Difficult Situations Strengthen Your Mental Toughness8 min read

Every day you’re in the arena, against all the odds. And you’re frantically waiting for the next attack. So you guard your face and your body with your balled fists and your elbows tucked into your rib cage. Everything is hazy; you feel weak. And you’re gasping for breath. You’re losing control.
And your chest hurts. You’re terrified.

But there’s no one there. It’s just you. It was never about anyone else.
You were never in competition with anything outside of you. Life is full of beatings. And you’re faced with difficult decisions, and insurmountable pain which seems impossible to carry on — all you can do is ask yourself one question: how am I going to get through this?

Mental toughness is the deciding factor of your ability to push through the painful experiences of your life, or you can allow life to swallow you whole. Mental toughness isn’t a fanatic bodybuilder with bulging muscles and varicose veins grunting in the gym.

I believe everything that happens to us and the way we respond to those situations relies on one thing: mental toughness. Mental toughness not only provides you with perspective, but it adds a healthy layer of protection.

Strengthening Your Mental Toughness Is Intentional Living

In Final Destination 2 there’s this infamous car crash scene where everyone dies on this speeding highway. It starts with this massive log falling off of this tractor-trailer that crashes through the window of a police car. The scene then cuts to a motorcyclist falling off his motorcycle — skidding at full speed along with the concrete when his back slams against one of the logs with the motorcycle in tow — eventually crushing him to death.

The scene goes on and on with crash after crash, explosion after explosion. It’s pretty graphic. Life is like that (maybe not as graphic, but then again, it sometimes is that graphic). There are many challenges and significant setbacks that often occur in life, usually, they happen one after another, and it appears as if it’s never-ending. I have a family member who swears everything that happens to him is purely bad luck. He has a slew of stories to confirm this to be true.

But is it bad luck?

Mental toughness isn’t a physical state of being. It’s the intentional decision to courageously and vulnerably confront the scary stuff, the stuff that makes you so uncomfortable that you hurl last night’s dinner in a dark, vacant alley.

We often associate vulnerability with weakness, but Brenè Brown has spent her career deconstructing vulnerability, which she explains is the birthplace of everything we desire. In other words, as you build mental toughness, you experience humility. You face the edge when you walk along with it until you reach the ultimate edge. That’s courage.

Vulnerability Is Courage

However, when you steadily strengthen your mental toughness, you’re able to manage some of your most significant challenges. When you ignore enhancing your mental toughness, you succumb to everything from a simple parking ticket to something as life-changing as a divorce.
Moreover, when you avoid facing the scary stuff, you keep the good stuff out. It’s like dousing yourself in insect repellant.

But that’s when the transformation happens — when you decide to lean into your edge.

When I sold all of my things and moved to Southeast Asia, I didn’t know what to expect. While living there, I picked up hiking as a new hobby, but I was terrified (and out of shape). When I look back on my short 5-minute climb in Koh Phangan, Thailand, to experiencing a 6-hour hike deep in the visceral heat of the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand, I would never have imagined facing that kind of challenge.

If you’ve ever hiked before, once you start the goal is to finish, there’s no turning back. And no matter how difficult the climb you persevere, no matter how much you ache, no matter the exhaustion, you endure it.
And when you get to the top of that mountain, it’s an achievement that’s difficult to verbalize. But you feel stronger both physically, emotionally, and mentally.

But you’re now part of an era that has an aversion to discomfort. When you choose comfort instead of discomfort, you fail to strengthen your mental toughness. It’s because you haven’t practiced enhancing your problem-solving skills and deepening your emotional intelligence, which is a recipe for emotional maturity. These three ingredients are needed to manage such unpredictable life events. If not, you’ll find yourself crumbling at the mere scent of adversity.

Let’s be clear, it’s okay to collapse, process, and fully experience all that you need to. When you process your emotions, you can then move forward with a plan of action. What happens when life punches you in the face, and you decide to stay down? And you remain there for far too long, without initiating steps to heal?

There isn’t a timeline for the grief you experience. However, it’s necessary that with each event, you allow your resilience to strengthen. That can’t happen without your full participation. I urge you to take baby steps until you can fully stand up.

Mental Toughness Is The Building Block To Lasting Change

David Goggins is a retired Navy Seal who served in the Iraq, Afghanistan war, and he’s an ultra-marathon runner. In this interview, he talks about his painful childhood and what he had to do to overcome that debilitating experience. He knew early on the only way he was going to survive through the unfortunate inevitable realities of life is by building his mental toughness.

Now you don’t need to do the things that David Goggins has done, such as running a 320-mile race and do 2,011 pull-ups, but what you and I can both learn from him is that once you strengthen your mental toughness, there’s no going back. The more you do the scary stuff, and the more you challenge yourself, the change within you lasts a lifetime.

What you’re doing is building your reserves. And the more you grow, the taller the wall of strength becomes. The great thing about mental toughness is that you can see the progression because you can look back and see how far you’ve come. Instead of asking yourself, how am I going to get through this? Change your question from how I’m going to get through this?

Because the more you engage in activities that require mental toughness, you begin to trust your abilities to do almost anything. All it takes is one more step, one inch forward, hold on a little longer, sit with discomfort for a while, and you won’t have to protect yourself anymore. Your armor becomes something you can’t wash off; it becomes thick like Teflon. Commit to smashing a few challenges that will strengthen your mental toughness.

You are here to fill your cup, as Les Brown says, “Live full die empty.”
Go all-in with your life. Feel the fear and hold hands with it along the way. Think of a challenge that you can add to your life, whether it’s a walking challenge, a writing challenge, anything that pushes you towards your edge.

You want to lean in as much as possible.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember who you are becoming while you are on your journey. Who you are is much more significant than what you’ve achieved. My past challenges have been meditation and intermittent fasting. Both have radically changed my life. These habits permanently altered my relationship with food and my ability to control my emotions.

How will you challenge yourself this year? Your life deserves you to go all in without looking back. Vince Lombardi said, “It’s training you against you.” You’re in that arena by yourself. But you have everything inside of you to begin building your mental toughness. It starts with a decision to lean in.

Once you decide to lean in, the old you will be a faint memory. Your palms will lay open, your arms at your side instead of tucked in, and you’ll be ready. Whatever life throws at you, you’ll be able to handle it.

You got this.

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