How to Develop Mental Toughness in the Face of Adversity

How to Develop Mental Toughness in the Face of Adversity

At the 1988 Winter Olympics, American speed skater and World Sprint Champion, Dan Jansen was the favored athlete to win the 500 and 1000-meter races. However, he ended up failing when it mattered the most – the last game.

Three hours prior to this 500-meter Olympic race, Jansen was informed that his sister had just died from Leukemia. Four days after, Jansen would get another shot at winning the Olympic gold medal in the 1000-meter race. Decades later, during the 1992 Winter Olympics, Dan Jansen was again the favorite to win the events. But again, he missed out on the medals, placing fourth at the 500-meter race and 26th at the 1,000-meter race.

After the 1994 Winter Olympics began, the entire world was skeptical of Jansens’ psychological strength and ability to win due to his previous failures. People were beginning to lose faith in his capacity to win. The aging Olympian was aware that this was his final chance to win a trophy.

During the 500-meter race, while encountering a tight spin, Jansens’ left skate slipped and slowed him down. History repeated itself again as he concluded the 8th and missed out on a decoration. His last chance ever to win an Olympic medal was at the 1000-meter race. During this race just like the 1988 Olympics, Jansen held the lead with the fastest skating time at the 600-meter mark.

As he approached precisely the same tight spin, Jansen slipped back again. But this time he did not quit and proceeded to skate. After Jansen reached the finish line, he looked up to see the results, expecting another disappointment. To his amazement, he had finally succeeded!

The Emotional Toughness of a Champion

At first glance, it’s easy to blame Jansens’ success to sheer luck, talent or hard work. But if you look closer, you will notice that there was something different about his success story.

Given the difficulty he was facing at the time due to a pattern of failures and the familiar moments of blundering in the last round, most people would have lost all hope. He used his mental strength, dogged willpower and perseverance to help him overcome adversity and win against all odds. Jansen had been unintentionally improving his mental toughness over the previous years leading up to that Olympic race.

Three years before his ultimate achievement, Jansen had sought the aid of Dr. Jim Loehr, a world-renowned performance psychologist, for this particular reason.

Following Jansens’ failure at the 1994 Winter Olympics 500-meter race, Loehr told Jansen to not give interviews prior to the closing 1,000-meter race. In his words:

‘I needed him during this last race to enjoy the 1,000 and for his fans to adore him. He had to postpone this grieving. If he had spoken about it (his disappointment), it would have shot him right into a really dark place inside himself … He’d lose the 1,000.’

By coaching Jansen to build up his mental strength and forego his pain of past losses, Loehr assisted Janson in finding the lost link holding him back from success which was primarily psychological toughness.

How to Develop Your Mental Toughness

Even if you’re not into sports, emotional toughness will help you to conquer adversity and follow along with anything you set out to do in your schooling, health, function, and way of life.

Here are 3 simple strategies that will aid you to achieve that.

Tip #1: Build positive psychological habits that improve your mental toughness

In precisely the same way you would replace your poor eating habits with good ones to become healthier, you would also need to replace poor mental habits with good ones for mental strength.

Bad mental habits which harm your psychological strength comprise the following:

  • Jealousy over someone else’s victory
  • Complaining and feeling sorry for yourself
  • Blaming other people for your issues
  • Trying to control everything
  • Feeling like people owe you something

Great mental habits that help you develop your mental toughness comprise:

  • Practicing gratitude
  • Reframing failure as a chance to grow and learn more
  • Accepting responsibility for your mistakes
  • Maintaining integrity
  • Delaying immediate gratification
  • Making peace with what you cannot change

These are a few of the psychological customs that mentally tough people follow that others don’t.

Tip #2: Persevere!

Initially, Jansen loathed the 1,000-meter race because it had been hard for him. However, this would turn into his Olympic crowning occasion. Developing your mental toughness is like building your muscles. You have to consistently work it to raise and improve.

The Navy SEALS have a 40% rule they use to persevere throughout the minutes when they would like to give up. Pushing yourself beyond your regular limits is more of an internal effort. However, you do not have to put yourself through hell in order to attain emotional toughness.

Evaluate your life to discover if you become aware of a pattern between your levels of success and psychological strength. You need to observe a positive connection. The less time you spend away from work, rest and sleeping, the poorer your mental strength will likely be.

The very best way to develop your psychological toughness would be to push yourself to the limit, stop, recover and then try again.

Mentally strong humans are normal people like you and I. The difference is that they have developed healthy and positive psychological habits which promote their psychological toughness. They also maintain a self-identity that affirms their goals, consistent regular and effective approaches to get back on the right track each time they fail.

It is essential for you to focus on making small decisions daily that push you out of your comfort zone. And remember this the next time you feel you are done. You still got a long way to go!

Tip #3: Take Some Time Off!

In his publication, The Power of Full Engagement, Dr. Loehr suggests that one of the secrets to growing mental strength is recovery. Loehr highlights several situations working with leading athletes during whom he discovered that increasing their amount of recovery helped them deal with stressful situations and improve their performance.

Last Words

Mentally resilient people don’t let failure and hardship stop them from taking actions that could ultimately lead to success. Instead, they let go of their past, learn from their mistakes and use these to enhance themselves. Mental toughness is an acceptance that life isn’t always fair. It’s also an understanding that nobody owes you anything; you owe it to yourself to succeed.

KHO Health was acquired by was acquire by 9INE POINT in the summer of 2019 and is now referred to as 9INE POINT Health.

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