The Problems with Traditional Mental Toughness Training (Part 1)



When I first discovered mental toughness training, I became obsessed. I started to read everything I could about the subject, but unfortunately, the only area where I could find materials on mental toughness was in the new age self-help section in “Barnes and Noble.” The only thing I detest more than self-help gurus were self-help books.  I have great disdain for pop psychology as it did nothing but exploit the average sad sack with an upgraded fortune cookie in book form.  However, I became a little more optimistic when I found out most of the material written on mental toughness training had been written by sports psychologists who had worked with professional athletes.  I read a lot of them and concluded that my initial instincts were right: these books were full of ineffective suggestions and gimmicks. Common techniques from these useless programs were based on “feel good” positive affirmations. Telling yourself you’re a fighting machine over and over again is just a waste of time and creates a false sense of security. You can repeat these positive affirmations until you’re blue in the face, but this is the only training you completed for an MMA fight, you will more than likely get your teeth kicked in.

Another common mental toughness technique in a lot of these professional programs is visualization.  Actually, I am a huge fan of using visualizing to reach your goals or to finish your task. However, the problem I have with a lot of these sports shrinks who use this procedure is that this is all they do with little follow up action. Having a mentally shaken athlete sit in a dark room and instructing him to slowly see himself with his mind’s eye as a newly transformed athlete overcoming obstacles, being courageous and confident, is nothing but pure fantasy land. I don’t care how many hours you visualize this scenario in your mind’s eye. It’s only your silly imagination.  You are just wishing. Wishing is the common practice of the masses. It is characteristic of those who weak and too timid to take any risks.  Mental change needs to be in conjunction with behavior, so just visualizing on its own is way too passive to cause any change.  These so-called sports doctors must be the same dating gurus that told you all you have to do is to “visualize” yourself getting dates with women and the ladies will come crawling to you.  I could have visualized myself to kingdom come, but it would do absolutely nothing to help me score with that foreign-exchange Swedish student that lived in my dormitory or with any chicks for that matter.

There’s sucker born every minute. I know. I have a whole collection of these self-help visualization books on how to pick up women in my closet.

Other techniques in the strange world of mental toughness training are self-hypnosis, subliminal tapes, and for thousands of dollars, you can try altering brain wave machines. I’m not making this shit up. Professional athletes who feel they have lost their edge and are frantic will pay mega bucks to improve their mental game. Once an athlete is a mental slump, his skills will suffer. For some athletes, being labeled “too soft” or a quitter is the ultimate insult you can give. One thing is for sure, when an athlete knows his mental game is off, they are so desperate, they will try anything to get their mind right. Once an athlete’s confidence is destroyed, his skills will break down as well.  As a result, millions of dollars are at stake. Professional athletes are vulnerable to these frauds, scam solutions, and phony experts because nobody has come up a quick and painless solution to get one mentally tougher. If they did, they’re full of shit.

If you think the lack of mental toughness training for professional athletes sucks, the material out there for us average Joes is even worse. Most of the information associated with mental toughness training are “how to” books on becoming a winner. Everything from how to think like a winner, be a winner, live like a winner, run a business like a winner, to why girls have sex with winners. It’s funny, but when I look at the credentials and pictures at some of these motivational writers or proclaimed life coaches, I don’t see them winning anything substantial. Some of them don’t even look like they workout and look more like losers than winners to me. The simple logic is to never take any motivational advice from anybody that looks like all they do is sit on their fat ass all day.

Don’t get me wrong, I think finding ways to win is a great thing. I just don’t like throwing the term “winner” to any Joe Blow. In our society, the term “winner” is usually used to  describe someone that won a prestigious sporting event or making a shitload of money. Nothing wrong with either of these twos, as they are both more than good enough reasons to label somebody a winner. But, the problem I have with these lame self-help books is that they encourage their readers to start calling themselves winners without doing shit. It’s like how some people give themselves cool nicknames like “Rock” or “Tank.” Sorry, guys but you can’t give yourself these bad ass names. You have to earn it or somebody way badder than you gives you these nicknames. If you didn’t take place on winning a Superbowl or making 6 figures per month, I would be more than hesitant if I were you to start telling your peers that you’re a winner, especially if you don’t have a girlfriend or have to take the bus to work because you can’t afford a car.

Another problem I have with terms like winning and losing is that is about the immediate result. On the other hand, mental toughness is about the process and being rewarded much later in time. In sports, there is a final score. A clear cut distinction on who won or lost. But, that’s not the case in life. Even if we perceive ourselves as getting over a challenging adversity, there’s a huge chance that we didn’t completely overcome it.  Many times in life, a huge adversity is never over. Your enemies can lie dormant for awhile, only to reload with greater levels of evil and strike you again from behind. Ask any cancer survivor and they will tell you that the threat of cancer is always there and it never goes away. You must ready and prepare to go to battle again. This why when it comes to mental toughness training, I prefer the term “fighter” over winner because in life, the war is never over.

(End of part 1)

Today’s WOD:

All the WODs on this site so far have been metabolic conditioning ones. Today’s challenge is working on building up your strength. Although a strength working isn’t as taxing on your cardio system as a high intensity workout, they still can be very important to mental toughness training as they build courage, especially if you attempt to lift heavy weights that scare the fuck out of you.

CrossFit Total:

Work on getting new one rep max for the following movements: back squat, shoulder press and deadlift.

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