14 Ways to Develop and Improve Mental Toughness

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is something often said about people who are mentally tough.  Mental toughness are character attributes that allows someone to persevere and persist through difficult situations or circumstances.  When most people think of mental toughness, they automatically visualize Navy SEALs or Olympic level athletes.  But mental toughness is an attribute we can all possess, it’s not in anyway just reserved for elite athletes or warriors.  Here are 14 ideas for you to develop and improve your mental toughness.

1. Spar in boxing and kickboxing.  Getting hit (or kicked) in the face is one of the most unnatural things and it scares people, a lot.  People who are not used to it will just cover up, close their eyes, and/or turn away.  But when you spar, you are training yourself to do exactly the opposite of what your instincts tell you, which is look at the punch and puncher straight on.

2. Take any grappling martial art, such as wrestling, judo, or jiujitsu.  I believe martial arts, especially grappling, builds a lot of character.  In grappling martial arts, no matter how big or strong you are, you will be humbled.  It takes A LOT to be good at grappling.  You will lose A LOT before you get good.  But continuing despite losing is what forges character and builds mental toughness.

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3. Take cold showers.  Most people take warm or hot showers because it feels uncomfortable.  But comfort is overrated.  Try taking cold showers.  Initially, you may want to start your shower with warm water and then gradually turn it cold several minutes in.  The longer you do it, the more cold you will be able to withstand.  Additionally, taking cold showers have been shown to boost your immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells.

4. Do things until completion.  In this era of constant distractions, it is much easier to leave something undone than it is to do something until completion.  Doing something until completion, especially something hard, requires the use of willpower.  And the more you train your willpower, the stronger it gets.

5. Constantly get out of your comfort zone.  Do things that make you feel uncomfortable and constantly put yourself in situations that will expand your comfort zone.  Remember, life begins outside the comfort zone.

6. Run an ultra-marathon.  If you are reasonably fit, you will be able to finish a hall-marathon or a marathon without too much trouble.  But finishing an ultra-marathon takes much more than physical fitness; it takes a lot of mental toughness.

7. Do high intensity interval training.  If you are doing high intensity interval training right, you will feel like fainting at the end of the workout.  Most people start thinking about giving up after a few minutes.  But lo-and-behold, 8 minutes later and they are done.  High intensity interval training, especially with someone directing the exercise, will test your physical limitations.

8. Don’t give into immediate gratification.  The ability to delay immediate wants is an indication of strong willpower.  Start by delaying immediate gratification for just an hour, and then move onto a day, and then move onto a week, then move onto months, and then move onto years.  A perfect way to start practicing delayed gratification is to not give into your cravings.  If you have cravings for fast food or eating at night, fight it.  It will make you a stronger and more disciplined person.

9. Use micr0-goals. Micro-goals are goals broken down to micro increments.  Lar Draeger pointed out that Navy Seals are no fitter than any other personal trainer you see at the gym.  But one of the things that ultimately sets them apart is their ability to mentally persist by breaking those gruelling physical challenges into smaller increments.  They break those miles down to hundreds of smaller incremental goals, taking it one step at a time.  They take it one mile a time and one minute a time.  This breaks daunting tasks down to smaller more manageable tasks.

10. Always look to improve.  Those who are mentally tough are always looking for ways to develop themselves and improve.  Carry with you the attitude that there is always something to improve about yourself.

11. Develop good habits. Mental toughness is not so much about constantly finding motivation and sheer willpower.  It is about developing habits that enable you to consistently overcome obstacles and meet your goals.  Mental toughness is not about being more courageous, it’s about being more consistent.

12. Meditate. Park of breaking down mentally is thinking how much longer you have to go to achieve whatever you are trying to do.  Meditation teaches you to stay in the present.  Being in the present lets you take things one step at a time instead of being depressed about the past, or being anxious about the future.

13. Face your problems and fears head on.  Whatever problems you are facing in your life, meet it head-on.  Do not be afraid to confront your issues.  It may be uncomfortable, but discomfort is what makes you better.

14. Learn something and become really good at it.  Trying something new is often frustrating.  And this frustration leads many to quit something they otherwise enjoy thoroughly.  But if you want to forge mental toughness, you need to get pass the learning plateau and become really good at it.


The idea of mental toughness is very close to the ideas of persistence, grit, and perseverance.  You develop mental toughness by continuing to persist and persevere through obstacles you encounter in your life.  Mental toughness is not something that is developed overnight; it is something that is cultivated through habits you develop by continually putting yourself in challenging situations and getting yourself past roadblocks.  You will notice that there are a lot of sport and exercise listed on this list; sports and physical challenges are great ways to test and develop mental toughness because physical exhaustion weakens the mind.  There is nothing that tests your mental toughness like physical pain and exhaustion.  I want to conclude this article with a piece of parting advice, to develop mental toughness, get comfortable with discomfort.  

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