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The Prerequisite to Mental Toughness

The Prerequisite to Mental Toughness

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Wrestling has known the value of the personality trait referred to as mental toughness for centuries; it seems the disciplines requiring the greatest amount of physical toughness have paradoxically been the leading advocates of mental toughness.  Today specialists in nearly every field, from parenting to mountain climbing, have identified mental toughness as a crucial element in reaching mastery and high performance.  It is this intangible trait that may be the X-factor explaining why some succeed and others fail.  The important question is then - how can we actively cultivate mental toughness in ourselves?

To answer this question, we must understand that there is a required prerequisite to achieving mental toughness.  A few synonymous terms can be used to describe this mental toughness precursor, but let’s first refer to it as right seeing.  Right seeing requires us to maintain the awareness that our perceptions of reality are not actually reality. I.e. Our explanation or interpretation of reality is simply that, an interpretation -- one that is based more on past experiences, people’s opinions, cultural norms, assumptions and self-serving biases, than actual facts.  This is equivalent to realizing when you are looking at a map of a territory, rather than the territory itself. 

As you may have already noticed from the rather abstract discussion thus far, right seeing is a unique concept and as such, it holds a unique property.  Right seeing cannot be learned through logical reasoning; it must be attained through the development of new awareness -- the awareness that we are looking at a map of the territory, not the territory itself.  It is the abstract and introspective nature of right seeing that makes cultivating mental toughness so difficult.   

In his book The Tao of Physics, American physicist, philosopher and author, Fritjof Capra explains:

“The human observer constitutes the final link in the chain of observational processes…This means that the classical ideal of an objective description of nature is no longer valid…we can never speak about nature without, at the same time, speaking about ourselves.”

Objectivity is an illusion.  Our experience is intimately tied to the lens through which we view it.  Therefore, if we want to better understand our wrestling experience, our training, and our competitions, we must also look at the personal context through which we are interpreting them.

The process of “looking at the lens” or becoming aware of your “map of the territory” can also be understood as mindfulness. These practices require that we take a back seat to the voice inside our head, observing our thoughts before accepting them as facts.  Mindfulness happens when we are curious and begin taking note of the underlying assumptions, paradigms and beliefs that we have, for so long, been accepting as reality.  

We have to check our default settings by asking ourselves: what do my actions say about my underlying belief system? What does my level of motivation say about my belief in myself or my abilities? If I truly believe that my efforts will lead to success, won’t motivation be abundant? Do I perceive a grueling workout as a challenge to be attacked, or a discomfort to be avoided? Do you feel wrestling (and life) offer success to those who work the hardest, the smartest, and the most passionately? Or, is your map depicting success as something determined largely by training partners, “natural talent”, coaches, or the tournament draw? As you can see, perspective makes all the difference.  

George Mumford - the man who taught the dynasties of the L.A. Lakers and the Chicago Bulls mindfulness - and the author of The Mindful Athlete, stresses the importance of mindfulness in athletic and personal development:

“Eventually, the regular practice of mindful concentration will reveal what’s hidden in our own emotional blueprints, and in so doing, will lead us to even greater levels of self-knowledge, personal growth, and above all, wisdom.”

Understanding our current biases, paradigms and beliefs is a priceless insight because, it isn’t until we are aware of our hidden mental frameworks that we can begin custom tailoring them to optimally serve us.  This is mental toughness at its core.  Mentally tough athletes are extremely effective at choosing and maintaining the mindset that will lead to the highest performance, growth, and action.   Our internal beliefs and views shape our thoughts.  Our thoughts are the seeds of our actions.  Therefore, to improve our actions we must first improve our thoughts.

Before mental toughness is ever possible, an astute awareness of your perceptions, beliefs and mental talk must exist.  Once this mindful awareness has been crafted, you can then begin consciously choosing the self-image, locus of control, and map of reality that will empower you to create motivation, passion, and action in your life.  

“Perception is strong and sight weak.” Miyamoto Musashi - A Book of 5 Rings

“What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you will ever achieve” Geoff Colvin- Talent is Overrated

“The greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action.” Tony Robbins- Unlimited Power

By Joe Nord


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