The importance of Mental Strength

This blog talks about how I first discovered mental strength and how it has helped me overcome some major obstacles in my life. I intend to write more blogs on this theme to go into further detail about how I found my own mental strength, how I have trained it, and how you can find and develop your own mental strength. 

Let’s start by looking at a definition of what I believe Mental Strength is, and why you should be concerned with it.

But before we get to all that, here are some brief credentials from me, to give you some idea of why I feel able to talk about this subject.

I discovered mental strength through endurance road cycling 5 years ago. I was in the middle of Belgium on my own, in the rain, about to quit a 3-day / 380km charity bike ride from London to Brussels that I was part of. I had decided the ride was too hard and pulled to the side of the road, to phone for an emergency support car to pick me up. At the time, quitting felt like a much better option than cycling the remaining 100km I still had to go that day, not to mention the 120km I had to ride the next day (I’d already ridden 130km the previous day!)

After spending 10 minutes shouting at myself to not quit ( I will elaborate in a future blog), I found some strength from somewhere and got back on the bike. The remaining 100km to my overnight stop in Bruges flew by and whilst it was hard, it was nowhere near as hard as I had previously been thinking, before I gave myself ‘that’ talking to.

I didn’t realise until a while afterwards, but I had just discovered my mental strength, albeit at aged 42, but better late than never, hey?!

Since then, for the past 5 years (but really the interest in this subject begun 10 years or more ago) I started reading about Mental Strength. I’ve read countless books and websites, watched hundreds of videos, dozens of films, podcasts and TV programmes…….anything I can get my hands on to further understand and educate myself in the subtle Art that is Mental Strength mastery. I have become familiar with the lives and mindsets of people like David Goggins and Rich Roll, and become obsessed with the mental strength required by elite professional cyclists such as Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, both of whom stated that as much as 80% of the formula which helped them win the Tour de France and all their other numerous cycling achievements, was being mentally stronger than anyone else on the bike on any given day.

Mental strength has defined who I am today. It has helped me stick with my convictions and allowed me to make tough decisions on multiple occasions. Moving to live in another country, working away from home for months and waking up at 6am 6 days a week for years on end to train my mind and my body, would not be possible without having the strength in my mind to stick at it, not quit, take the pain, swallow it deep down and just crack on with it (as they say in Yorkshire). There are many more small victories I have had, both at work and in my personal life, that I credit to just being mentally stronger than the next man on that day.

Being mentally strong does not require you to be physically strong. The body will quit way before the mind. It’s the mind that will push you the extra 100km on the bike in the pouring rain across Belgium when you’re ready to quit and think you’ve got no energy left. Your body just goes along for the ride!

a few definitions…

From searching in Google, it’s clear that there doesn’t seem to be a single Definition of Mental Strength.

The Oxford English Dictionary Reference site doesn’t have a definition for Mental Strength, however it does have one for Mental Toughness, which it defines as :

A quality of mind or intellect characterized by, among other things, a refusal to be intimidated, a determination to finish a contest even when things are going badly, and an ability to control emotions and remain highly focused when under the pressure of intense competition.

I also found a very good definition on MentalToughness.Partners website by NFL Coach Vince Lombardi

“Mental toughness is many different things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind — you could call it character in action”.

Neither of these quite excellent definitions fit my own image of what Mental Strength means to me, so I decided I would come up with my own definition. For me, mental strength means-

Having control of your mind and telling it what to do or think, rather than letting your mind control you and determine your actions. It’s the difference between quitting because your mind tells you to, versus telling it to find another gear and keep going.

Mental strength is…

  • Not letting the warm duvet seduce you into snoozing your alarm
  • Not giving “the gym” a miss, just because you’re feeling tired
  • Having the strength of conviction to do that thing you want to do, even though nobody has ever done it before
  • Being strong enough in your mind to know you’re right
  • Never quitting just because a thing starts to get too hard
  • Having the strength of mind to not succumb to peer pressure
  • Being in control of your own actions and not letting the weak side of your mind (the chimp) talk you into taking the easy path (I’ll talk about The Chimp in a future blog)
  • Not being intimidated by a person purely because they may appear physically bigger or stronger than you. Physically strength does not always imply mental strength
  • Absolutely, positively, it is something which can be trained (as we will explore in future blogs)

And finally, some motivation…

I want to leave you with a few words of wisdom from some friends of mine who I have come to know a little bit. We’re all part of some nameless community of creators on YouTube and whilst we’ve never met in person and come from very different backgrounds (they’re both US Marines, I am not!), we do share similar values and have a commonly held belief on the value of Mental Strength.  (thanks for giving up some of your valuable time Daniel and Moraldo, appreciate it….and the beers are on me if we ever actually meet in person!!)

First of all, meet Moraldo, here is what he had to say when I asked him what mental strength meant to him…….

Now meet Daniel Pascual, also a US Marine, Daniel gave me his take on the same question I asked Moraldo, what does Mental Strength mean to you….

ANd finally….

There is a channel on YouTube called Yes Theory, you may have heard of them! 3 guys from LA who take on life challenges, only ever saying yes to them. This video (below) shows how 1 of the Yes Theory guys signed up to do a half ironman triathlon with only 30 days to train for it. If ever there was a video which gave context to what Mental Strength is and how it can be applied in a practical way, it’s this one. 

I hope this blog motivates you to go out and find (or further develop) your own mental strength. If you found this interesting please consider leaving me a comment and sharing it on your social media platforms. If you share it on Twitter or Instagram don’t forget to tag me so I’ll see it and RT you!

I will be back soon with more thoughts about Mental Strength, where I will talking in greater detail about how I found my own mental strength and some ways you can find or develop yours.

Thanks for reading, see you next time

Foggy

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