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10 Strategies to improve your mental toughness

The business case for becoming a 'present person' and the one skill that leverages all other skills

There is one mental skill that leverages and amplifies all of our other skills and abilities. It's the ability to be present in the moment. Whether you're leading a business, a family or simply learning how to make better decisions based upon good sense and clear judgement – your ability to be present in that moment can be the difference between success and another poor decision.

When you’re present, you’re alert and aware of opportunities in a way that others are not.

Significant and ongoing success in life and business depends upon your ability to recognise opportunities. This learnt skill is seen as one of the top indicators of success in life and business relationships. Part of that success comes from the reality that humans are designed for relationships and that to successfully navigate through life we’re required to successfully manage our relationships.

Lost employee value

Sadly many good employees are trained to leave their authentic selves at the door when they come to work and adopt the company-worker-bee mindset. This is usually because their environment doesn’t value them as individuals so they feel disempowered and disenfranchised. The resulting costs of workplace disengagement are measurable as the degree to which we lack access to the natural giftedness and unique insight of an empowered person. Why is this a business leadership problem? Because businesses don’t have good ideas – only good people do.

The 10 strategies to increase your mental toughness and ability to be fully present in the moment

Quick summary


1.  Be aware of what’s taking place right now
2.  Do what’s appropriate right now
3.  Free yourself from past successes
4.  Free yourself from past failures
5.  See each day as a fresh start
6.  Always be excited about opportunities
7.  Appreciate your life
8.  Appreciate everyone you know
9.  Realise that your future is created
10. Recycle everything

1Aim to be aware of what’s actually happening right now.
Growing your ability to be totally emotionally present in the moment

This first mental skill – to be emotionally present in the moment – increase your ability to be attentively where you are and not distracted by other things, other concerns or other matters. Over the course of life and business hundreds of thousands of opportunities are simply unavailable to us because inattention makes them appear invisible to the distracted mind. From this truth comes the saying - Luck favours the prepared mind.

Luck favours the prepared mind

How many times have you been talking to a person and you begin to suspect that that they are not really there with you? Perhaps their body was present, but their attention was obviously somewhere else. How did that make you feel? Probably insulted, possibly devalued and more than likely ignored. Now think about a more positive conversation where another person gave you their full and deliberate attention. In contrast, what was that like? Probably exciting, definitely empowering and usually energising. So which conversation got more of your effort, your shared insight and your helpful attention?

2Do what’s appropriate right now.
Conscious and deliberate thinking triggers action

As you grow more aware of what’s really happening in your personal and professional life, your ability to understand and respond insightfully in the present moment also grows. Some people call it finding your flow, others say they enter the zone, but each reports a sense of heightened awareness where time slows and a sense of achievement actually increases. Conscious deliberate thought triggers problem solving, better decision making and clearer communication.

3Free yourself from past successes.
If the only constant in our world is change – our ability to be present in the moment is the only way to stay aware of what’s really happening.

When you begin your day resting comfortably on past successes, you risk not being able to bring your very best creative innovation forward. Being wedded to your past successes can have an equally devastating effect on your ability to be present, as can your past failures. This is because success breeds dangerous assumptions about our skills and abilities that may no longer be actually relevant or accurately reflect the changing needs of the environment.

Emotionally present people usually don’t have their personal sense of value or personal or professional worth tied to their successes or their failures. The external features of their journey are simply that, external. Their motivation is in large part generated from within. They’re also careful to recognise that success is a powerful sedative of creativity and fresh innovation.

There is nothing more distracting than comparing ourselves to others

Many entrepreneurial leaders resist formal benchmarking assessments and comparing themselves with others. Knowing how your business is performing in comparison to your peers provides no real value, unless your peers are the standard you want to match. Such curiosity can be an unprofitable distraction for the real issues so the warning to those who may find themselves ranking high on the comparison chart is; arrogance is the blinding siren of success and the rocks of change are never far off when you listen to its song.

4Free yourself from past failures.
Everything we know we learn – learn that.

How you choose to see the world around you in large part affects your journey through it. The work of Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, observing the differences between fixed and fluid mindsets, provides insights into how our mindset affects our outlook on life. If you believe your opportunities are limited and out of reach, your perception about your surroundings and your ability to change it imprisons you to change apathy and a perpetual acceptable of the status quo. For those who choose to develop a more fluid mindset, the same situation is a momentary side-track, full of useful learning opportunities.

The good news is we can learn to change how we choose to see the word around us

The good news is we can learn to change how we choose to see the word around us. Our ability to consistently fall forward in these situations is actually a learnable response. Our failures can provide key learning opportunities and are just one of the many intersections on our journey and not the destination.

Insight is always valuable

Freeing yourself from past failures means that we can transform these experiences into new information and into new structures for success.

Failures, mistakes and embarrassments often uncover important new concepts, key strategies and helpful insights that encourage us to become better at what we do and who we are. When we realise we’ve failed, that valuable awareness provides a deep insight into the event. The ability to be present at this moment captures this useful insight.

Do it on Friday’s

Many businesses that are keen to embrace this freedom from failure have adopted a ‘Friday ****up meeting’ where people are encouraged to share their best failures from the previous week and propose what the organisation can learn from them.

Peers vote and award recognition for the best insights gained and the bravest decisions made.

Peers vote and award recognition for the best insights gained and the bravest decisions made. The popular quote from Thomas Edison was that he — ‘had discovered 10,000 examples of how not to make a light bulb before he found the one that worked’. Reframe failures as key learning opportunities at the intersections of your life and not at your destination. What would you do differently if you weren’t afraid to fail?

5See each day as a fresh start.
Why let go of the past?

There is nothing we can do with the past except learn from it. A fundamental skill of being present lies in our ability to let go of the distractions of the past and allowing ourselves to start afresh. To the degree that we can let go of the pain and the pleasure of yesterday, we dictate our ability to start fresh and alert today so we can focus on bringing our best selves forward to be aware of what’s really happening. Hoarding past failures consumes immense emotional resources that are better applied to a brighter future. The future belongs to those who can focus.

6Always be excited about opportunities.
What’s your plan to manage discouragements?

Broad consensus suggests that 10,000 hours of focus dedication and repetition at a skill moves you towards the expert category. As we become more skilled and successful in life (yes, there is an obvious connection) our opportunities naturally become clearer and our insights usually deeper.

So why do some people in the expert field appear to lose interest at the peak of their performance?

So why do some people in the expert field appear to lose interest at the peak of their performance? Not cultivating the ability to be present in the moment usually exposes them to 3 reoccurring problems.

  • They have allowed an environment of low performance to surround them and it’s exhausting to manage. A high performance environment is usually self-managing and self-aligning and can help make up for a lot of our current inabilities; a low performance version only amplifies our struggles.
  • They continue to carry too much emotional and psychological baggage from their past and it simply wears them down. Decision fatigue sets in to the point where key decisions are choked by the drain of the small annoyances.
  • They have impossible (unattainable) expectations for the future. Pursing only perfection and thinking that it’s achievable (when it’s really more like a ‘moving target’) has left them fatigued and emotionally brittle. At the point of realisation they often become demoralised by overwhelm and give up.

Cultivating a sense of excitement about opportunities is a skill of mental toughness that keeps us from being disengaged from either the past or the future. It sets an expectation and energy level for your environmental. This mental toughness, nurtures the habit of curiosity to succeed rather than assuming success is simply the perfect repetition of a system process.

Mastering something is an ongoing journey and that’s why it’s so engaging.

When you seek to master the skill at being present, life and business will be more enjoyable, successful and exciting than before. You begin to see the opportunities that were previously hidden from awareness in the infrared zone.

Japans Living National Treasure’s is an honoured name for its citizens who are formally recognised for their mastery of a skill and who have come to embody an important sometimes intangible cultural skill. These artists, performers and craftsmen and women are recognised as masters of their craft. When speaking with them individually about their achievements in their particular field, most would only bashfully admit to a skill level ‘not yet mastered, just very competent.’ These honoured citizens see mastery as an ongoing journey and an engaging source of intrigue that never ends because you can always do it better.

These honoured citizens see mastery as an ongoing journey and an engaging source of intrigue that never ends because you can always do it better.

Beware the strange Cult of Forced Optimism

Undoubtedly, our words help create our environment, both internally and externally. Focusing on the positive opportunities over the negative realities requires significant skill and even courage to master. But beware the cult of forced optimism that creates an additional and unnecessary barrier by requiring you to also feel good about creating a solution.

As courage is not the absence of fear, optimism is not the absence of uncertainty.

As courage is not the absence of fear, optimism is not the absence of uncertainty. Optimism is the capacity to look for the favourable side of a situation and the ability to work towards the most favourable outcome regardless of how you might feel about the circumstances. Present people know how to bring their best selves forward to meet a task or to solve a problem, even when they don’t particularly feel emotionally excited about it. Your ability to bring your best self forward to hard tasks, regardless of emotions, is a necessary skill to be developed. Free yourself from the need to feel good before you act upon a task. Your ability to be present is the creative force to harness, not your ability to muster an emotional permission.

As courage is not the absence of fear, optimism is not the absence of uncertainty.

7Appreciate your life.
Reality TV and the shock that you’re living it

One of the low-cost marketing experiments in recent times is Reality TV, reinvented by the Big Brother reality game show franchise first produced in the Netherlands. In this 24 hour sitcom, production houses record cleverly crafted scenarios where competing personalities can be deliberately pitted against each other in ‘real life situations’ for the amusement and scorn of the viewer and sometimes a cash prize for the participants.

Such programs seem to do little to increase our appreciation for the value of our own real life. The programming is designed to prey upon the new online behavioural anomalies such as online status-update-anxiety, FOMO - the fear of missing out - credited as the reason the average person checks their mobile device in excess of 150 times a day – and our increasing hyper connected but socially isolating online lives. The Orwellian disconnect is that real people are encouraged to suspend their own lives to watch “real life” reality TV.

We forget that the lives we’re living are reality

The more we intentionally appreciate that the experiences in our own lives have real meaning, the more we will value them. It’s how our brains work. What we value, we put time and effort towards; what we value, we nurture and move towards and become better at, we call that life; really.

8Appreciate everyone you know.
Companies don’t have great ideas, only great people do

To be human means to be in relationship with other humans. The quality of our lives then, in large part, has to do with the quality of our ability to appreciate those individuals around us. Each person has a unique ability, a unique leaning towards a particular skill or expression. The more we value these traits in people the more we can benefit from them in life and business. Remember companies don’t have great ideas, only great people do.

9Your future is created - but by who?
Create the future you want.

The future is created by those people who choose to take responsibility for their lives. How we continually respond to our surroundings and life events is ultimately our choice. This is no more powerfully demonstrated then in the life and writings of author and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Victor Frankl, in his influential book Man’s Search for Meaning.

His personal story of survival in the Nazi concentration camps even after the loss of his wife, father, mother and his brother is a story that could excuse a person's belief that life is meaningless and suicide a reasonable option. After his release by allied soldiers at the end of the war, Frankl when on to write that striving to find meaning in life is the most powerful motivation for human beings.

The most creative, productive and valuable people in life and business are those who realise that the future is always created. And it’s always uniquely and unpredictably created by people who decide to take complete accountability for their lives and who choice to create the future they want.

10Recycle everything
Transformative experiences

Pain truly is the gift that nobody wants. It can tell you there is a problem, there is a consequence, or there is a wound that needs attention. The biggest danger to life and business is that we isolate ourselves from feeling pain and discomfort. We mistakenly view discomfort as vulnerability and run the risk of failure through sheer unawareness. The reason why we can change our thinking, improve, grow and repair our ideas is only made possible because we have recycled our past and applied it to our present circumstances. To form an opinion, to hone an idea and to change one’s mind is testament to the recycling process. That’s what people call wisdom – that’s what we call Sapience.

Realising that our past experiences can be recycled and put to better use is a liberating understanding that strengthens our ability to be present in the moment.

Applying these strategies and taking action will deepen and enrich your ability to be present and to see opportunities previously invisible to the distracted mind.

Key summary


1.  Be aware of what’s taking place right now
2.  Do what’s appropriate right now
3.  Free yourself from past successes
4.  Free yourself from past failures
5.  See each day as a fresh start
6.  Always be excited about opportunities
7.  Appreciate your life
8.  Appreciate everyone you know
9.  Realise that your future is created
10. Recycle everything

 

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Drew Browne

You never really understand a system until you start to change it.
I’m an entrepreneur specialising in usable strategic financial advice for gen X and gen Y. After 25 years of experience in law and financial services, I've come to believe there are some conversations that are too important not to have. In the end, we won’t remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Website: www.sapience.com.au