Are We Testing OR Training Mental Toughness? 

 


On a run the other day, I passed two people and asked them for what race that they were training. She said a half-marathon, but hedged her statement with, “as soon as I can get through my speed work.”

I gave her unsolicited advice and told her she was ready and just to sign up that night instead.

I’m not sure she agreed. I felt like an idiot so I ran faster.

She was basically doing what we all do. She was testing herself for the race instead of training for the race. She was playing the if/then game. If her runs were good enough, then she would sign up.

Testing, testing, 1…2…3…

We test the microphone. Bands do a sound check. Plays and weddings have rehearsals. The difference is that they’ve committed to the event, they are preparing. Imagine instead if a band did a sound check weeks before the event and only if that went well, then they would do the gig. However, that’s often what we do.

Teachers in school don’t give a test and then prepare you later. That’s what life does, life gives you the test first and then the lesson comes after.

When we test ourselves, we are operating under the mentality of, “Am I good enough right now?” or “If today was the event, would I be ready?”

Testing ourselves is brutally flawed thinking and it adds undue stress. The flawed thinking is that the event isn’t here yet, so while it would it be nice if we were ready, we don’t have to be. When we are testing ourselves, we are also in constant comparing mode, comparing ourselves to our future and ideal self, the one that is near perfect. Comparing ourselves to our future self also means taking us out of the moment, which is dangerous.

There’s a difference between training ourselves as opposed to testing ourselves for an event. This small shift makes a huge impact on training mental toughness.

Instead, when we are training ourselves instead of testing ourselves, our mindset changes. When we train, we no longer evaluate if we are ready, but approach it more as if “what do I need to work on?” Yes, we will still think about the event and compare ourselves, but now there is a context and a backdrop. Instead of testing ourselves, we are now training mental toughness.

We operate in training mode by first recognizing when we actually need to be ready. A poor training session can then be learned from because the event isn’t here yet, so we are still preparing. We are training ourselves. We are also training mental toughness by staying in the moment and not thinking too far ahead, which again adds undue stress.

Someone asked the other day if I was ready for a talk I was to give in a few days. I said,”NO, I’ll be ready then.” I wasn’t speaking at that exact moment, so I didn’t need to be ready. No need to test myself, I was still training.

I went home and prepared some more.


 

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Click Here to check out any of his books on Mental Toughness. 

The Human Taproot of Mental Toughness 


The dandelion is an interesting flower. We spend billions of dollars every year to try and rid the dandelion, but it keeps coming back. 

If flowers possessed Mental Toughness, the dandelion would top the list. 

It is a very hardy plant. 

It sprouts very quickly in most types of soil, growing in many climates, with little or lots of rainfall. It also does not seem to need the approval of its owner to grow successfully. Young children generally revere it, but at the same time, most homeowners hate it, because they believe it is just an annoying weed. 

Mental toughness is akin to the hardiness factor in plants, which is a plant’s ability to survive in adverse growing conditions. The measurement of plant’s hardiness includes its ability to withstand drought, wind, cold, and heat. The process of gardeners developing strains of hardy plants and shrubs involves the process of “hardening” them to the elements. Ironically, the hardiest types of plants (i.e., weeds and dandelions) are usually the most undesirable to the typical homeowners.

The common trait among all hardy plants, however, is the taproot. The taproot looks similar to a carrot or turnip and grows vertically down as opposed to branching off horizontally. It distributes water where needed and it makes the plant very difficult to displace, because it will continue to re-sprout. Thus, developing toughness begins with developing a human taproot.

A human taproot is a perfect metaphor of mental strength. The analogy of a taproot is effective because it is unseen. Honestly, when we look at a tree or plant, we only focus on the branches, leaves, and perhaps the fruit. Unless you are a botanist, you will pay little attention to what you can’t see, namely the taproot.

Coaches and commentators often label the human taproot as “the intangibles.” These unseen qualities are often immeasurable, yet the intangibles and the strength of the human taproot determine the success of each athlete. 

Just as the strength of the taproot is what ultimately determines the longevity of the plant, the real key to success lies in the unseen, the intangibles, and one’s resiliency. (check out this awesome blog post for more info on motivation).

If the roots are not strong, then the plant and player will eventually submit to the adverse conditions.


Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check a recent book- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness