Developing the mental toughness that will make you belong to the top 3% of your industry.
“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.” — Michael Jordan
In order to be successful, you need basic skills. This is a prerequisite. However, skills alone are not enough if you aim to achieve extraordinary things.
The difference in skills between the very best compared to average performers in any field are often minimal, and yet top performers claim all the fame and financial gain.
So what do these select few in every field do better than everyone else?
- Is it that they work ten times harder?
- OR are they just ten times smarter?
Obviously, this can’t be the case. In fact, often they even work less than their peers do. What distinguishes them though is that they are mentally tougher. They perform best when it matters most and when the stakes are highest.
Without mental toughness, we tend to avoid bigger disappointments by also avoiding challenges and isolating ourselves from opportunities that could help us raise to the next level at whatever it is that we do. In other words, deep down we will settle for what we have, instead of striving for more. This is why we end of plateauing.
High performers, on the other hand, develop the kind of mental toughness that enables them to trigger massive energy so that they can perform towards the upper limits of their abilities. It gives them the power to continuously get better at anything they do, while willing to handle unpleasant setbacks as part of this process.
To become exceptional in your profession, you must become mentally tough.
In this chapter, I will show you how to instantly nurture the kind of inner strength that will allow you to amplify your success to new levels so that you can outperform your competition.
A) Transforming your fear of failure into the kind of courage that will allow you to take on ANY challenge that you face.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela
Let me start our discussion with a few questions:
- Do you ever feel that you are hard on yourself?
- Do you sometimes get frustrated for no major reason?
- Does it ever happen that you can’t stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong in your business and your life?
If so, I can calm you down.
You are like most of us who tend to get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts that often makes us feel miserable and hopeless.
Our brain, which is the most powerful and amazing tool we can possess, is not really programmed to make us happy and fulfilled. Traditionally it served to keep our ancestors safe from mighty hunters by constantly scanning the world for danger. Scientists often refer to this as our “negativity bias”.
Luckily this instinctive response is outdated.
Most of us no longer face daily life threatening situations. What remains is our instinctive behavior, which is why we can freak when we lose our car keys or mess up an important date. Now is it our ego that feels threatened very easily.
Within this spirit many of us also resist change — we feel most comfortable sticking within our comfort zone rather than exploring unknown territory. This is how we protect ourselves from disappointments or embarrassments.
If your goal is to reach new levels of success, avoiding to try out new things will not help you grow. Therefore you will have to change your perspective with regards to setbacks and failure.
And here is the key to mental toughness:
Your thoughts are neither true nor wrong, but they can support or harm you in the pursuit of your big dreams.
As Henry Ford once said:
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”
For example, if we constantly think that you are a failure and doomed to live a life of mediocrity, guess what happens?
You are creating an association in your brain that links setback with an image of yourself as someone who is not able to achieve his biggest goals. And sadly, over time your beliefs will have set your limits in key areas of your life in the same manner in which a thermostat controls the temperature in a room. This is how thoughts become the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that will prevent you from truly fulfilling your potential.
In fact, the word mediocrity comes from the latin words Medius and Ocris. Medius means middle, and Ocric means rugged mountain. In other words, when we get stuck in the middle of the mountain and stop trying to climb to the top because we feel discouraged.
The good news is that as much as our beliefs can harm us, we can also consciously condition them to serve us.
Take for example the runner, Roger Bannister:
In his time, it was considered humanly impossible to run a mile under 4 minutes. However, to the surprise of everyone, Bannister proclaimed that he would break that benchmark. He trained extremely hard, did daily visualizations, and got better from race to race. Interestingly, when he did eventually succeed, many others followed suit not long after, now that they believed this was in fact possible.
Finally, they were able to reprogram their “unconscious sweet spot” that was holding them back.
Beliefs determine our feelings, which then trigger us to behave in certain ways. As a result, we experience outcomes that reinforce the initial belief.
And here comes the big high-performance secret that could change your life.
So listen carefully!
While most people try to avoid difficult situations and cherish comfort and convenience, top achievers embrace struggles and see them as opportunities to learn and grow. They constantly stretch their abilities in their quest for improvement.
I already told you how my former client Novak Djokovic was stuck at being the third best tennis player behind legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal until he suddenly decided to transform his weakness — his physical health — into a strength and become the fittest player on the Tour.
And by doing so he became the most dominant force in his the sport for several years.
In short, top performers are willing to suffer short term pain for long term gain, by working on the key skills that will help them experience significant breakthroughs. This is how they become unstoppable.
But here is the thing.
We people often choose short term pleasures even though we know they will harm our productivity, health or wealth in the long run. Which brings me to one of my favorite studies, called the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, consisting of a series of tests on delayed gratification.
This is how it worked:
Young pre-school kids were given one marshmallow which they could either eat immediately or — if they were able to wait until the tester would return into the room (approximately 15 minutes later) — get a second one.
The responses were amazing.
Some kids couldn’t resist the temptation and immediately eat the marshmallow.
But about 1/3 of the kids were able to find ways to prevent themselves from giving in to the temptation and were able to wait until the tester returned.
See YouTube Video.
Now here is the interesting part.
The researchers followed the lives of the kids that took part in this experience and found that the ones that were able to delay gratification would:
- Enjoy better school grades
- Earn more income
- Enjoy better relationships
- Turn out to be more resilient
- Less prone to negative habits and addictions.
- Be more confident.
So how is this relevant to you?
Many of us like to take the path of least resistance.
In her book, Stop Saying You’re Fine, Mel Robbins uses the snooze button as an example of the power of the mind to defeat its own best purpose by avoiding the quest to fulfill our big dreams. Instead of getting up and jumping at the chance to experience a fulfilling day, many people choose the short term convenience of staying in bed a bit longer.
However, this behavior comes at a price.
It is the ability to persist with our goals that will allow you to become a happier and more successful individual. If you don’t believe me, check out what Will Smith says about becoming successful:
Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Hopefully, I have been able to convince you that the ability to delay gratification is the secret spice to a happier and more successful life. Let me now show you three steps that will help you develop the kind of growth mindset that will really allow you to take your performance skills to the next level:
Step 1: Reframe struggles into challenges:
I want to share with you a study by Carol Dweck called The Effect of Praise on Mindsets in which she wanted to find out the different results school kids would enjoy from having either a Growth Mindset (the belief that we can improve our skills through effort and learning) or a Fixed Mindset (the conviction that we are the result of inborn character traits and talents).
So she did a test that had four stages:
First, she gave all the kids a very simple riddle.
After they solved it, half the kids were praised for their intelligence (a fixed trait: for example by saying: “you are so smart”), while the other half were praised for their effort (a growth mindset trait: for example by saying: “you worked so hard”).
In part two, the kids were offered either to try a harder riddle or do another easy one that they would surely manage to solve.
The vast majority of kids with a Growth Mindset chose to try the harder option, while 67% of the kids with a Fixed Mindset preferred taking the easier option.
Next, the kids were given a riddle that was incredibly difficult — one that they would surely all fail. Carol Dweck wanted to look at how the different groups attacked this challenge.
What she discovered was that the effort group (Growth Mindset) worked harder, longer, and actually enjoyed this test more than the intelligence group — who quickly became frustrated and gave up early.
Finally, Carol Dweck and her team gave all of the students a test that was just as easy as the first.
The results were pretty amazing:
The intelligence group actually did worse on this test than they did on the first. Their average score dropped by 20%.
In contrast, the effort group did much better. Their average score ended up increased by 30%.
In other words, the effort group outperformed the intelligence group by 50%!
To embrace a growth mindset, you must also consider yourself an eternal student. This is how you develop the grit that will allow you to persist working towards becoming the best at what you do.
You can do this by regularly choosing projects that go beyond your current capabilities and skills, and that will require effort and learning to succeed. For an athlete, this may mean choosing to win a medal at the Olympics as his goal, while for a businessman it might want to learn how to improve his sales skills.
Once you have defined your challenging project, you can then define the 3-4 key skills you would have to master to move towards your target, so that you can then develop a precise learning plan.
This is where I sense we can learn so much from world class athletes, whose practice regimes look very different from those of amateurs and many people from other industries:
- Their training entails considerable efforts to learn and improve. This is why they usually have coaching teams.
- Often, they main trainer is someone who enjoyed big successes and who understands the mental pressures top performers face.
I remember for example that when my team worked with the tennis player Andy Murray, he had already been the second best player in the world. However, he wanted to take his game to the next level and win Grand Slam events.
So we engaged former world number one Ivan Lendl as his coach. Within a short time, Murray had won his first two Grand Slam events and later on continued to become the world’s best tennis player.
Now Lendl didn’t initiate dramatic changes in Murray’s game. Lendl helped him develop the mindset of a Champion, while fine tuning some minor aspects of his game- and that made all the difference.
Many entrepreneurs or business people rely on themselves, which requires lots of discipline.
If you are on your own, let me share two suggestions that will help you push yourself on a regular basis to improve your current competencies.
First, you need to create a personal learning curriculum to continuously improve. This might mean choosing to read 3-4 books in a month on a topic, attending courses or hiring coaches or mentors who have already achieved the goal you are after.
Second, you must engage yourself in what Anders Ericsson, the ultimate expert on experts, calls deliberate learning.
To find out what separated star students from everyone else, Ericsson conducted a study with violinists at a renowned school in Germany. He discovered that there was only one criteria that determined whether a violinist would outperform everyone else in his class, namely the number of hours he spent purposefully practicing his craft.
This was even so with the so-called “talents” who often benefited from early tuition from their parents.
Deliberate learning includes four criteria that you want to include into your practice rituals as well, namely:
- Being extremely intentional about what it is exactly that you want to learn. You want to be aware what skill will take you to the next level of performance.
- Focusing 100% on learning during your practice/ learning sessions. For this purpose, use Power Blocks so that you ensure you won’t be distracted.
- Receive feedback as to whether you have improved your skill. You can do this by setting metrics that allow you to measure your progress, or by hiring someone like a coach to objectively help you with this.
- Constantly refining your skills and learning methods so that you continuously progress towards your big goal. In other words, continue doing what works and research new ways to learn even more effectively.
Step 3: Transform your beliefs
Having a Growth Mindset is so valuable as it allows us to continuously learn new skills and take on real challenges. However, ultimately, what really shapes our beliefs, is how we respond to both our successes and failures.
Martin Seligman, a leader of positive psychology, wanted to find out what characteristic the most successful insurance salespeople had in common. Bare in mind that sales is a profession in which individuals are constantly exposed to rejection.
Surprisingly, it was not education, gender or socio-economic criterias.
Can you guess what it was?
What determined successful sales people was their level of optimism and how they would interpret their successes and failures.
From his study, Seligman concluded that optimists see the world very differently than pessimists, in at least three ways:
1) How permanent/ temporary an event feels:
Optimists consider disappointments as temporary setbacks from which they can bounce back quickly. At the same time, they view successes as more permanent and integrate them into their identity.
Pessimists, on the other hand, need a much longer period to recover from failures and consider successes as more temporary and fleeting.
2) The extent to which an event is pervasive and affects other areas of life:
Optimists allow good events to brighten every part of their lives while considering setbacks as specific and unrelated incidents.
Pessimists assume that a failure in one area of life means failing in life as a whole. At the same time, successes don’t really affect them that much.
3) How personal they take events:
Optimists attribute successes to themselves while attributing failures to others.
Pessimists do the exact opposite and relate negative events to their own flaws while attributing successes to other people.
In short, optimists understand one vital truth:
We can either learn to fail or fail to learn.
This is because what really shapes our beliefs is how we respond to both our successes and our failures.
As one of America’s most successful inventor Thomas Edison said:
“I failed my way to success’’
To train yourself to become more optimistic, Seligman developed the “ABC Method”.
This is how it works:
Every time you experience a negative event or feel overwhelmingly challenged, go through the following steps.
A –Adversity: Become aware when you face difficult situations.
Example: failing with a business launch
B – Beliefs: Notice how you interpret the event, and what beliefs it triggers.
Example: I am stupid, this is too hard for me.
C – Consequences: What conclusion to you draw from that event?
Example: I won’t try this again, it is pointless.
D – Disputation: Search for evidence to challenge the negative thoughts from A-C. The key is to argue against your own distortions of reality.
Here are some ways how you can do that:
- Alternative explanation: I didn’t prepare myself properly. I launched it too early.
- Evidence: I succeeded with other businesses.
- Inaccuracy of belief: Am I magnifying the negativity of this event, minimizing past successes and making up stories?Just because I didn’t succeed this time, does not mean I can forget all my past successes.
- Usefulness of belief: Makes me feel demotivated and depleted.Is there any less destructive way to look at this? For example, that I can learn from my mistakes and failing this launch that will actually help me in the long run.
E – Energization: Once you are able to condition yourself into positive thoughts and behaviours in response to A, B-D, you will feel more energized. Suddenly you become a benefit finder.
Remember: Beliefs are neither true nor false.
They are nothing more than special neural patterns in our brain that have become so ingrained that they become automatic. Although they share the stories and limiting scripts we tell ourselves, we have the power to change them by developing a Growth Mindset and disputing our many irrational thoughts on a regular basis.
Step 1: Reframe struggles into challenges
The best way to cultivate a growth mindset is by embracing daily challenges by reframing them from a philosophical point of view. Instead of seeing them as daily hassles, you want to view them as both opportunities to solve specific problems in your life, while building the kind of character that will allow you to become your best self.
Step 2: Commit to continuous learning.
Think about your biggest goal right now and the most important skills you need to master to accomplish your big dream. Consider yourself like an athlete who works towards getting better every single day. Now make a plan how you will learn those skills, and who can help you in this process.
Step 3: Transform limiting beliefs by using the ABC method
For a week, make it a daily habit of thinking through three events or adversities a day, going through the whole ABC-process. If you don’t have time during the day, just write down specific events that trigger beliefs, and go through the process in the evening.
B) Create your personal ritual that will help you show up with your A-game whenever it matters most.
“The more exacting the challenge, the more rigorous our rituals need to be.” — Jim Loehr
Have you ever totally messed up an important situation in which you wanted nothing more than show up at your best?
Maybe you didn’t do well during a negotiation, made a fool of yourself at a date, panicked during up a job interview or choked during a big competition.
I bet most of us have.
If this has happened to you it was either because you did not prepare enough for that important occasion, or because you care too much about achieving a specific outcome.
Without a doubt, preparation is crucial for success. However, this is not what most high performers struggle with.
Instead, they suffer from feelings of anxiety that can cause us all so many headaches.
And this is what I want to talk to you about so that you won’t ever need to fear facing big challenges again.
You see, when we become really good at mastering a complex skill, our non-conscious memory takes care of most of the details of our high-performance activity. It’s like learning to drive a car, which is extremely difficult in the beginning but becomes almost automatic over time.
What happens to many high performers though is that they try so hard to be successful that they become worried about messing up. This can create lots of stress and activate negative feelings like anger and fear — not ideal emotions to capitalize big occasions.
This is why so many gifted people choke and mess up in big high-performance moments.
In his book, Bounce – Matthew Syed shares a study conducted by Robert Gray in which professional baseball players were asked to swing at a moving ball. One group was asked to answer whether random background music was being played in low or high frequency. The other group had to say whether their bat was moving up or down at the instant music was being played.
Do you think the questions affected their performance?
Well, when asked about the frequency of the background music, the players had no problem with their performance. However, interestingly, when asked to judge if their bat was doing an up or down movement at the instance music started playing, their performance level plummeted.
Why do you think that is?
Syed explains that when we start contemplating about our automated skills, we start messing with our brain. The same thing happens whenever we want a specific result too much, as we suddenly start thinking of all the details related to our performance. We start hesitating to rely on our acquired skills, which Syed calls a combinatorial explosion.
To overcome choking, high performers must have rituals that allow them to tap into their best mental state.
This is how:
- Athletes can train for years to win a gold medal at a 100-meter sprint race that takes less than 10 seconds.
- Entrepreneurs feel sharpest when negotiating the deals of their life.
- A singer can show up on the stage full of enthusiasm regardless of what is going on in his life.
The key to performing on command is that we need to prepare ourselves in advance for high-pressure situations and anticipate any obstacles that we may face on the way. We do this by exposing ourselves consistently to similar circumstances, and creating a ritual that will allow us to get into our best mental and emotional state.
In fact, our mind is such an amazing tool and you will be surprised how easily you can shift your state.
Let’s try this out right now:
- Rate your level of energy right from 1-10.
- Next, close your eyes and focus on increasing that rating by at least one or two spots. Focus on feeling energized, alive and positive.
- Give yourself another push and up your energy level by one more notch.
- Now rate yourself again.
Did you feel a difference?
How amazing is it that in just a few seconds you can upgrade how you feel!
So imagine what you could achieve with a 5-10 minute ritual.
Let me share some of the things you could do before pressure situations:
- Visualize big moments: Visualize yourself performing at your best. Try to really put yourself into the anticipated high-performance situation and imagine experiencing the thoughts and feelings that would support you most in that moment. Picture yourself feeling confident and enjoying this high-pressure situation. Also visualize yourself overcoming some of the obstacles you may face, like feeling nervous or making a mistake and then recovering to still perform at your best. The more you practice this, the more prepared you will feel, and the better you will be able to use visualizations before big moments of your life.
- Get yourself physically into a performance state: Create a routine that gets you into the right state to perform at your best. For example, you may want to move your body by bouncing up and down so that you get yourself feeling energized and alive. You can also add music to stimulate yourself.
- Focus on your breathing: You can get yourself to feel calm and relaxed by taking several slow breaths or even doing a short meditation. You can also use breathing to energize your body by using what Brendon Burchard calls breath scaling, whereby you start breathing slowing and gradually breath faster and deeper (without hyperventilating) until you feel you are ready to reduce your speed again.
- Integrate past success into your identity: Make sure to recall and relive past successful moments whenever you want to feel more confident.
- Cultivate acting skills: Start acting out the emotions you would like to be feeling during any High-Performance situation. For example, if you desire to feel confident, stand up tall, have a smile, and do anything else that makes you feel good about yourself. The goal is to simulate your best possible self.
By creating a ritual that suits you best, and practicing it on a daily basis, you will be able to automatically trigger the right thoughts and feelings for the high-performance situations you face.
IMPORTANT TIP: Afterburn high-performance moments: Re-visualize how the event went, by thinking about what you did well, and what you could do differently or better next time.
Create your High-Performance Ritual
Develop your personal High-Performance Ritual and use it at least once a day, so it becomes an automatic process you can retrieve easily when it really matters.
C) How to deal with those days when you’re feeling depressed and stuck, so you don’t fall off track with pursuing your dreams.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Of course, our high-performance state only reflects one artificial side of who we really are. When it becomes too dominant, important needs stay suppressed. In addition, we may feel exhausted from constantly pushing ourselves and stretching our abilities. Therefore, we need to balance our performance state and address our true needs, on a regular basis.
Connecting to our true needs allows us to become aware of what goes on inside our head and body, and what it is we are missing to feel at our best. This could be a physical need (i.e. exhaustion), an emotional need (lack of self-esteem), something mental (i.e. worries, distractions) or even spiritual (i.e. drive to grow and explore newness). Without addressing any of these needs, they can become chronic problems that prevent us from achieving our goals and from performing at our best.
Addressing unmet needs:
A problem many of us face is that we are not even aware as to what we are really missing. This is because we have learned to suppress feelings of pain and replace them through all sorts of coping mechanisms.
For some people, this may be drinking lots of alcohol to relieve themselves from emotional stress. Others may retreat themselves to watching hours of TV. And yet others might numb their feelings by working excessively.
Regardless of whether we are aware of our unmet needs, or not, it will be almost impossible to both perform at our best over a sustained period of time without taking good care of ourselves.
To do so, we need to critically think about the difference of “our needs” and “our wants”. While the former refers to something that is necessary for our long-term success and happiness, the latter simply satisfies a short-term desire.
For example, we may feel like eating junk food to help forget disappointments and creating instant gratification. Of course, we know that we are not really addressing our core feelings, and over time can be harmful. By addressing our real needs, rather than giving in to short-term wants, we lay the foundation to feeling energized and fulfilling our potential.
In a high-performance situation, this could mean experiencing a paralyzing fear of failure that prevents us from competing against the best, speaking in front of big crowds, or applying for a dream job. Of course, we could try and suppress these feelings of negativity in the short run, but sooner or later we will succumb to the unbearable pressure, and fail if we don’t address our true needs.
One of the key psychological obstacles I see for top athletes comes from their fixed mindset believe that they have to be perfect, in order to be successful. They often feel threatened that if they do not perform at a certain level, they will disappoint important people like parents and friends, and even lose their support.
Limiting beliefs, combined with emotions of fear, will, of course, increase our stress level and usually prevent us from doing well. Our Amygdala, the internal warning system of our brain, will light up every time we risk failure, and shut down our cortex which is responsible for our ability to focus and stay calm. As a result, our fight, flight or freeze response kicks in, which is why we underperform.
In order to cope with our fears in such situations, we usually then have only two choices:
- We can try even harder to become better. For some people, this can actually work for a while, but at the price of sacrificing their joy and all their time to match all these expectations. Many others will eventually burn out.
- Or, we may choose (invisibly) to give up and sabotage ourselves. At least we can always tell ourselves that we could have done better if we really tried. In other words, we choose to master our disappointments and settle for an ordinary life at best, rather than seeking to strive. Often, this is a reason why people procrastinate.
Either way, we sacrifice true success which includes performing at our best and loving what we do.
In order to become successful, we want to nurture our needs, by accepting that we are humans and not machines. We must appreciate that pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone will generate feelings of fear that we need to address in some way or another. Once we recognize and welcome these emotions, we realize that more often than not, they are just conditioned thoughts that we can actually overcome.
Often, there is no need to be upset or anxious. We never know how a situation might impact our future.
This reminds me of the following fable:
One day, the only horse of a farmer, ran away.
His neighbours said:
“I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be very upset.”
The man answered:
A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following.
His neighbours said:
“Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”
The man just said:
One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, who broke both his legs.
His neighbors said:
“I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”
The man just said:
The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted
His neighbours said:
“Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”
The man just said:
The moral of the story is that in the moment of disappointment, we never know what impact it will have in the long run.
I know that when I suffer a disappointment, I love playing out various different alternatives in my head, often fearing the worst outcomes. This can make me feel extremely restless and nervous. However, I have discovered that by expressing my concerns and feelings in some ways, I allow them to gradually dissipate.
Let me share two ways how you can start doing this:
IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you feel you have unresolved issues that are influencing your well-being or your performance, you should see a professional specialist to help you work through them. The suggestions that follow are only meant to serve day to day issues that high performers face.
1) Create your Support team
One thing that distinguished Novak Djokovic from a very young age was that he already had a whole team around him from a young age. I remember when he played my tournament in Thailand at the age of only 17 years old, he arrived with a team of three people. Other players were mocking him but he knew that if he wanted to become the best tennis player in the world, he would need a professional team around him.
Top performers have a support system of coaches, mentors, and close friends:
Why do you think that is?
Obviously, a coach or teacher can help us acquire the skills we need to become successful.
But that is not the only reason we need to have a team.
As a top performer, we often feel very lonely.
Study after study confirm that the happiest and most successful people enjoy rich and fulfilling social lives — it is an important human drive to want to belong with others and create intimate relationships.
In fact, feeling isolated can be more harmful than being a smoker, as it creates massive invisible fear that we will lack any support when we face danger. Loneliness can lead to increased blood pressure, stress and depression to name a few symptoms.
Next, the people who surround us can influence our self-belief and hence potential.
As Goethe once said:
“Treat a man how he is, and he will stay the same. Treat a man how he can and should be, and he shall become as he can and should be.”
You will be surprised how much influence the people around you can have:
In a famous study called the Pygmalion effect, teachers were told that specific students in their class were considered extremely “talented”. In reality, these students were picked out randomly.
What happened was that over time, the teachers created positive expectations towards the “talented” students, giving them more learning opportunities and challenges, and also praising them more? As a result, those students became the best of their class.
Finally, coaches, mentors, friends, and spouses can push us to achieve extraordinary things that we would struggle to do by ourselves.
They can help:
- Create and sustain motivation.
- Experience positive reinforcement and support.
- Give objective feedback.
- Stick to positive habits.
- Become aware and more independent thinkers.
- Help us overcome our doubts and negative thinking.
In other words, having people who believe and support you, can make a big difference to your success and well-being.
2) The Power of Journaling
It is a human need to share our feelings with people we feel close to. This gives us the psychological safety of being appreciated for who we are. So if you have a trusted person you can share your dreams, passions, fears and concerns with, then you are in a great position to express yourself and refuel your energy levels.
However, even on your own you can process your emotions and express yourself.
In a study, James W. Pennebaker researched the benefits of journaling. For that purpose, he invited participants to spend four days writing 15 minutes each day about their most difficult experiences, ideally things they would not speak about with others.
Specifically, they were asked to describe how they felt about them. They were also asked to analyze the events of their lives. After 4 days, the results were disappointing. The participants showed no real changes in how they felt.
The interesting outcome of this study was that after following the participants for a year, Pennebaker found long-lasting results:
They were now healthier and happier.
Pennebaker’s study has shown us that the habit of journaling brings along many benefits:
- For a start, it can be extremely helpful to write about negative events from time to time in a focused manner, rather than ruminate about them all day. Negativity is draining so we rather deal with it in a concise and structured manner.
- Second, by expressing any negative emotions, we take out the sting from arousing feelings, so that they no longer run our lives.
- The third benefit of journaling is that it can make us aware of unmet needs, where they come from and how we can address them. For example, we might realize it’s about time to let go from a difficult experience from the past, or that we need to forgive someone, and even ourselves, to feel more at peace with ourselves.
- Finally, journaling helps us make sense of our life story. With the help of such self-understanding, we appreciate why we do the things we do, and can then address the causes of self-defeating behaviors so that we can finally live up to our own expectations.
Important Tip: While it is important to write about our negative events, it is also valuable to write about positive experiences. However, we need to do this in a very different manner. When writing about difficulties, it helps to analyze events in detail. However, we do not want to do that when writing about positive experiences. It is enough to simply write about them, and maybe even relive and experience those happy moments again throughout this process.
Surround yourself with people who care about you and support your big dreams. Get a coach, mentor or close friend with whom you can share your big ambitions, desires, and fears in a very open and transparent manner and figure out how to overcome any limiting beliefs.
In addition, journal from time to time about how you feel, in the most authentic possible manner.
D) The one daily practice that will make you so mentally tough that you can overcome any obstacle that stands in your way to your success.
“You are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are.” — Norman Vincent Peale
In a study in New Zealand, researchers checked how well kids could focus on one task without getting distracted. They then tracked them down when they were between 30-40 years of age, and found that the ability to focus was the number one predictor of success and health, before IQ, the wealth of their family, or origin.
So how can we improve our focus?
Well, we know that our brain is the most powerful device there is:
It consists of over hundred billion nerve cells, with each neuron connected to thousands of other neurons. To write down all the zeros that would define the number of possible brain connections would take around 75 years.
Our brain controls everything we do and does over quadrillion operations per second.
This is why we work best when our brain works right.
However, with about 60,000 thoughts going through our mind every single day, almost 95% of our behavior happens automatic for most of us.
This is why changing our behavior can be so challenging.
The good news is that we can all learn how to become more focused, and even consciously strengthen our brain. This is because, in contrast to what people used to think, our brain is extremely malleable, regardless of our age.
This was demonstrated in a study led by Alvaro Pascual-Leone, half a group of volunteers learned a simple 5-finger keyboard piece, practicing it repeatedly for a week with their right hand. The second half of participants only imagined playing the same notes.
When the researchers measured the region of the brain that controls the fingers of the right hand, they noticed that in both groups it had expanded. In other words, thinking alone increased the amount of space the motor cortex had devoted to the specific function of moving those fingers.
In another study with London Taxi drivers, who are known because they have to learn the names and locations of all the streets of their city, researchers compared the brain sizes of the cabi’s before and after their training. What they found was that the part of their brain responsible for memory (Hippocampus) grew bigger over time.
Again, by consciously memorizing locations they literally transformed part of their brains.
MRI showing growth (left to right) of the hippocampus in taxi drivers – image courtesy of Elenour Maguire, Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, University College London
With the help of focused attention, we can improve vital skills and even change the physical structure of our brain. At the same time though we must remember that we can also strengthen negative behaviors and thought patterns if we allow our mind to do whatever it wants. This is why it is so important to train our brain in the same way we would train our body.
The practice of daily meditation:
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” — Old Zen Saying
Probably the scientifically most effective way to strengthen our brain comes from the practice of daily meditation. This is how we can constantly improve our ability to pay attention, increase our brainpower and hence tap into our unlimited potential.
To prove this claim, a scientist called Pagnoni compared 12 Zen meditators with 12 novices who had never practiced any meditation.
As the volunteers had their brains scanned, they were asked to focus on their breathing.
Once in awhile they would be required to distinguish a real word from a nonsense word displayed randomly on a screen, and then asked to immediately return back to focusing on their breathing.
The scans revealed that after being distracted, Zen meditators brains returned their attention faster back to the breathing, than the novices.
“The regular practice of meditation may enhance the capacity to limit the influence of distracting thoughts.”
Pagnoni then tested subject’s ability to focus using what is known as the rapid visual information processing test.
In that task, subjects were asked to look at a computer screen while numbers flashed rapidly in random order. The goal was to press a button anytime one of three target sequences appeared.
For example, one target sequence could be 1-3-5.
So as the volunteers watched the numbers fly by, like for example 1-5-1-3-5, they were asked to hit a button as soon as they saw the target sequence. They had to respond quickly and avoid making mistakes to get credits.
As expected, the meditators outperformed the novices on the task, spotting more target sequences and making fewer mistakes.
But that is not all!
Meditation can trigger so many other benefits in a relatively short time.
In one study by Jon Kabat-Zinn revealed that by just meditating for 15 minutes a day, for an 8 week period, resulted in lower feelings of anxiety and better moods.
In another study conducted with the help of the Dalai Lama, the brains of some of the most experienced meditators were scanned. The fascinating finding was that they had a much higher left to right prefrontal cortex ratio, which is one of the most objective ways to measure the degree of happiness that people experience.
Meditation can also help us:
- Cope better with stress.
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety.
- Improve our sleep and general well-being.
- Feel happier.
But what effect does meditation have on our ability to concentrate?
And the best part is that meditation neither needs to be difficult, nor long.
How to start meditating?
Find a quiet place where you can, sit for say 5-10 minutes in the beginning.
Take a moment to relax, close your eyes and focus on your breath.
In the beginning, you may struggle a little as you are not used to sitting still by yourself. Thoughts may keep popping up, which is completely normal. Bare in mind that this even happens to advanced meditators. This is part of the process, and it gets easier over time, so just stay patient.
The important thing while meditating is to never to judge yourself. Just watch your thoughts come and go, as if you were an outside observer. In his book, NeuroWisdon-Mark Robert Waldman recommends that when your mind does wander, notice where it goes, and become aware of any thoughts, feelings, body aches and urges that come up. Then gently bring your attention back to your breath.
In fact, I love to picture myself diving in the middle of the ocean and looking up to the waves, which symbolize my thoughts and feelings. This allows me to observe them in a non-judging manner.
Waldman also suggests that it will help to immerse ourselves in every detail of the breathing experience — as if we are picturing it through a microscope. You can do this by trying to notice how you breathe-in cold air and breath-out warm air. Or you can focus on the sound of your breathing and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly so you can notice it rising and falling.
If it helps, repeat a mantra or count “1” for each in-breath and “2” for each out breath until you feel at ease again.
If you need more help, maybe start with a guided meditation.
But here is the most important part:
Daily meditation can really transform your life and help you improve your mental toughness dramatically. At the same time, although it only takes a few minutes, it is so easy to forget. So make sure you try it for at least a month, by making it a habit that you attach to a trigger (i.e. brushing your teeth, taking a shower) from your daily life (i.e. brushing your teeth, taking a shower). Alternatively set yourself a reminder on your phone.
Or even better, do both!
And if you want more tips on meditation, check out this clip from Headspace. They also offer 10 days for free, and that will give you a great idea what meditation is about.
Make it a habit to meditate once a day. Start with 5-10 minutes and gradually increase to 20 minutes. You can use applications like Headspace, or simply practice focusing on your in- and out-breaths.
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