Mental toughness and top performance comes from a healthy mindset. I'm talking here about the state of your mind when things turn hellish.
The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that helps make good decisions related to movement and performance. The neurotransmitters, noradrenaline and dopamine, are greatly increased during periods of stress, and they bind to receptors on the prefrontal cortex.
This binding impairs the prefrontal cortex's ability to respond with the precise movement or action that you'd normally do under low-stress conditions. When you're stressed, the prefrontal cortex doesn't work as well, causing your performance to plummet.
Tough Times, Happy Place
The toughest people on earth find a "happy place" when they're under the most duress. Training yourself to feel grateful in the face of severe stress is one of the most effective ways to overcome it and build mental toughness.
The fighter that's standing in front of a formidable opponent is grateful he's made it to that level of competition, instead of being overcome by anxiety. The guy that loses one of his arms in an accident is grateful he didn't lose both. This sort of mindset is difficult to achieve, requiring much practice in meditation and mindfulness, but it's essential for building mental toughness.
Two Things to Do
From a practical standpoint, there are two things anyone can do to build mental toughness:
- Practice meditation or mindfulness for at least 15 minutes per day. This is especially important before a stressful event or during the time of day when you have peak anxiety.
- Wear a heart rate monitor during the stressful event. This applies to any sport, or even a bodybuilder that's practicing his posing routine. While practicing the sport or event, focus on keeping your mind in a relaxed, grateful place. Over time, your average heart rate will decrease if you're doing it right because you'll diminish the sympathetic fight-or-flight response.
Mental toughness comes from training your brain to deflect fear and anxiety, which keeps your heart rate down and your brain sharp.