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Training to be Tough

When The human condition is full of challenge, stress and adversity and yet we hear stories repeatedly of people who have overcome and transcended their circumstances. Research has identified the following factors that make up mental toughness: optimism, hardiness, focus and self-control in the face of difficulty and setbacks, positive feeling states or affectivity, confidence in one’s capability and motivation.

“Why did I choose to run at noon, it’s so hot today!” “This hill is killing my legs” “I can’t take one more step, my lungs are bursting”

Well, here’s one more thought for the day, “shut up and run”! This is my refrain as running gets harder and negative thoughts creep into my mind. Often I remind myself that my limits are in my mind and I need to be tough to reach my training goals. Indeed, most athletes are high in what is termed ‘mental toughness’, a crucial factor for success in competitive sport and one that provides a superior edge to an athlete over others who might be similar in physical capability and training.

The human condition is full of challenge, stress and adversity and yet we hear stories repeatedly of people who have overcome and transcended their circumstances. Research has identified the following factors that make up mental toughness: optimism, hardiness, focus and self-control in the face of difficulty and setbacks, positive feeling states or affectivity, confidence in one’s capability and motivation.

These behaviours are significant not only for athletes but for all of us who want to transcend our daily life struggles and succeed. While they may seem like dispositional qualities they are positive behaviours that can be learned. Training can start early in life and as parents and responsible adults we are in the unique position to be coaches for our children. However, training for toughness does not mean we place our children in difficult situations hoping that they will toughen up. That can be foolish and dangerous with our children becoming fearful and/or resentful. Nor will it help to protect our children from all hardship and challenge and ensuring that life is always easy for them.

Instead, we can gently push our children to go beyond their comfort zones while encouraging them to stay positive even when things don’t go as planned. We can believe in them and thereby teach them to be confident in their capability. We can help direct their focus to the task on hand by not ourselves being fixated on errors but guide them to take corrective action, learn from mistakes and move on. Finally, we can teach them to not fear their own emotional distress by not rushing to make them feel better but communicating that it is okay to be sad, scared or nervous.

While we are at it, we can try these with ourselves. Truly tough individuals have the willingness to tolerate challenges and persevere toward their goals, celebrate when they achieve and rebound from setbacks and do all of these with optimism even when they feel nervous about a hurdle or disappointed at failing on a task. With those thoughts, I can now try to run up that horrid slope again even though I slowed to a walk in the last rep. Along with my quads, this hill can enhance my mental toughness!

By Shrimathi Swaminathan on 9 May 2014 at 10:44
Posted in Lifestyle and Behaviour, Mental Health

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Shrimathi Swaminathan