Mental Toughness and Focus

Mental toughness is a word that gets thrown around quite often in the sports world. Cycling, just like other endurance sports, require you to spend a lot of time in your own head. I always considered this both a blessing and a curse. For one, I think of myself as quite entertaining. However, this entertainment value can drain tremendously in an easily assessed relationship with increase of hours on a bike, or decrease of performance. The more time you spend on the bike, the more your entertainment value may decrease. Similarly, as your performance decreases, your entertainment value does as well.  It’s an indirect or direct relationship, depending on how you look at it.

Where do you find this mythical mental toughness that is harder to find than a unicorn? And where do you find that laser focus that seems only to be found in one-dimensional athletes you don’t want to be like, or the super hero villain in a comic book? You find it right where everything else is. Inside of you. You really are the answer.

Mental toughness requires a skewed vision of reality. I think some of the most mentally tough individuals are those that do not see the world like the rest of us. They may see themselves as the best, as winning, and as better than you, long before their predictions become a reality. You swear they never can do it, they don’t have this or that, and they are cocky.  But they, suddenly, you look up, and they are on a higher step on the podium. Mental toughness brings out a crop of people that believe they are the best, and that makes them able to perform like they are when it matters.

Mental toughness requires a clear vision of reality. Contrary to the above statement, you cannot live in a fairy world and succeed. You have to have a clear vision of your goals, of you current ability, and of your future prospect. Being tough is not all about rainbows, it is also about enduring the daily muck and quagmire of training and getting beat. Training is not glorious, and losing sure as hell is not either. But this is reality. Just like Rome was not built over night, neither were your results. Mental toughness means not giving up, even when you fail, remaining positive, and persevering. You have a clear vision of reality, and you are willing to surpass all expectations, even your own.

Mental toughness requires you just to do it. At one point, you do not make any more excuses. It does not matter where you have been, and where you want to go. You just become tough. You choose to not give up, you choose to prevail, and you choose to fight. No one can do this for you, it is all up to you.

Mental focus doesn’t have to be perfect. You know those drone athletes you respect and maybe do not like? They are not focused 100% of the time either. Focus is never perfect. Those that are able to regroup and refocus quicker, are more mentally tough. The quicker you can turn the dial back to focus on your task at hand, the better your performance will be. Do not get caught up in your distraction. Take a deep breath, regain composure, and keep going. Your competitors are losing focus too. Even the drones.

Mental focus needs you to be balanced. Just like your parents used to tell you growing up, the world does not revolve around you. Your mental focus needs to be balanced in your skewed reality as well as the real world you live in. Things matter more than your performance. Being a good person, being a loving person, and being a productive member of society. Mental focus needs to be balanced. If you build your entire mental toughness based on your results and your performance, you are dooming yourself to failure.

Mental focus means you see the bigger picture. Even though you want laser focus, you also want to see the bigger picture. You may have one dream, one pie in the sky goal that you simply HAVE to accomplish or you will NEVER be satisfied. Take a step back. Plant little goals along the way, and don’t get distracted by a do or die performance. Look at the bigger picture, what you want to accomplish, and pat yourself on the back for achieving each stepping stone on your way to the ultimate milestone.

Mental toughness and focus cannot be that hard… can it? Each person faces this question differently, and we each need to approach mental toughness in a way that is unique and compliments who we are. Let’s face it, we aren’t those drone athletes, and who wants to be one? We are all a work in progress.  I am lucky to work with a great CTS coach that helps me when my reality becomes too skewed, or too realistic.  Mental toughness isn’t an easy battle, but it’s important to realize it is all part of the process.

Photo by Sam Wiebe

Photo by Sam Wiebe

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