If you’re like most athletes, you know that mental toughness is crucial to success; you just don’t know how to develop it. If mental toughness is not defined, it becomes impossible to measure and difficult to improve. Mental toughness can be defined with this simple equation:
Focus on Goal – Distractions from Goal = Mental Toughness
Using this definition, we can create a game plan to develop measurable mental toughness.
This series of steps should improve focus on a specific goal. Before every practice or competition, ask yourself the following three questions.
1. What Do I Want?
If you’re going to give everything you’ve got, shouldn’t your goal be worthwhile? Your goal should be something that you haven’t yet achieved. It should inspire and excite you every time it crosses your mind.
2. What One Thing Can I Improve?
You’ve set an inspiring goal; now figure out the steps you need to take to achieve it. Don’t make the common mistake of trying to improve more than one skill at a time. By selecting and working on only one skill, you force your mind and body to master it. Once you master it, move on to another skill.
3. Are You Ready To Succeed?
Some athletes set goals, fewer focus on only one skill, and only an elite group make the decision to succeed. By consciously answering this question in the affirmative every workout and game, you are setting the expectation that you will succeed. You have a goal and you know what you need to do to get there—now tell your body that victory is the only option.
Practice and competitions do not take place in a bubble. In every sport, you will face distractions that will try to shift your focus away from your goal. Take the following three steps to limit distractions.
1. Develop a Short Positive Phrase
Turn your goal into a phrase that you can repeat to yourself when distractions come. The simpler the phrase, the easier it will be to remember and the faster you’ll form a habit. By repeating your goal to yourself in the face of distractions, you’ll develop a laser focus on your path to success.
2. Expect and Embrace Distractions
Surprise is one of the most common reasons athletes lose focus. No matter how many years you’ve competed, you’re always a moment away from a brand new obstacle. Mental toughness means being ready for the unexpected. So not only should you expect distractions, you need to learn to embrace them. By consciously recognizing a distraction, you can place it out of your mind and get back to focusing on the skill that will help you achieve your goal and earn success.
3. Learn from Mistakes
At some point while working toward your goal, you will lose focus. It’s easy to become negative and start beating yourself up after a failure, but remember that even the best athletes in the world make mistakes and lose focus. Instead of seeking perfection, seek improvement. Recognize distractions, refocus and move on.
Measure Your Mental Toughness
We measure mental toughness by the length of time it takes a skill to becomes a habit. Think back to your very first practice, when you were learning the basics and were conscious of every movement you made. Over time, the skills became second nature, and you were able to move on to more advanced training. As you get better at focusing on each step and eliminating distractions, you’ll start to develop good habits more quickly and see results on the field in a shorter period of time. To reach your goals faster, start actively measuring mental toughness.
Find more mental techniques to help you reach your goals in our Sports Psych section.