an environment that’s toxic and saturated with stress. If you want something to flourish, you have to give it a reason to.
Learn to listen.
So how do you go from being stuck in a negative headspace to becoming one with the things that feel out of your control? Listen! Every day, check in with how you’re feeling. This means getting good at practicing self-care. Learning how to take care of your body, not just after a hard workout, but on a daily basis cultivates a deep understanding of how to nurture what you need at the moment.
How do I, "self-care?"
Don’t be afraid to brag. Acknowledge what you’re good at to those around you (not in a brash way) and be proud of what you’re passionate about.
Establish routines but don't feel bound to them. Try waking up a bit earlier than usual to read a chapter in a book every morning, or perhaps dedicate twenty minutes every night to stretching before bed. Taking time throughout the day to come back to center and focus on you cultivates an appreciation for pausing in the midst of chaos and learning how to slow down.
Go for an extra run or walk around the block at the end of the day and listen to only your favorite music, singing obnoxiously loud to all those who pass by.
Take a really warm shower, let the water run down your spine and don't entertain a single worry.
Call your absolute best friend in the world and talk about something only you two find interesting and funny.
Say thank you. Be appreciative of the other people in your life. Recognize that it doesn't make your light burn any dimmer making someone else shine too.
Tell yourself you can.
Practice telling yourself you can. That old trick about writing post-it notes around your house with affirmations? It works. Whenever I find myself in the middle of an excruciating workout, I repeat to myself, “you’re strong Gabi.” It’s impeccably corny and arguably very cliche, but positivity is contagious. If you can teach yourself to turn a negative situation into a beautiful one, you’ll find your perception of what becomes easy and hard shifts dramatically. This doesn’t happen overnight but practice it every day. As soon as you find yourself being self-deprecating try and find at least one reason to smile. It takes a hell of a lot of patience and there is no finish line to positivity, but I promise it gets easier.
Implementing this in real life:
I recently failed at something I did. I straight up didn't receive a passing grade and I was incredibly embarrassed. Immediately my mindset went zero dark thirty and all I kept hearing was, "you're a failure Gabi." It was admittedly a very scary situation, suddenly everything became a principal of my not being good enough at anything that I do. I experienced a momentary sense of paralysis which then led to a breakdown on my drive home from school. I cried ugly tears. One second I was finally feeling like I finally had a grasp on being good to my body and my mind and that all came crashing down in what felt like an instant.
I think there a few takeaways from this rude awakening I was given.
- Sort of along the lines of Eleanor Roosevelt, "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent." A grade on a test, feedback on a presentation, or ranking in a race does not determine your self-worth. It's important to remember that!
- When you fail at something or don't perform as well as you want, it's incentive to change your routine. Sometimes you need a good kick in the pants and you'll find that failure actually makes you more resilient. So embrace messing up! You're human!
- Talk about it. I challenge you not to think about a failure as a bad thing (learn from my mistake here). Right after I got my paper back and saw my grade I questioned what the hell I was even doing at Cal. I texted a close (and might I add intelligent) friend of mine asking if this was all a fluke. Her reply? She had just failed a midterm too. Let me interject by saying that I have no doubt she will go on to do brilliant things in the field of economics one day. My boyfriend, while in college, said he barely passed his chemistry class. He has one of the most brilliant and hardworking minds I have the pleasure of being inspired by every day. The moral of the story? You're not alone when you mess up, so don't let that isolate you. See your mistakes as a way to improve and shift your perception from one that is negative to one that is willing to do better the next time.
Go forth and do something brilliant, whether that be cooking a delicious dinner, or writing a post it note and sticking it on your mirror with the affirmation that "you are enough." Beacuse, YES, you ARE enough. Everything we do here is enough if you give it your best effort. Everyday try and remind yourself of that.
Run Hapi and Healthy,