To become more mentally tough, your ability to think long-term instead of focusing on the day-to-day nitty-gritty of life will prove invaluable.Many people make the mistake of spending too much of their time focused on the immediate future or sucked into the status quo.
Instead, you should consciously choose to zoom out and look at the broader picture in order to gain control over your emotions.
Focusing on small setbacks that occur in the short- term can skew your view of what matters in the long- term.
Let’s pretend that you had set a goal to eat more whole foods and produce on a daily basis.
On Friday, you didn’t manage to eat a salad with your lunch, and on Sunday you went out with friends and ate an entire plate of deep-fried Buffalo wings.
Many people may focus on the short-term and berate themselves for making such poor choices in relation to their goal.
However, by choosing to zoom out and look at the broader picture, these two examples may be only tiny blips on the radar.
You only have cause for concern when there are numerous blips and a pattern begins to form.
No, you didn’t meet your goal on Friday and Sunday, but perhaps when looking at the entire month it will become clear that you have been making great strides toward eating more whole foods and produce on a daily basis.
When looking at a single day, small deviations from your goal may loom large and seem like overwhelming setbacks.
However, when you view your choices for an entire month, the true impact of an occasional small daily setback will become clear.
A small setback on the daily scale does not derail a long-term goal.
By simply adjusting your perspective, you are able to identify small setbacks, such as eating a plate of wings with your friends, and move on much more quickly and with less stress and negativity.
In general, if an event will seem unimportant or forgettable in a few days, then it is not worth holding on to or dwelling on.
Choosing to focus on the immediate moment causes you to engage with life in a very reactive manner: you are emotional, prone to making quick, ill-thought-through decisions, and easily derailed by day-to-day setbacks.
Instead of living in this reactive manner, those with mental toughness make a conscious choice to live their lives in a state of controlled deliberateness.
They are logical, measured, and consider the long-term implications of their decision before setting a course of action.
Everyone encounters day-to-day ups and downs, but obsessing over short-term wins or losses is a waste of energy.
Olympic athletes are a fantastic example of individuals who shrug off short-term wins or losses to remain fixated on their long-term goals.
Whether an athlete encounters a minor injury, a first-place trophy in a national competition, or unexpected training challenges, the long-term goal does not change.
These small occurrences hold little weight in the face of an Olympic medal two or three years in the future.
Resilient, strong individuals know that you must focus on what you can control each day, put in the hard work to move toward your goals, and live your life in a controlled, deliberate manner.
To further contrast the difference between living your life in an emotional, reactionary manner and choosing to be controlled and deliberate, consider the following scenario: You have $86,400 in your checking account.
While getting into your car one evening, a thief approaches and robs you.
He manages to steal $10 from your wallet.
Would you spend your remaining $86,390 hiring private investigators and lawyers to find and prosecute the thief? Or would you recognize that in the long-term $10 means very little to you and it is better to appreciate the events that have gone well in your life and move on from this small setback? In this scenario, choosing to find and prosecute the thief would be an example of emotional and reactionary living.
It may feel good in the short-term to give in to your emotions, especially because this event might seem huge when zoomed into your timeline of the day, but it ultimately squanders your time and can negatively impact your ability to attain your long-term goals.
Instead, those with mental resiliency and strength choose to think long-term.
They zoom out on their timeline and take into account what $10, a small amount of money, truly means when considering the full amount they have in their checking account.
They understand that it is a waste to spend the remaining $86,390 and instead choose to move on from this short-term setback and continue making progress toward their goals.
Some of you may have made the connection that there are 86,400 seconds in one day.
This scenario can also be viewed in the context of a single day.
Should you waste an entire day focusing on one 10- second setback? Of course not! That would be just as wasteful as squandering $86,390.
When thinking about this 10 seconds or $10 in the future, it will seem inconsequential.
A small setback, when you zoom out on your timeline, becomes recognizable for what it is—insignificant.
Day-to-day wins or setbacks are inconsequential when viewed on a broader scale.
Always choose to live your life with controlled deliberateness instead of allowing yourself to inhabit a short-term reactionary space.
This may not seem so powerful, but it forces you to think specifically about your future self, specifically the future self that you are aspiring to.
A lot of times, we may know that we are doing something harmful in the moment, but that’s not enough to stop us from doing it because we don’t have any connection to our future self that will have to deal with the consequences.
Someone has just cut you off in traffic and almost caused you to crash.
There was no damage done, but you are livid and on the verge of chasing them down in your car and assaulting them.
What if you were to think about your mental state in 10 minutes, hours, and days? Think about what you would be doing, what you would be feeling, and where you would be if the event didn’t occur.
In a sense, you are distracting yourself from the current emotional moment by reminding yourself that you have a life to live and your current rage will keep you from doing that.
Control your emotions by looking ahead to the rest of your life and visualizing how you want it to go.
There is an old Zen saying: “Your anger, depression, spite, or despair, so seemingly real and important right now; where will they have gone in a month, a week, or even a moment?” Intense emotions blind us to the future and con us that now is all that matters.
In fact, when we are incredibly angry or anxious, we can even forget that there is even going to be a future.
We’ve all said or done things we later regret simply because, for a time, we let ourselves be dictated by our own emotion.
Look beyond the immediate and you’ll see the bigger picture and calm down, too.
The 40% Rule
An easy way to think about building the skill of mental toughness is to borrow from Navy SEALs.
Of course, these are elite soldiers that are known for pushing their boundaries—after all, their lives can depend on it.
They intimately know that the human body and mind can push far more than we give it credit for.
This is known as the 40% rule.
The 40% rule is straightforward.
It says that when an individual’s mind begins telling them that they are physically or emotionally maxed out, in reality they have only pushed themselves to 40% of their full capacity.
In other words, they could endure 60% more if only they believed that they are capable of it.
When you think you have reached your limits, you’re not even close, and whether you can keep going or not depends on if you believe it.
It’s quite a belief to feel that you’ve reached your limits and say to yourself that you’re only 40% done.
It’s an acceptance of pain and discomfort.
When you stop avoiding it and embrace it, it’s surprising how your perspective will shift.
We are usually ready to give up around the time that we begin to feel pain or are barely pressing our boundaries.
But that point is actually just the beginning of what we are all capable of, and the key to unlocking more potential is to push through the initial pain and the self-doubt that surfaces along with it.
By maintaining a belief in yourself, you show yourself that you can do more, and that evidence builds your confidence and mental toughness.
You might, for example, begin struggling after doing 10 push-ups.
You’d start hearing the voice in your head that says you feel too tired, too sore, or too weak to go on.
But if you take a pause and gather yourself to do one more, you find that you’ve already disproven the voice saying that you can’t.
Then you pause and do another.
And then another.
And then another.
Suddenly you’re at 20.
You can take it slowly, but you’ve just doubled what you thought was possible, just because you kept pushing.
Believing that you can do more will make it true, and this in itself is a skill to build.
It enables you to go well beyond the limits that you’ve constructed for yourself in your own mind.
And once you’ve felt the pain and the urge to give up at 10 push-ups only to push through it and do 20, you know that your mental strength helped you persevere.
The next time you’re challenged, you’ll feel all the more capable and prepared to push past your supposed limits again.
This embodies mental toughness in a nutshell—it’s really a matter of how much pain you can stomach, and most of us will only bend and never break.
Our minds can be our best friends when we have a strong belief in our capabilities, but they can also be a poisonous enemy if we allow negativity to seize control.
It’s up to you to empower yourself using the 40% rule rather than throwing in the towel mentally at the first sign of resistance.
Imagine that you decide to run a 5k or even a full marathon despite being out of shape.
Inevitably, as you run you’ll begin to breathe harder, your legs will feel heavier, and you might question yourself.
You could easily give up in that moment and save yourself from extra pain and soreness.
But if circumstances were different and you were running away from danger out of self-preservation, you could undoubtedly continue on well beyond that first inclination to give in.
Barring massive injuries, you’d finish if you believed the pain was part of the process.
It’s all a matter of whether you believe you can or not.
The reality is, most of us have no clue about our true physical and mental limitations.
Our lives are so much safer and more comfortable than those of our ancestors, and that has some undesirable consequences when it comes to mental toughness.
We don’t test ourselves and we don’t know what we’re capable of.
Now it is mostly the people who seek out intense challenges who subsequently learn discipline and mental strength while the rest go about their comfortable lives without any idea of their full capabilities.
In case you’re skeptical as to the merits of the 40% rule, there is some scientific evidence in support of it that might help convince you.
Numerous studies over the years have found that the placebo effect—the tangible change in performance caused merely by a belief that something you’ve done will impact performance—has a significant impact, especially in athletics.
The legitimacy of the placebo effect suggests that your mental strength and toughness play a big role in physical abilities.
In other words, if you believe it, it will be.
There is a scientific consensus that the placebo effect is not a deception, fluke, experimental bias, or statistical anomaly.
Rather, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the human brain anticipates an outcome and then produces that outcome of its own accord.
In fact, the placebo effect closely follows the types of patterns you would expect to see if the brain was really producing its own desired results.
Researchers have illustrated this phenomenon by showing that placebos follow the same dose-response curves as real medicines.
Two pills give more relief than one, a larger pill has a stronger effect than a smaller one, and so on.
When you consider the placebo effect, it quickly becomes clear how powerful our minds are.
Countless studies have supported the conclusion that the placebo effect is a result of chemical changes in the form of endorphin production.
Just believing that you can give 60% more effort makes it possible.
For any goals that you have, struggles with discipline can probably be overcome by changing your expectations.
Whenever you find yourself making excuses or lacking mental toughness, consider the 40% rule and the placebo effect and ask if your excuses are legitimate or if your pain and discomfort are truly significant.
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- The Art of Intentional Thinking: Master Your Mindset. Control and Choose Your Thoughts. Create Mental Habits to Fulfill Your Potential (Second Edition) By Peter Hollins
- Get the audiobook on Audible at https://bit.ly/IntThink
- Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-shownotes
- Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://www.PeteHollins.com to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
- For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
- For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg