Why do individuals with the same physical energy, technical skillset, and resources achieve different performance levels than others? When all else is equal, the most successful people have a unique mindset that allows them to endure intense training, cope with enormous pressure, commit 100 percent to perform optimally and become the best at what they do. Were they born with this ability, or can mental strength be developed just like anything else?
What is mental strength?
Mental strength is a skill we all can develop. It can be applied to every aspect of our lives to gain a competitive edge for personal success.
THOUGHTS impact EMOTIONS.
EMOTIONS influence BEHAVIOR.
BEHAVIOR determines PERFORMANCE.
Our thoughts impact our emotions. Our emotions influence our behavior. Our behavior then determines our performance. It’s about overcoming mental blocks and getting out of our way to achieve work, health, and relationship goals.
Read the two stories below and choose the person you believe has a better chance at high performance, growth, and overall happiness with their work:
Cameron is thinking about all the ways of making a mistake on the job. Today is important because the supervisor has given Cameron the lead on a specific project. Cameron worries about saying the wrong thing, sharing inaccurate information with clients, and losing the business.
Taylor is focused on the goal of signing a customer to the business. Today is important because the supervisor has given Taylor the lead on a specific project. Taylor is excited about using this opportunity in the best way possible.
Taylor has a better chance of high performance, growth, and happiness. While Cameron’s focus on making mistakes creates worry and fear, Taylor focuses on creating a positive challenge and excitement. Feeling challenged and excited (compared to being worried and afraid) sets a positive energy flow into motion, increasing opportunities for good things.
Achieving your current goals and then setting and achieving new ones is challenging. You want to learn that new skill, develop more strength, move to the next level, and be recognized for your efforts and ability. To do so, you need a mindset that will get you to the finish line and beyond. You need a mindset that will help you to break down all the barriers that continue to stand in your way; A mindset that will say “no” to behaviors that sabotage your progress; A mindset that will get you to show up when you would prefer to just stay at home; A mindset that will help you make sacrifices regardless of who else is giving up; A mindset that continues to be your greatest ally and always looks out for your best interest in the long term.
You need a mindset that kicks some major butt!
Clear the Clutter
It is said we make more than 35,000 decisions each day. Think about that for a moment...35,000 decisions that influence your daily performance! With all of these internal Face-Offs (that’s what I like to call them), it’s essential to have the mental strength to consistently make choices that propel us toward our personal best performance. Suppose we don’t develop the mental strength necessary to keep us on the right path to success. In that case, the consequence is an accumulation of mental blocks that lead to anxiety, sadness, and subpar results.
So, What Are Mental Blocks?
In its simplest sense, mental blocks are stories that have the potential to debilitate performance. They might begin with:
- What if…
- I don’t like…
- I can’t…
- They have made it hard because…
Any mental block can create a domino effect where more mental blocks come crashing down and ruin your day, week, month, and year. This clutter of mental blocks leads to emotional turmoil. You begin to be afraid, worried, frustrated, angry, sad, helpless, etc. Ultimately, your performance suffers – it’s that simple (and awful)!
Emotion Trumps Logic Most of the Time
When consumed with mental blocks, we tend to seek immediate fulfillment and use our emotions for decision-making instead of what logic would suggest. Something bad happens in your life, eliciting certain emotions, and you react to it negatively by choosing something unhealthy or, at least unproductive. Have you ever reacted to something negative by skipping a workout, canceling on a friend, or procrastinating at work? These examples show how easy it is for your emotions to take over and influence poor decisions about what you do next. Poor decisions then set in motion a sequence of events and behaviors that feel good at the moment but eventually lead to remorse, shame, frustration, and low self-esteem, ultimately creating more mental blocks and making it difficult to achieve your goals.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter how educated you are about the dos and don’ts of healthy and productive living if you don’t have the mindset to follow through on those things with action. Mental toughness, specifically overcoming mental blocks, is the key to sticking to positive behaviors and making things happen for yourself.
Overcoming Mental Blocks
I propose three ways to overcome mental blocks:
Change the Situation
There are times when changing the situation will eliminate the mental blocks. Research proves that motivation and productivity increase with a change in the environment. A commonly used phrase in performance psychology is: “A change is as good as a rest.”
Any change, such as stepping outside for fresh air, turning on motivational music, finding a new recipe, or getting off the treadmill and onto the elliptical, can generate fresh energy to negate mental blocks and keep you moving forward.
When you experience a mental block and lack energy and inspiration, experiment with changing at least one aspect of your environment. Changing your clothes, cleaning up your desk, going for a walk while on a work call, switching exercise programs, and other environmental changes may by themselves, blow up the mental block and restore peace of mind and enthusiasm. It will be like having your batteries recharged, your motivation restored, and your mental strength renewed!
Change the Way You Look at the Situation
I know one thing for certain: we can’t always change what happens, but we have 100 percent control over the story we create about what happens.
If you can’t or don’t want to change your situation, you can change the way you look at the situation. This skill is called cognitive reframing. You might be familiar with this saying: Where your mind goes, energy flows. Focusing on how you can be effective at the moment, rather than harping on what can go wrong, is always the best choice. For example, if you have a mental block about your ability to follow through on a goal you have failed in the past, you can change the story to focus on what you have learned from the experience and how you can do better. It’s changing from “I eat unhealthy when I finally get home from work” to “I can prepare healthy snacks for me to eat on my commute home, so I’m not tempted to indulge when I get home.” A study at Penn State showed that people who focused on positive thoughts about the future were likelier to choose behaviors that helped performance than those who focused on negative memories. You, too, will have more success when you forget about your past failures and focus on the success you can have right now.
Another mental block that can be reframed is the pressure to perform. If you have ever felt external pressure to perform, think: (1) What if I let them down? (2) What if they’re wrong about me? Or (3) How could someone put so much pressure on me? You can cognitively reframe this mental block by thinking: If they put that much pressure on me and have high expectations, it must mean they believe in me and/or I’m already doing something right.
There is also a common mental block about guilt. Perhaps you will feel guilty if you say “no” to someone because you want some time for self-care. How could you take time for yourself when someone needs you? This mental block can be reframed to thinking that saying “no” temporarily is saying “yes” to yourself so that you can exercise, eat healthy, rest, etc., becoming your best self. Then you can go back and be the best support system for those you care about.
In all three examples above, reframing moves you from thinking “oh no” to thinking “oh yeah.” Changing your perspective will not only help you overcome a mental block but also strengthen your mental grit. You’ll be amazed by how motivated, confident, and focused you become on making positive things happen for yourself.
Accept and Act
Sometimes, if I can be so blunt, things just simply suck. No change of environment will remove the mental block, and you simply cannot find the “oh yeah” story given your situation. Still, you are not doomed. At this time, the best way to overcome your mental block is to accept what is. This does not mean throwing your arms up in the air and giving into unfortunate circumstances.On the contrary, it means to accept what is with courage and steadfastness. By accepting is the reality, you no longer waste time and energy trying to change something you cannot and immediately focus on what you can control. In every situation, you have control over something – always! Take action on what you can control and set in motion a positive energy flow to turn things around or, at least, make things the best they can
Take Control of Your Life by Taking Control of Your Mind
Your brain is the CEO of your body, constantly organizing your experiences in ways that elicit certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As with any company, the CEO carries enormous influence and has the potential to either sabotage your performance or enable you to achieve your goals. It is critical for you to take control and influence your CEO to assist you in this journey better.
Your brain is moldable. Like a piece of play-doh, you can shape it in a way that makes you think optimally and feel amazing! You can teach your brain new tricks that serve your intentions. You change your mind by changing your emotions, behaviors, and results. You simply have to take matters into your own hands.
You may be thinking this is a lot easier said than done. You make it possible when you follow the three strategies for overcoming your mental blocks. No matter what happens in your life, you can still set yourself up for success by changing your environment, changing your perspective, or accepting what it is and acting on what you can control. Then, you’ll be free to follow through with your plan, achieve your goals, perform at a high level, and feel your best.