The mind is such a crucial component in accomplishing anything. I find when I approach a difficult situation in a frustrated way or if I let the fear of reaching my goal get into my head before tackling it, then, in essence, I have already failed. In many situations, this proves to be true. If I think I can’t accomplish something, then what’s to say that I will?
But if I take a deep breath, collect my thoughts and envision myself succeeding, then — no matter what the task — I start off stronger and typically finish better.
Now, I know this is easier said than done, but it works. I’m not talking about positive thinking or a glass-half-full mentality, though one could say that has some influence on getting one’s mind in the right place. What I’m talking about is mental toughness — mental grit.
I was thinking about the power of the mind while talking to a friend who recently ran her first marathon. She said she was completely fine during the first 20 miles, but those last 6 miles were the worst. It took everything in her to tell herself to just keep going, one foot in front of the other. But she had already run 20 miles — only 6 miles were left. So why do those last few miles feel so impossible when the body had already accomplished so much? Because of the mind. Many sports psychologists say the mind overemphasizes the fact that one is tired and needs to rest, but the body most likely can still go those last 6 miles.
My husband recently lost his father and grandmother within six months of each other, and understanding and dealing with that compounded grief is proving challenging. Having mental grit keeps him progressing through this and moving on with his daily life.
In military training, they prepare soldiers to handle the rigors of war by using breathing exercises and other ways to calm themselves in high-stress situations so they can think and act more clearly.
Business applications of mental grit
This situation is also true in running a business. A business owner can let fear prevent him from mentally preparing to win his or her first big client because it’s a new milestone. Or, when an entrepreneur starts a business, he or she can feel defeated at each step instead of encouraged when there is nobody to look to for guidance. In both of these examples, approaching the situation prepared and with confidence can better the outcome.
Some people call what gets them through these moments grit, which has been shown to be one of the best predictors of success in the real world, explains business consultant James Clear. He sites Angela Duckworth’s research on grit that shows:
- West Point cadets who scored highest on the grit test were 60 percent more likely to succeed than their peers.
- Ivy League undergraduate students who had more grit also had higher GPAs than their peers-even though they had lower SAT scores and weren’t considered as “smart.”
Clear argues that even more than grit is a deep level of mental toughness that gets one through the most difficult situations. It’s something he calls Sisu. He read about the concept from Emilia Lahti, a Ph.D. candidate at Aalto University in Helsinki. “Sisu is the concept of taking action in the face of significant adversity,” she explains in her writings. “It is not so much about achievement as it is about facing your challenges with valor and determination. Sisu provides the final empowering push when we would otherwise hesitate to act.”
What defines you?
Each day we all face different challenges — some tougher than others. How we mentally face these challenges can get us that much closer to success.
But another element in this is how we define ourselves. Clear quotes martial arts competitor and champion chess player Joshua Waitzkin as saying, “At a high level of competition, success often hinges on who determines the field and tone of battle. It is your mental toughness that determines the tone of battle.”
See, most people let their battles, losses and fears define them, seeing failure as an indication of who they are as people. But mentally tough people let their perseverance define them, Clear says. “They see failure as an event,” he explains. “Failure is something that happens to a person, not who a person is.”
So, as you prepare budgets and determine your strategic business plan for next year, face your biggest challenges with mental toughness and grit. Envision success before you approach the situation, be well-prepared, and then let me know how it turns out.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”