How to Develop Mental Toughness
“The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you’ll bleed in times of war.”
There are a lot of things that we as preppers need to prepare for.
We focus on building our food and water storage, having multiple backups of our energy and heating needs, look to learn skills that were common in the “old days” and focus on building our security measures to protect what we’ve worked so hard to build up.
The unfortunate thing is that most of our nation (and many preppers I know of) greatly disregard this aspect of preparation. They become soft, live lifestyles with no discipline and prefer to take the path of least resistance.
Believe me, I get it, it’s part of our nature to do so.
However, if we want to have the mental fortitude to be able to survive when times get tough, we need break those patterns and take a different road — in many cases a harder road.
After all, we may not be able to hide behind our preps, hoping that we’ll be living on easy street when things go south.
In a survival situation, or a long-term SHTF type situation, mental toughness is what will bring you across to the other side, and although it may be an overlooked attribute to develop, it may just be one of the most important.
How to Develop Mental Toughness
First off, it helps to know exactly what mental toughness is.
The definition that I like is that it’s the ability to will oneself through less-than-ideal situations and conditions. This could be battling cancer, going through military training or simply waking up early to go workout.
Mental toughness is typically not something you’re born with (I don’t know of too many babies who just “tough it out” when it comes to not getting fed)…
So how do we develop it?
Well, it all comes down to regularly operating outside of your comfort zone.
Take this illustration for example…
The center circle represents you, and the inner area is your present level of comfort. No extra amount of effort is required to stay there. This is your safe haven, your bad habits, those day-to-day ruts, your place of predictability and familiarity…your level of comfort.
Beyond this circle lies your area of discomfort. This is the area in which you know you COULD operate if required to, but, it’s uncomfortable and most people choose not to.
However, when you purposely choose to step just outside of your comfort zone something interesting happens…
With time, this larger area will become your new comfort zone and what was previously difficult now becomes easier — giving you a broader and new perspective on what your limitations are. Then, the whole cycle repeats itself.
When this is done on a regular basis, not only does your capability increase but so does your mental toughness.
So what are some things that you can do to build mental toughness?
Well, the key is to seek out daily opportunities to get into the zone of discomfort. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take a look at the various activities you do on a daily basis and start by tweaking some of them such that they take you just out of your comfort zone.
Here are some examples that should spur some ideas of your own:
- If you have a flight of stairs in your home, any time you walk down them, go on all fours (great shoulder and chest workout). Or when going up, hop up each step.
- Do a number of pushups or pullups (install a pull-up bar in the doorway) before entering or leaving certain rooms of the house.
- Go without food or water for 24 hours
- When on errands, park your car further out so you have to walk farther.
- When showering, finish the last portion of it with a blast of cold water.
- When watching TV, do pushups/situps during the commercial breaks.
- Try to do as many activities as possible with your non-dominant hand.
- If your on the shy side, go out of your way to talk to 3 new people a day and learn something about each of them, or…
- …try singing at the top of your lungs when someone is pulled up next to you at a stop light.
- Wake up an hour earlier than you’re used to.
- When getting your mail in the middle of winter, go out in some shorts and a t-shirt.
- On those nights when you’re exhausted and just want to go to bed, force yourself to clean or do the dishes for 10 minutes.
While they may seem inconsequential, these little out-of-your-comfort-zone activities (when done often) are a great tonic and will build up your mental toughness.
As you may have noticed in some of the examples, building your mental toughness goes hand in hand with building your physical toughness. Both of these are crucial when it comes to survival.
You may have heard the saying, “The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in times of war” (or any of the other variants of this saying). What this means is that now’s the time to prepare (to sweat) for tough times ahead.
Those times are coming…will you be prepared?
It doesn’t matter where you are in terms of your level of fitness, how tough or weak or how old you think you are, you can make the choice to go beyond your present level of comfort — ideally on a day-to-day basis.
As a side note, I would recommend keeping a mental toughness journal. Basically, record on a daily basis those things you did to take yourself out of your comfort zone. As you do so, you’ll be able to look back and see the progress you’ve made and what used to be uncomfortable and difficult become comfortable and easy.
Each time you make a choice to go beyond your comfort zone, you build up a reserve of mental toughness. Each time you choose the easier path you diminish that capacity. As you build mental toughness, you will be able to call upon that reserve during tough times — and overcome.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, there’s a fantastic book written by SEAL veteran Cade Courtley called, SEAL Survival Guide: A Navy SEAL’s Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster that served as the inspiration for this article.