Toughen Up Your Mind in 1-2-3

human brain organ with arms and legs does weight training, 3d illustration

For a long time, I did not get it when my sensei said belt gradings were more a test of mental strength than physical.

On the day of my red belt grading, I began to understand.

When you get to the end of your physical ability and know that you still have to grind out 40 sit-ups and 40 burpees so you can get your belt, you start telling yourself all sorts of things that are true but not helpful.

“Too hard!”

“I can’t do this.”

“I. Am. So. Tired.”

When the end is that close but you’re not there yet, what you tell yourself in the moment is crucial. What or who will give you that extra burst of willpower and motivation?

For me, two things helped: (1) knowing that I had trained for this moment for months, and (2) my Singaporean “kiasu” nature (“kiasu” is Hokkien for “afraid to lose”). I didn’t want to be the last person to finish; I wanted to finish quietly without any fanfare. So I tapped into my fear for that final lap, and with the encouraging cheers of my two buddies, managed to override the voice of my internal critic and push out those last few burpees.

Sensei is right as usual – we are tested to find out how strong our minds are, not just our bodies.

Here are 3 tips on how to toughen up mentally, so you can go the distance when you need to. Consider it PT for the mind.

  1. Train Your Mind
    Fill it up with people and stories that inspire you, motivate you, galvanize you and excite you. Practise gratitude and appreciation daily. Focus on what’s going well in your life.  Be mindful and present, not distracted by the past or the future (both of which you have no control over anyway).
  2. Declutter Your Mind
    The mind is a noisy and chaotic place, and your inner critic is its noisiest resident. It takes up the most RAM, blocks your energy and concentration, and can go on all day if you allow it. It is relentless in reminding you of how you’ve messed up, how risky it is to try something new, how people might judge if you speak up about something you care about, how things might go badly if you decide to be bold and follow your dreams. Acknowledge your inner critic for trying to keep you safe. Assure it that you know what you are doing. Then gently release it so it can float back to where it belongs.
  3. Keep Taking Action
    Every day, do one thing that represents a step towards what you are trying to achieve. The little steps will eventually add up to a chain made up of all your reference points of success. Over time, the chain carves a new neural pathway in your mind that when used constantly, becomes deeper and more smooth-flowing. Instead of the old message of “I can’t” or “Too hard”, your mind receives a more empowering message: “This is not new; it’s something I’ve done before; I can do it again.”