What’s the secret to reaching your goals?
Well that’s quite the question, isn’t it! And depending on who you ask, you’re very likely to get a lot of different answers. The answer I have, however, is [hopefully] one that you haven’t heard before.
My answer = mental toughness
Also coined as “grit,” mental toughness is your ability to maintain persistence when pursuing a task or goal.
To be clear – this is NOT:
- Working harder
- Putting in more hours
- Pushing through things without clear aim
Instead, it’s keeping clear focus and determination on the task at hand.
This requires two key things – consistency and stamina.
Let’s break those down.
Staying consistent is the first step to establishing mental toughness. Our bodies and minds are wired to stay comfortable and lazy. We don’t naturally like or embrace change. Nor do we adapt to new habits and patterns well. This conflicts with our ability to stay consistent. And it all starts with the mind, who ends up informing the body.
Let’s take fitness as an example.
Most people know exercise is good for them. Yet most people do little to no exercise. And even less people do exercise consistently. Why? Because it takes work to exercise and it’s a routine that needs to carve itself into our daily habits. To do that work your mind has to buy into why it’s worthwhile and then tell your body to take action.
Most people let the thought of work and discomfort convince them otherwise. Whereas, the fittest people on Earth aren’t just healthy, they’re disciplined and consistent. They’ve established mental toughness to workout on a regular schedule and maintain that routine.
If you can’t establish some pattern of consistency towards reaching your goals you will never reach them.
Stamina is your ability to endure mental toughness over long periods of time. This involves patience and perseverance to stick with something and stay mentally committed. It’s very easy to give up or forget things that don’t yield immediate results. In fact, most of us have short-term expectations for the majority of our daily interactions.
Let’s take a business startup as an example.
Starting a new business is a lot of work. It’s also analogous to a roller coaster with all the highs and lows that come with an early stage business. There are a plethora of challenges and obstacles that new businesses face, which require intense resources. Most people find it challenging to sustain this roller coaster ride for more than a few months, let alone a few years. This is why most small businesses fail. Their mind gets dizzy and tired, which tells their body they’re sick, and they exit the ride.
Additionally, the early stage decisions and results are so real in a startup because they’re brand new. Every decision or result seems like the next thing you should focus on and divert all your mental energy towards. Again, distraction sets in and most people lose the mental battle. They give time and energy to the things they shouldn’t, and subsequently, their business runs out of resources to stay alive.
On the contrary, startups who succeed find ways to stay the course and stay committed. They accept the early challenges, and only deviate (or pivot) if they have actionable data and reason to do so. Their stamina is what allows them to maintain mental toughness and sustain. They find success by winning the mental battle.
To be clear, this is not easy. It’s taken me years of mental battles, and sometimes wars, to learn these things and find mental toughness in my own life. Every high achiever has faced the same challenges. But once you establish consistency and stamina things become a lot easier.
If this all feels overwhelming I would encourage you to start small. Don’t try to change your ways overnight. You will likely fail. Instead, create some micro-habits and slowly shift your routine.
For example, commit to something once per week until it sticks. Then, after you’ve established this level of consistency, bump it up to twice per week. Grow the frequency slowly and you’ll gradually establish mental toughness. This concept is well articulated in the Atomic Habits book by James Clear. He also talks about getting 1% better, instead of shooting for major change, which is a powerful concept.
Either way, start somewhere and stay committed. The battle is in you mind!
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