When you exercise, you should be constantly pushing yourself to develop mental toughness because overcoming it will help you prepare you for any surprises life may suddenly throw at you. Mental toughness is the ability to cope with difficult situations and is not just limited to exercise but also the ability to rise from harsh situations such as poverty or child abuse. I can’t think of one word to describe mental toughness but it is variety of factors including pain tolerance, attitude, discipline… a state of mind.
Here is a great quote I found on Wikipedia:
Mental Toughness is all about improving your mind so that it’s always on your side; not sometimes helping you nor working against you as we all know it’s quite capable of doing.
Tough workouts develop mental toughness because your body needs pain to know pain and to be able to push past the pain. Our bodies are made for survival and the more we push it, the more we will adapt. To me, exercise is 20% physical and 80% mental. How long you will last depends on how much pain you can handle. How much pain you can handle depends on your mental toughness.
Last weekend when I was climbing Mount Baker, I went through one of the biggest wars against my brain and I almost lost. I don’t think I’ve ever told my brain to “shut the fuck up” as many times as I did during that ride. I take pride in saying that when I usually go into hard workouts, I’ve always had the “let’s do this” mentality but for the first time ever (okay, well since I started this journey 4 years ago), as soon as we got to the base of Mount Baker, it already seemed impossible. I felt despair, hopelessness and just plain tired.
But guess what? I ended up making it to the top. My physical ability was not the issue but my mind was just not into it. When I got into the groove, I was easily spinning up but whenever any negative thought popped into my head (eg. “omigod. this climb is never going to end”), my performance was always effected— and it did constantly. I remember some of the past climbs I’ve done like up to Cypress or Seymour, I never doubted my ability and rarely did a negative thought cross my mind. Those climbs were enjoyable— no doubt, hard but enjoyable.
Our bodies react to how we think and if we can train our mindset to know how to push past the pain, we can achieve anything. One thing that helped me finish the Mount Baker climb was knowing and reminding myself that it will end which brings me back to this quote that has helped me countless times:
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.
So next time you are in so much pain you want to curl up and cry, just remind yourself that…