Mental Toughness

In high school we had an arm wrestling contest every year. Freshman year I won. Sophomore year I lost in the finals to the guy I beat in the finals the previous year. Junior and Senior year he progressively beat me more and more easily. He was progressing every year and I was at best stagnant. After college I had learned a lot more about training through reading as much as I could and trial and error. We ended up belonging to the same gym and our gym. By now he was even bigger and stronger than before.

Our gym was having a fitness competition that we were both competing in. I had resigned myself to the fact that he was going to beat me in many of the strength aspects; which he did, handedly. The last event was 1.5 miles on a treadmill. I was smaller and I had been running a lot. I knew that I would at very least beat him on this event. He got on the treadmill next to me set it for 10mph and didn’t stop nor slow down until he was done. He beat me and it wasn’t very close. He got off the treadmill and walked back to the locker room nonchalantly.

Mental Toughness


You know what he was doing in the lock room? He was throwing up. He did not have the ability to run 1.5 miles at 10mph, but he did it anyway and his body was revolting against him. He had the mental toughness to will himself through it. Not just on the treadmill but through the other events as well. When lactic acid built up and caused me to fail, he was able to keep pushing through the pain until the time limit.

What was the motivating factor? I had no idea. There was no prize money. There wasn’t any notoriety to be gained.

I wanted to figure this out and it took a few years. What I learned is that mental toughness is omnipresent in most aspects of our lives.

For me, I never had pushed myself in the gym. I like working out, but I never had the fortitude to truly push myself and remain consistent. That same mindset percolated into my spending and eating habits as well. Got a craving for McDonald’s, give in to the craving and grab some McDonald’s and might as well put it on a credit card because I’m not mentally tough enough to stick to a budget.

Breaking this cycle requires you to make changes. Starting small works, but in the end you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. What seems to work for many people is removing something small from their lives that they know they should as a New Year’s Resolution. Some of my most successful resolutions were not drinking soda, no drinking energy drinks, and not eating fast food burgers.

Just ordering out food every night is very comfortable. Making a meal list, diligently shopping for it and cooking those meals can be uncomfortable at first. Going to the same job at the same position day after day is comfortable. If you have a good idea, tell some one there that actually has authority to act on it. It will work out for you. Been doing the same routine at the gym? Challenge yourself in a competition or race. The people there will be better than you and that will force you to get better yourself. That’s why I’ve signed up for progressively harder and harder races. It’s also why I joined a Crossfit gym in which every one in my class was better than me.

After a while something magical happens: you begin to ‘want’ less. Things that may have caused impulsively cause you to give in to spending and eating frivolously become less frequent.

Book Recommendation

Two books that I recommend on the subject are Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss and Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin.

In Tools of Titans, Timothy Ferriss highlights parts of interviews he has had with a number of high successful individuals. Many of them highlight routines for mental toughness that allows them to constantly be moving forward toward their goals.

One of the individuals interviewed is Jocko Willink. Jocko is a former Navy Seal commander. Anyone that goes through Hell Week and then Drown Proofing is probably a good source on mental toughness. In one part of his book; Extreme Ownership, Jocko gives the curt advice, “Be Tougher”. On the surface this advice seethes with macho bullshit, but in reality it actually works. The reason it works is because there is no work around for mental toughness, you actually have to just “be tougher”.

Although it may not have been the scenario envisioned by Willink, going from work to my home at lunchtime I pass Taco Bell. Do I give in and grab a delicious Cheesy Gordita Crunch or do I go straight home and cook my lunch. Telling myself, “Be tougher” actually works.


Author: David Matthews

Welcome to my site!

I started this site as a way of discussing what I’ve learned about the relationship between personal finances and physical fitness. What I have learned allowed me to lose 50lbs and improve my creditscore 150 points in the same year.

Husband. Father. West Virginia University Grad. Licensed Insurance and Financial Professional. Sports fan (Phila, WVU, and Manchester City). Huge nerd (like Magic: The Gathering huge)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.