Mental Toughness Exercises

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Sean Hyson, conditioning coach and fitness editor of "Men's Fitness" magazine, defines mental toughness as "the ability to maintain the focus and determination to complete a course of action despite difficulty or consequences." Anyone can improve their mental toughness through training and practice. Mental toughness will help you overcome many different types of obstacles in athletic endeavors as well as in off-the-field pursuits such as work and relationships.

Clarify Your Goals

You can't get to where you want to be if you don't know where you're going, and you will have no motivation to go there if you don't know why you are going. Do some soul searching to discover what you truly desire, and set your goals accordingly. Record these goals in a notebook. Each goal should be accompanied by the reason why you are pursuing it, based on your deepest desires. Review your notebook frequently.

Seize Control of Your Mind

Rachel Cosgrove, strength and conditioning coach and triathlete, notes that everyone is subject to a constant internal dialogue going on in their minds. One key to mental toughness is to seize control of that dialogue.

You must first train yourself to become aware of your thoughts as they occur. Then learn to identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive, but realistic ones. One example would be to replace complaining and blaming thoughts with problem-solving thoughts.


Ancient Chinese philosopher Sun-Tzu said that every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought. Joe Stankowski, C.P.T. and a former power-lifter, advises athletes to mentally visualize their performance over and over again before their actual performance.

Scientific studies indicate that the use of visualization can produce measurable increases in performance even without physical training, according to Coaching Science Abstracts. This means that you can continue training even while you are injured. The more vivid you visualize your chosen activity, the more effective your training will be.


Meditation can improve your concentration and focus, and can prevent you from "choking" under pressure. In addition, meditation can improve your response to stress during daily life. The most basic form of meditation involves sitting alone in a dark room, relaxing, and clearing your mind of all thoughts for 20 minutes or so. Meditation courses are offered in nearly every major U.S. city.

Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

The "comfort zone" is the enemy of all greatness. In order to push past your limits, you are going to have to break though your comfort zone. One way of doing this is to commit yourself to push yourself just a little bit harder every day--continuing to run for five minutes after you want to quit--for example.

Another way is to periodically perform an act that is unfamiliar and frightening to you. This includes anything from approaching a perfect stranger in the street with a silly question to jumping out of an airplane with a parachute attached to your back.