Mental Fitness Friday: Mental Toughness

Yogi Berra once said: “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”  

What if he was wrong?

A couple of years ago, I worked with an athlete who wanted to make a big jump in performance. 

“What if making that jump is 100 percent mental?” I asked

 Silence. 

“But it’s not,” he insisted.

“That’s true. It’s not. But you have all the physical tools you need, the size and experience. What would change if you assumed it was?” I asked.

“A lot” he replied. “It would mean I am weak and I am soft — that I am wasting my time and my career.”

“Hmm,” I pondered.

“I guess it means I need to spend more time on it,” he said. “I need to learn more, add more tools, read, put the time in and meet with you more often.”

Yogi’s point is the mental portion is important. The mental toughness myths make it hard for us to believe that it is important. We want to divorce the mental from the physical.  

But aren’t they all the same? Your brain is an organ just like your heart, or like a muscle. Your brain coordinates it all, and it starts and ends there. It dictates the rules, the concepts, how you move or how you don’t.  

If your performance is 100 percent mental, then you need to change how you approach everything — practices, games, and all the other things you do to promote performance.  

If you assumed your performance as a student, an athlete, a coach, or as a human being, what would have to change? What would it mean about you if it was? Assuming it’s mostly physical leads us to ignore the brutal reality that it’s all connected — that the mental part matters.  

As I write this, I realized that assuming it’s 100 percent mental really means one thing. It means your performance, your big leap, is 100 percent your responsibility. I think that’s what I was trying to get across to my athlete. When you make it only physical, it makes it your parents, your genes, or God, their responsibility. It’s another subtle mental toughness myth.  

Mental fitness matters. It’s a part of everything we do.

Here’s a little exercise:

1)  Dig deep. What would it mean about you, or what needs to happen, if it is 100 percent mental? Try changing the meaning. I bet the meaning you make is from a mental toughness myth. You don’t need to believe those, by the way. 

2) Write down five things you would be doing differently, or need to start doing, if you assume it’s 100 percent mental and 100 percent your responsibility to make it happen.