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5 Pro-Athlete Mental Toughness Tips Anyone Can Use

Jason Selk, EdD
mbg Contributor By Jason Selk, EdD
mbg Contributor
Jason Selk, EdD, is a mental toughness coach for individuals, businesses, and professional athletes and their coaches.

Every spring, I think about the St. Louis Cardinals and how I helped them get into peak mental condition for their upcoming season. In 2006, I was hired by the Cards to train them in Mental Toughness. They already had a coach to teach them the mechanics of pitching, batting and fielding. What they really needed was to learn how to set goals, focus on their priorities, stay positive, be disciplined, and win. I became their first Director of Mental Training, and that year they went on to win their first World Series in 20 years. I helped them win again in 2011.

The principles of mental toughness are as useful for regular people, though, as they are for professional athletes. Here are five ways to train your brain in Mental Toughness, taking a cue from the world champion Cardinals. These will prevent unproductive habits from getting in the way of your personal best.

1. Forget the home run and watch your swing instead.

If you focus on your target, such as accomplishing a big goal, you may never get there. Pay attention to your process instead. Identify those daily goals that have the greatest influence on your performance and, therefore, your success. If your aim is to double your income in one year, for example, then figure out three specific tasks, or process goals, you need to complete each day that will help you reach that ultimate target. Then be relentless and consistent about completing your three process goals every day.

2. Keep your eye on the ball.

Many highly productive people believe they can multitask and still maintain focus. The American Psychological Association cited a recent study showing that multitasking leads to as much as a 40 percent drop in productivity. Recent research from Stanford University found that multitaskers are not only less productive than their single-minded counterparts, but also suffer from weaker self-control. Don't let yourself get distracted; regain control of your performance. Do everything you can to complete the three essential tasks you identified above.

3. Be your own best ref.

If you want to be more productive, you need to establish your own limits – your "not to-do" list. This might include counterproductive tasks such as responding to work emails during family time, starting new tasks after 4:00 p.m., or saying yes right away to a new project instead of giving your answer the next day, after you've slept on it. Be sure that you're scheduling your calendar rather than allowing your calendar to schedule you.

4. Get plenty of R&R between workouts.

Nearly 4 out of 10 people are regularly fatigued, according to a recent study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Lack of sleep causes fatigue, and that's a productivity killer. In fact, the rate of lost productivity for workers with fatigue was 66 percent, compared with 26 percent for workers without fatigue. Fatigued workers lost an average of 5.6 hours per week of production time. Make rest, rejuvenation, and 7-9 hours of nightly sleep a priority.

5. Listen to your body.

When professional athletes try to push through the pain, they end up on the disabled list. In the workplace, this is known as "extreme working," and it results in lower performance. New research reported at Harvard Business Review found that 69 percent of extreme workers – super high achievers who regularly work 60-80 hours a week – admit that their extreme working habits undermine their health. Most of these workers can't sustain this level of performance and end up burning out, just like promising athletes who have to sit on the bench all season or retire early because of injuries.

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