Posts Tagged “Mental Toughness”

Even if the Red Sox manage to win tonight’s game, it is essential that the organization look closely at what has contributed to their collapse this September.

As an outside observer (and a fan), watching the team dissolve is both heart-breaking and fascinating – kind of like watching a train-wreck – it’s tragic yet you can’t take your eyes off the scene.

So how can we understand the  disintegration of such an excellent team?  Read the rest of this entry »

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Last night’s baseball game between the Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays provided a good metaphor for the uncertainties and challenges we all face in life. For a while it looked like the Red Sox had it in the bag with a 2-run lead but then set-up man Daniel Bard, who usually dispatches hitters with laser-like efficiency, fell apart as he allowed Toronto to load the bases.  It looked like he was going to get away with it but alas, the Jays scored 5 times in the 8th inning. The Red Sox managed to put two more runs on the board in the 9th but it wasn’t enough to win the game. 

I suppose the lesson in this is that sometimes, despite years of experience and hundreds of hours of preparation and a superb track record of peak performance, we can fail.  It can fall apart and no matter what we do at those times, we can’t get it right. 

The mental toughness comes after the debacle.  Do you let it eat away at you? Do you beat yourself up? Do you hide in shame? Do you give up?  Or do you take a step back and objectively evaluate what happened?  Do you use the set-back as an opportunity to learn and grow? Do you seek some help in figuring it out?   

I’m betting Bard feels pretty bad about what happened but I also think he’s already creating a plan to prevent it from happening again.

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Red Sox center-fielder and MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury doesn’t hold back.  Criticized by some for his absence last year from the Sox dug-out while he was rehabbing from cracked ribs, Ellsbury has returned to the Sox this year with a vengeance. 

Displaying class and mental toughness, Ellsbury didn’t get caught up in the criticism. Instead he worked hard to build his strength and refine his skills.  It’s paid off big time. 

Hitting .313 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs from the leadoff spot, Ellsbury has been an integral part of the Red Sox success this year. 

Ellsbury stands out in another way and that is his unabashed delight in his own success.  When he homers or gets a hit, unlike many of his colleagues, he actually smiles and sometimes claps his hands.  There is no arrogance in this nor is he showing off; it is sheer authentic satisfaction in his ability to execute.  

And why shouldn’t he feel good about executing well?  Isn’t it the goal of any athlete to achieve success?   Read the rest of this entry »

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Sometimes musicians say that they “always” make a mistake in the same place which they are playing their music. It’s as if they have no control over this unhappy situation.  No matter how hard they focus on it, there it is again – the dreaded passage or phrase that bedevils them and – sure enough, they err again. 

What’s happening is a reaction to an unwitting instruction they are giving themselves.  By saying, “I hope I don’t screw it up again,” or “I better get it right this time, “ they are actually telling their brain “screw it up!” 

Here’s a way around it: Read the rest of this entry »

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I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of musicians the other day who asked me to consult with them as part of their preparation for an international competition.  The band will be traveling overseas in a few weeks and wanted help with “managing their nerves” and “maintaining their focus.” 

In asking them what their biggest challenges were, the immediate response was a litany of things over which they have no control such as the weather (the event takes place outdoors and so their instruments will be adversely affected if it rains); the crowds; the bias against Americans; and the unfamiliarity of the environment. Read the rest of this entry »

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How do you prepare for a big event like a major presentation, sales call, jury trial, or job interview?  Do you have and use a mental preparation plan?  If you’re like most people, you do not have such a plan which is too bad because you’re missing the opportunity to work on and improve the most important factor in performance success.  Read the rest of this entry »

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It may be hard for you to picture a bunch of Marines meditating but that’s just what they did under the guidance of The Mind Fitness Training Institute  in a study to boost resilience. 

The short version of this story is that mindfulness training works.  That’s not news to the many people who already practice a mindfulness based program but it certainly was news to the Marines who engaged in this project. 

Here is an example of one of the mindfulness exercises the Marines were taught:

An early exercise was to have the men consciously shift attention between 2 places.  They were asked to sit quietly and simply bring their attention to the point of contact between their feet and the floor or their seats and the chairs or their hands on their laps. If or when they noticed their minds wandering, they were asked to bring their attention back to that point of contact. 

Once their attention had stabilized, they were then asked to shift their attention to a new bodily sensation or sound.  It could be a focus on breathing or sounds in the environment.  When attention moved away, they were asked to bring it back to the breath or the sounds.  After that had stabilized they were then asked to shift back to the original point of focus. 

The shifting back and forth trains the mind to be able to place attention where you want!  And when distractions occur, to bring it back to where you want it to be. 

This is an easy and portable exercise that works to boost working memory capacity which is essential to healthy cognitive and emotional functioning.



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You might think that Marines are already mentally tough!  Well, sure – those who become Marines are brave and willing to put themselves in harms way but mental toughness represents a specific constellation of qualities and behaviors that some Marines may lack. (These include ability to concentrate and manage distractions; ability to bounce back from set-backs and mistakes; ability to manage emotions, etc.)  

For example, we know that the number of suicides among Marines increased from 33 (among a total troop level of 208,000) in 2007 to 42 in 2009. After eight years of war, record numbers of troops are experiencing depression and anxiety, as well as the more severe conditions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  According to the Pentagon, American troops in Afghanistan are suffering the highest rates of mental health problems since 2005, and morale has deteriorated. Mental problems send more men in the U.S. military to the hospital than any other cause.  

 Being a warrior in the ambiguous battlefield that is Iraq or Afghanistan induces high stress that can lead to impulsive, erratic behavior and anxiety and depression.

Liz Stanley of the Mind Fitness Training Institute  along with her colleague Amishi Jha has created a program to teach Marines mindfulness.  The goal is to build a resilient Marine who is able to withstand the rigors of combat stress.

Bottom line?  It works! Read the rest of this entry »

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Ever since Osama bin Laden met his demise, there has been significant interest in the mystique of the Navy SEALs.  Who are these tough guys and how do they train? Can an average citizen learn some of these mental toughness techniques? 

Well, if you have any fantasies of becoming a SEAL, think again.  The training and initiation is beyond rigorous and somewhere between 75 – 90% of applicants don’t make it. 

Still, you can learn some of the techniques used by SEALs and in fact, you probably already do! Read the rest of this entry »

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Hooray for the army for recognizing that their soldiers can benefit from emotional resilience training. 

Approximately one-fifth of troops returning from combat have mental health problems. War is hell – you bet – and what used to be called “shell shock” back in WWI is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a serious constellation of symptoms that can lead to prolonged depression, significant under-functioning in all areas of life and – sometimes – suicide. 

The program is going to cost $117 million dollars.  It is based on the research of Dr. Marty Seligman, chairman of the Positive Psychology Center at U-Penn.  Dr. Seligman is a big name in psychology circles for his illustrious academic career and his ground-breaking research and interventions. 

What do they mean by resilience?  According to Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman, “Resilience can be defined as having the ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and bounce back from adversity.”  

Sounds good to me.  It’s nothing new, either; at least to those of us in the peak performance and sport psychology world. Many of the techniques and interventions derived from sport psychology are designed to help people become more resilient.  We sometimes use the term “mental toughness” to describe it. 

A mentally tough person is able to perform at an optimal level no matter what the circumstances.  How you get to that point is what my coaching and training programs are all about. 

Stay tuned as I write more about what the Army is doing and how you might be able to incorporate this into your life.

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