Tips for Strengthening Mental Toughness and Resilience

November 11, 2021

“If you want to be tougher, be tougher.”

Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL Commander

Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL commander, a podcast host, and author. In everything he does, he epitomizes mental toughness.

Every morning he wakes up before sunrise (which means before 4:30 am) and begins an intense morning workout routine. By 6:00 am, he dives into the ocean for a ritual of a rigorous surf or swim. He might grab a handful of nuts to snack on, or follow an intermittent fasting program. Then he gets to work.

He has accomplished more before most of our alarm clocks go off than most of us can honestly admit we do in a day. Why does he do it? He started this routine because, in Navy SEAL training, he quickly realized the best performers were the earliest risers. He copied their approach to achieve the same results.

As he told Business Insider, “ I know it’s hard. I don’t care. Do it anyways.”

We might not all be capable of becoming Jocko, but we can all still strengthen our inner mental resilience. We can be determined, be consistent, and reach our long term goals.

How do we build this deep inner strength, and strengthen our grittiness? Practice makes perfect, and we’ve got a few tips on how to get started.

What is Mental Toughness?

Mental toughness is one of many names for the characteristic of grit, which is also called resilience. Grit means you don’t give up, no matter the challenges you face. It means a little hard work, and the risk of suffering doesn’t scare you off from reaching your goals. You have long term goals and are consistent in your commitment to them.

Angela Duckworth is one of the reasons why grit has made its way into popular culture and self-development circles over the last few years. She is the best selling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, a researcher and a psychologist. Her career has been focused on examining how grit and self-control predict success.

Duckworth and her team studied indicators for success in schools, at the West Point Military Academy, the National Spelling Bee, and several other places. In every single context, they discovered that the success of the people within these competitive worlds came down to their level of mental toughness

According to her research, the primary predictor of success and positive outcomes across any situation turned out to be grit. Across the board, they found that intelligence, income, physical health, and attractiveness had limited to no measurable impact on the success – at least compared to this inner resiliency

Grit, as Duckworth explains, is “Passion and perseverance.” It’s “sticking with your future, day in and day out,” and not giving up after on the long term goal despite small setbacks. Duckworth is a big advocate for making the world a grittier place because it builds better leaders, better bosses, and better people.

Tips for Building Mental Toughness and Resilience

Woman doing push ups during martial arts training

People like Jocko make mental resilience seem impossible. He comes across as superhuman, and his dedication to an impeccable lifestyle, making us normal humans feel a little inferior.

His mantra of “if you want to be tougher, just be tougher,” may encourage a select few to be their best selves, but for others, it’s a daunting challenge.

Thankfully, building grit doesn’t need to happen overnight. As Duckworth told us, resilience is critical for meeting long term goals, but it’s a long term goal in and of itself. Daily routines and conscious changes in your life, career, and relationships slowly build mental resilience – until one day when you do feel strong enough to “just be tougher.”

1. Have a Clear Goal in Mind

So, resilience is about working towards a long term goal, but can you smartly craft these goals to bring them within reach? It turns out you can.

Goals are instantly more attainable when they follow the SMART goal mandate. SMART goals are Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Realistic, and Timely.

For example, you detail your goal of owning a home in five years. Outline where you want to live, what the house looks like, and how many bedrooms it has. Measure your progress towards this goal by setting monthly markers, like saving a certain amount every month or doing research in the local real estate market.

Keep it achievable and realistic, as in determining a realistic budget for your first house. Finally, make it timely by putting it into a schedule, both the short term markers and the long term goal should be laid out visually on a calendar.

2. Hang Out With Others Who Push Themselves

We’ve all heard that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, meaning you’ll want to make these people count. Surround yourself with people who emulate the type of person you want to be, and push you to be a better version of yourself.

Stick with people who already have mental resilience and emotional stability. Look for those who will stick with you come thick or thin, but who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. A balanced group of friends who criticize and care in equal parts will help build character without losing confidence.

3. Build Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence comes in two parts. The first stage is the recognition, understanding, and management of your own emotions. The second stage is the recognition, understanding, and influence over the feelings of others.

As you may have noticed, resilient people tend to stay cool, calm and collected no matter what the situation. A primary example of this is Jocko, who presumably could remain emotionally stable even in a war zone.

Nobody is born with emotional intelligence; it’s something that is learned and practiced over time. This means, if you often struggle with emotional turmoil, it’s something you can change with practice. It’s like a muscle: the more you work it, the heavier load (emotions) you can bare.

4. Meditate, Meditate, Meditate

It seems as if everyone and their dog meditate these days, but it’s not without merit. The benefits of meditation are never-ending, including health benefits (both mental and physical). A daily meditation practice can also help foster mental toughness.

Scientifically meditation can help improve emotional stability and reduce the risk of burnout. One could assume that improved well being makes it easier, not harder, to work on strengthening grit. If you have fewer emotional and mental health issues in your way, you have more capacity to face tough situations and work through challenges.

lazy to wake up girl hand off alarm clock ring on bed at morning monday

5. Small Wins Build Towards Big Wins

Humans need small wins as constant encouragement towards the bigger picture. Failure is inevitable if we attempt to climb Everest without working up to it. We need to practice and achieve small wins to build the mental grit we need to reach the ultimate goal finally. That means starting with small mountains and building towards larger ones. These small, easy wins, trigger a positive emotional reaction and boost that “can-do” attitude.

If you were to try to conquer Everest without any training and without starting with incremental wins, would you continue after failure? You’d feel defeated before you even began. Small victories are psychologically critical to the achievement of your ultimate success.

6. Create a Morning Routine and Stick With it

While getting up before dawn, as Jocko does, is not for everyone, that doesn’t mean you cannot work on a kick-ass morning routine to strengthen inner strength.

A morning routine is a perfect way to practice resilience because not every morning is going to go smoothly. Your cozy bed and warm sheets are an incredible reason to stay in bed, but this is the first step to building resilience. No matter the circumstances, you persevere and get out of bed to face the world.

What other actions can you build into your daily ritual to slowly build grit? You might include a morning workout, a daily nutrient-dense smoothie, or meditation. Whatever you put into your routine, stick with it no matter the circumstance.

7. Consistency is Key

As Duckworth discovered in the research leading up to her book, success comes to those with passion and perseverance. If you want to reach your goals, you must be passionate, but you also must persevere even when the going gets tough. Mental toughness is about facing challenges head-on, and not giving up even when they feel insurmountable.

You can build consistency into your day through a strict morning routine, a daily meditation, or an automatic deposit for a down payment on that house. Even if that means you have to get up earlier or your grocery budget is tight for the month, your commitment to your end goal is consistent and steadfast.

8. Have a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is an idea often thrown around by entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley types. When it comes to mental toughness, it’s also applicable. According to Dr. Carol Dweck, the developer of this idea, a growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.”

It’s the fundamental belief, founded in scientific study, that if you work hard, and practice you can get better. Studies on school-aged children have told us that if children are told they have brains capable of growth, they are more likely to achieve that growth.

The same goes for anything else. If you believe you are capable of positive change, the more likely you’ll accomplish it. The development of grit is a clear example of the growth mindset belief.

Practice Makes Perfect, Don’t Give Up

The age-old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is remarkably applicable here. But, be patient with yourself on your path to mental toughness. Nobody is becoming a Jocko overnight.

Build strong, clear long term goals and foster daily rituals that work towards those goals. Surround yourself with people who propel you towards these goals, and tick of those small wins to stay motivated towards your big success.

In the words of Duckworth:

“Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it. It’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love – staying in love.”

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,

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