We’ve been talking about the mental game over the last two posts and I’d like to share a few practical methods to begin building this skill set just as we build any other skill set. Fortunately like many things we do in this endeavor there is plenty of overlap so we can work toward multiple objectives with one drill or exercise.

One of my strength training mentors loved to say, “if you have one more rep then you have five more reps.” As much as I hated to hear him say that during yolk walks or car deadlifts I also hated to admit he is right. Every single time I reach what I perceive to be the end of my efforts I find I can dig a deeper, and find more gas in the tank.  It’s painful to admit to myself that there have been times in my past training history when I had stopped long before I should have simply because fatigue beat me mentally. I was mentally weak and as a result I lost a valuable opportunity to toughen myself. Building physical toughness is good but building mental toughness is great. Everything we do on the mat, in the ring, or under the bar is about building that indomitable will, that mental toughness, and resilience that will carry over to everything else we do.

Here is a simple, immediately applicable mental toughness exercise we can do. At your next strength or conditioning session, whatever it is your doing do it beyond the point where you think you are done. If you’re doing sprints on the Airdyne forget the time/interval you’re scheduled to do. Instead go as hard as you can for as long as you can… then go 5 seconds longer… then 5 seconds longer until your legs and arms refuse to move. Only when you can’t move do you stop. Rest then do it again, and again. I predict that at a certain point you will forget how many reps you have done or how long you have been on the bike, and it will be purely about how far or deep into that zone you can go. You start to realize the physical fatigue isn’t the issue, it’s the mental game. This is where you start to build that mental game that refuses to quit, refuses to stay down, that is indomitable. Once you start to train like this you won’t be able to go back to any other way. This is where we start to learn what this endeavor is really about.

Another mental exercise is to simply roll one more time. Say you’re at open mat, and your mind says that’s enough. Your body is tired, maybe you’re a little banged up. Now is the time to build that mental game. Refuse to come off the mat. Roll one more round. Then one more, and then another. Winning or losing doesn’t matter in the gym, and it really doesn’t matter when the objective is building mental game. Mental toughness is built in those moments when we are burnt out physically, one side of our mind saying let’s go home, hydrate, stretch, do some rehab work, and then we’ll come back another day. Ignore that voice, and roll more. Start in bad position, and work from there so it’s even harder. Punish that inner voice that wanted to call it a day. Dominate it, take advantage of this moment, and build that mental game. Essentially any physical exercise or movement that allows you to work past your perceived point of failure is an excellent opportunity to develop mental game.

This is hard work however, anyone involved in this endeavor already knows that. I’ve yet to meet anyone pursuing this multidisciplinary art that is lazy. What I want to get across to you is the transformative power of this endeavor once we understand the physical exercise is only a vehicle. Yes we want to build life saving skills however, as we’ve talked about before we might go the rest of our life without ever having to fight anything or anyone. The mental toughness we build once we know that’s what it’s really about is the key to the kingdom so to speak. This mental toughness opens all the doors we want to go through in life. The refusal to give up, to listen to fatigue, inner doubt, even voices of those that care about us that don’t understand the journey we’re on, the ability to persevere despite the odds. That’s the mental game we take with us when we leave the mat, and go to our place of business. A project that needs to be done, goals that need to be met, or business competitors that want to go head to head have no idea what they’re getting into. We’ve learned to dominate, and control ourselves, taking on something outside of us is so much easier. We know we can always dig deeper, we can always push a little harder, we know we can do anything we choose to do and that’s a fantastic feeling.