Lewis Pugh, an environmentalist, swimmer, and motivational speaker, recently swam across an ice-cold lake on Mount Everest, the first person ever to do so. Afterwards, he gave a talk at TEDglobal about his experiences and the different challenges that he had to overcome in order to obtain such a difficult feat. He also talks about the environmental aspects of his accomplishment, but I'm less interested in those, and more interested in the mental toughness that it takes to accomplish a mission like this. It's amazing to me the things that people can accomplish when they truly devote all of their energy to a given task. For example, take the ultra-marathon runners in Born to Run. Or Jessica Watson, the 16-yr old Australian girl that sailed around the world. Or Jordan Romero, the 13 yr old Mount Everest climber. Or even the poor family in rural India that continue to survive on a day to day basis. And the list goes on and on.
But what if you don't have that mental toughness? Is it something that naturally comes to someone or is it something that you have to find, nourish, and develop? Although I'm sure there are some natural hereditary aspects, I think a lot of it comes through personal growth and development. It comes through consistent training and development of the mental aspect of any physical change, and this is something that can still be developed, even at a later stage in life.
What's the key to building mental toughness? There are tons of self-proclaimed mental toughness experts that might say this or that, but in my opinion, there are 2 key elements.
1) Small Wins. No one is going to run a marathon, climb mount everest, sail the ocean, or anything else, in a day. Small, consistent wins build mental confidence and ensure the ability to persist in a tough situation.
2) Small wins outside your comfort zone. In the beginning, baby steps are important. But take a baby step outside of your personal level of comfort, and succeed, and it will feel a world's different. Continue to grow and develop (small steps not giant leaps) and eventually you will be on an entire mental ability all together.
By focusing on these two elements, a person's mental toughness and their inner ability to persist, and even thrive, in tough situations will grow tenfold.
(An additional tip that I'm personally a fan of but that doesn't necessarily work for all people is to read stories about others. I love reading and hearing other people's stories about persistence, determination, and mental toughness. It makes me feel that if they can do it, then I can to.)