Thank you CrossFit Journal (http://community.crossfit.com/article/building-mental-toughness) for this article. Written by fellow CrossFit athlete John Hermiz
What do I mean by the term “mental toughness”? I consider mental toughness to be the ability to continue according to plan in a way that is in line with your values even though negative thoughts and emotions are pulling you in another direction. Or, in layman’s terms: The ability to get present and move forward in a stressful situation.
So how can CrossFit help a person develop mental toughness?
To explain, I’ll first have to explain the medical model of solving problems.
In medicine, the way to solve a problem is to find it and remove it. Say you had high blood pressure. Your doctor would prescribe medicine to lower the pressure. Or if you had a tumor, a proper way to treat it would be to find it and surgically remove it. Problem solved.
Even in daily life, if you have a problem, this is a good approach to handle it: isolate it and remove it. Small apartment? Find a larger one. Don’t like your job? Find another one. This model is frequently used in mental health care as well. Depression? Take antidepressants. Anxiety? Try a sedative. Disturbing thoughts? Replace them with “better” ones.
Traditional cognitive therapy focuses on identifying maladaptive thought patterns and replacing them with more adaptive ways of thinking. In mental health care, this model works off the idea that negative thoughts and emotions aren’t normal and healthy. Therefore—in accordance with the medical model of solving problems— they need to be isolated and removed. The problem with this idea is that it can create a vicious cycle. If anxiety isn’t considered normal, a person could get anxious from feeling anxious and start to avoid situations causing feelings and thoughts associated with anxiousness.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you were to give a presentation. On your way to the venue you feel your heart beating faster and sweat in your palms. Thoughts and images of failure and the embarrassing consequences of failing start popping into your mind. If these feelings and thoughts were viewed as a problem, they would certainly lead to a reaction like, “Oh, no! Why is this happening to me now? I can’t feel this way and give my presentation! Now I will fail for sure!” Thoughts like that would then cause more anxiety and more negative thoughts, and, worstcase scenario, you would call in sick, go home and go back to bed.
There seems to be a difference between the inner and the outer world in terms of how problems are best solved. In the outer world, problems often can be successfully handled by removal. But in the inner world of feelings and thoughts, evidence points to a paradox: if you’re not willing to have it, you’ve got it! Unwillingness to experience certain feelings can lead to an increased frequency of those same feelings and also can cause avoidance behaviors that limit life.