Avoid This “Why” to Build Mental Toughness

The worst why to build mental toughness


 Avoid This “Why” to Build Mental Toughness

I was a good athlete when I was young.

But I changed.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, maybe I lost a race, had an error in the field, or struck out. But, I started to think way too much, and I would get in my own way.

No-one could really ever help me either, which is one reason why I became a Sport Psychology coach.  I was stuck, frustrated, didn’t know how to work hard, and had off the field issues that caused emotional pain. 

I slacked, and people got better than me.

I drank, and people got better than me.

I partied, and people got better than me.

Then, it was all over.

Falling off a cliff will do that. 


I was never in touch with my “why” until after my playing days were over. After college, my “why” became to prove something to myself.  It was to prove to myself that although I squandered younger years, I wasn’t going to quit. If you ever get a second chance at life, you’ve got to go all the way. 

So, I ran marathons, broke a 20-minute 5k, benched pressed 300 lbs, made a hole-in-one, completed a toughmudder, swam under 1:00 in the 100 freestyle, and finished a 1/2 Ironman.

I’ve heard most elite performers “why’s.” Prove people wrong, Because I love it, Be a role model, it’s fun, Be outside, Escape from life, Be fit, Being in the moment, The feeling of the actual movement, Competitiveness, To beat others, Make my parents proud, Winning.” 

I think some are stronger than others and I am not sure which WHY is the BEST.

I do believe however that there is ONE WHY we need to avoid to build Mental Toughness. This “why” is toxic, malicious, and contagious. If we don’t recognize and treat it, it becomes necrotic to our entire self.

The worst “why” anyone can have is: I’m GOOD at it.


The path toward greatness at any level is difficult. But, our best changes as we get better and tenacity becomes more important than talent. Those with a why of I’m good at it, simply can’t achieve their full potential. 

Burnout in any performance field is has a why of I’m GOOD at it. If they’re GOOD at something, but do not have a deeper why, then at some point, they become trapped.

Most people that are GOOD,  have their identity, future, and sometimes career so wrapped up in their performance, that they can’t quit. Quitting would bring severe consequences. So, they stay in performance mode without a “why” and the disease takes hold.

When trapped, they resent their sport or job, can’t work hard, frustrate their peers and coaches, and since they can’t quit, they find other ways to cope that make them feel better. The better performer that they are, the more trapped and frustrated they feel.

If you’re going to be GOOD at something, but not love it,  be good at math or science, not performance.


3 Tips for Your “Why”

  1. Develop your why as your talent develops, before it’s too late. 

  2. Re-adjust and re-focus your why as you progress in life. 

    Our “why” changes over time.  I knew athletes who were so driven to prove people wrong, (which is a powerful motivator) but after they had success, it became an “okay, now what” moment? They had to re-discover their own why.

    Your own “why” a few years ago may not be your why today. 

  3. Stay in touch with your why. If you know your why, you can come-up with any “how.”


Dr. Rob Bell

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 out all the books on Mental Toughness- 

5 Comments
  1. Thanks Dr Rob ! This is wonderful!

  2. Great article Doc. Just shared this with my son. I think it’s going to connect with him.

  3. You’ve just described what makes America great. The mind set of it’s people. However, I feel this mind set is waning. All Dr. Bell subscribers need to become advocates, if only in your sphere of influence.

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