"Mental toughness is essential to success."
-Vince Lombardi

This past spring, San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary brought a new kind (and new level) of pain to his team's training camp. Known simply as "the hill," it's a 45-degree incline that he had built for running. Singletary first witnessed the use of hill running during his time as a Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the 1980s Chicago Bears. While it obviously increased players' endurance, its primary benefit was a significant increase in players' persistence and perseverance. Walter Payton, Singletary's 1980s teammate and the Bears record-setting running back, believed that hill running helped players overcome the mental obstacles that get in the way of success. Many people still believe the 1985 Bears were the best NFL team in history. Almost all of the so-called "experts" still believe they were the toughest.

Dave Goggins is a Navy SEAL living in Chula Vista, California. He joined the Navy as a 240 lb. power-lifter. SEAL training began his journey to well-rounded fitness. He subsequently began running marathons, ultra-marathons and (later) competing in triathlons. He also completed the Ultraman – a mega-triathlon that features a grueling combination of a 6.2-mile ocean swim, a 261-mile bike ride, and a 52.4-mile run. Dave does it ostensibly to raise money for the Special Ops Warrior Foundation. People who know him insist that if SOWF didn't exist, he'd find another reason to compete. Dave believes that with focus and discipline, anyone can do just about anything. "I want to see if there is a limit to the human soul," Goggins says. His motto is "show no weakness." He visualizes success before undertaking any significant challenge and adds the following: "I remember when I was younger, when things were really hard or difficult, they could be so hard that they made you want to quit. That's a feeling I'll never have again." Dave is one of the toughest guys walking the face of the earth.

Lance Armstrong competes in a sport whose "main event" (the Tour de France) is the biking equivalent of running a marathon on steep hills each day for three weeks. His workout routine is RIDICULOUS! After taking a couple of years "off" (and I use that term VERY loosely) to focus on his charitable work, he returned to the Tour in 2009. When he's racing, Lance is a silent assassin. This comment from someone who knows him really well sums up his approach to competition: "The way to plant a seed of doubt in the other guy's mind is by keeping your mouth shut. Lance is nice – then he drills you!"

Lance believes demonstrating mental toughness by crashing through quitting points. When others are ready to give up, he goes into overdrive.

Tim Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and two NCAA football championships as quarterback of the University of Florida Gators. He's widely regarded as the best leader in the history of intercollegiate football. Oh yeah – there is a lot more to Tim than football. Through the first semester of his senior year, he's carrying a 3.6 grade point average. He does missionary work during his summers "off." In 2009, he did 700 hours of community service. He's also a paragon of humility. Some resentful college football fans don't like him … referring to him (condescendingly) as "Mr. Perfect." Many of those are people who admire gun-toting NBA stars. Go figure!

These guys came from very diverse backgrounds, and they all own their own lives. Each of them believes that he is responsible for his actions and accountable for his results. Each accepts that practice does not, in fact, make perfect – PERFECT practice makes perfect! That extends beyond physical preparation to mental preparation and the development of mental toughness. Their zeal preparing to win, however, does not tell the whole story. The fact is – a lot of mental toughness isn't about preparing to win; it's about learning how to lose and learning how NOT to lose. To wit:

Tom Veneziano wrote the book, The Truth About Winning. Tom's a tennis pro in Texas. He wrote his book to help tennis players win. Tom talks about cultivating the right attitude toward losing. According to him, until a person develops the correct perspective about losing and making mistakes, he cannot sustain success. That perspective includes accepting losses (NOT being resigned to losing – more about the difference later), staying "in the moment," letting go of defeat while learning from it, cultivating wisdom, and moving on to fight again.

In order to sustain success in life – regardless of your own personal definition of that – you too must develop mental toughness. Some recommendations follow:

• You must learn to distinguish among your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings and the facts in any situation. We all carry baggage from our past, especially from our respective childhoods. The lessons passed on to us by our early caregivers congeal at a very young age to create each of our own unique world-views. Some pieces of that serve us well; some don't. Most people accept this notion abstractly or easily see its consequences in other people, but never examine the precise impact on them.

• Accept 100% responsibility for everything in your life. This does not imply hard-headed independence or not asking for help. It DOES imply that victim-hood and blame yield bad outcomes. At one time or another, each of us has been victimized by forces outside of our control. There's a big difference, however, between having been victimized, and regarding oneself as a victim. Try looking at yourself in the mirror each morning and uttering the following: "I own my life. I am the problem, and I am the solution!"

• Monitor your self–talk, especially in the aftermath of defeat. We all conduct incessant internal dialogue. What does yours say about how you value yourself? How does your internal dialogue position you for future success?

• Learn to accept your shortcomings without resigning yourself to them (this is REALLY hard for me). Acceptance means "giving in to reality." Resignation means "giving up on possibility." There's a huge difference; it's not hair-splitting.

• Ask yourself (and cite examples) how adept and consistent you are at demonstrating the following attributes of character:

• Openness and candor – with yourself as well as others

• Dedication to "the truth"

• Courage

• Resilience

• Endurance

• Persistence

• Perseverence

• Discipline

• Responsibility

• Loyalty

Get a coach or mentor to help you cultivate mental toughness in 2010 and make this your BEST YEAR YET!

Copyright 2010 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com.