Improving Your Mental Toughness, Part 1 – Becoming a Learner


Mental toughness is not something that we’re born with, it’s something that we develop. The first step to becoming mentally tough is the belief that we can develop mental toughness.

“Become aware of your thoughts, become aware of your words, because they’re going to dictate whether you believe that you can become mentally tough [or not].” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:19:14)

Human beings are born with the instinct to survive. Think about our ancestors living outdoors – if they heard a twig snap, they would drop everything that they were doing and pay attention to that. Their heart would start racing; their blood flow would be redirected to the extremities and vital organs because they would be in fight or flight mode, because their survival depended on it. Just as the twig snapping served as a distraction then, nowadays, we are easily distracted, for example by critics or gossip, but it’s unnecessary distractions, because our survival doesn’t depend on it. However, we all still possess that same survival instinct.

As we mentioned in the preview to this series, awareness is key. We need to be aware that we are easily distracted, and why. We also need to be aware that mental toughness can be developed, it’s not a DNA thing. “Yes, it’s a hard fight because your whole upbringing, from the way that you were talked to as a kid, to your education, to your coaches, to your environment, has shaped your belief system. [If you believe that you can only be born with mental toughness], your belief system is lying to you. The truth is that [mental toughness] can be developed, and it’s been proven over and over and over again … The easiest way to prove [this] is where they gave test results back to young, kindergarten students. Group A got a note on the top that said, “good job, you’re really smart”, implying fixed traits such as intelligence. Group B got a note on top that said, “good job, you worked really hard”, implying traits that aren’t fixed such as effort …  They then retook a test that was a grade or two above them in terms of difficulty. The kids that were told that they were really smart just gave up, they didn’t push through, they didn’t have “mental toughness”. Whereas the kids that were told that they worked really hard … did phenomenally. They did much, much better than the other group, where before they both scored the same. The way you talk to your kids, the way you talk to your peers, the way you talk to yourself is going to dictate [which] path you go on.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:21:03)

In order to develop mental toughness and get into lifelong learner mode, we need to learn a different way of talking to ourselves and others. We should talk in terms of things that we can move and influence such as effort or focus.

If we were running a 5km race and all the other athletes were at least 1 foot taller than us, saying that we are going to lose because we are shorter is dwelling on a fixed trait. Instead, we can say we’re going to work harder than all the other athlete’s combined – that opens the door to growth and learning. Does it mean we will win the next race? Maybe not the next race, or the one after that, or ever, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that we will grow and learn by reframing the way that we view and approach the exact same situation by simply talking differently to ourselves.

“There is no [such thing] as pass/fail … you learn and iterate … it’s just another step in the development process.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:23:06)

Redefine what success means to you

“What most people do is they put success in terms that are outside of their control. “I want to get an A on the test”, “I want to be a valedictorian”, “I want to be an all-star”, … [they’re] all outside your control. If you define success in terms of what you can control, “I want to give my very best effort regardless of circumstances”, now, bad circumstances become an opportunity.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:23:35)

Wanting to be the best golfer in the world is another example of something that is beyond our control. All we can do is show up every day; take responsibility for our nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindset and relationships; we can give our very best effort each time; we can devote everything to improving our game. If that makes us the best golfer in the world, great, if not, we continue the development process. Importantly, throughout the process we grow and learn, and that’s key.

The power of learning is that it can never be taken away from us.

Thank you for reading this post

We hope that you learned something, we hope that you put this information to use, and we hope that you become or continue to be a lifelong learner. Next week, in part 2, we will be diving deeper into “Expect Adversity”.

Reference list:

The 6 Steps to Improving Your Mental Toughness (2020) YouTube Video, added by Ben Bergeron [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 8 May 2020]

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