Have you ever noticed that our favorite stories about mental toughness are the ones in which the protagonist is forced, often tragically, to overcome a situation for which he or she is seemingly unprepared and unequipped? Ever notice that our favorite mentally tough hero has beaten odds even she didn’t believe she could overcome?
When discussing stories of triumph over adversity, I constantly hear people say things like, “I couldn’t do that,” or “I couldn’t handle that.” The truth is you could and you can. We are all capable of much more than we understand. You are as mentally tough as you need to be. Right now, you are capable of mustering as much toughness as you need in any situation. Mental toughness is revealed. It does not need to be built. The only thing blocking you from accessing this mental toughness is your belief in whether it A) already exists, or B) needs to be built.
I used to believe that mental toughness had to be built. I was a big believer in mental toughness training. I spent years of my life earning a Ph.D., writing a 313 page mental toughness training manual, and working my tail off to help people build mental toughness. So what has changed? Why do I now believe mental toughness is revealed and not built? Why have I changed my practice in profound ways in recent years? Some ideas are irrefutable when you apply logic to experience.
On Halloween night 1973, two Michigan State Troopers greeted my mother, hats in hand, to inform her that her husband had just died in a car accident. My mom was devastated. Here she was, 23 years old, a mother of a seven week old baby, and a now she was a widow. She felt like she couldn’t go on, like she’d lost the will to live, the will to parent her newborn. She wondered, “Why did that happen to me? Why my husband? Why didn’t I die instead?” She even wondered at times, much to her own horror and guilt, “If I had to lose someone, wouldn’t it have been easier to lose the baby than my husband? At least we could support each other and rebuild our family together.”
In those moments, it felt like the situation was too much for her and that she didn’t have what it would take to carry on. But then, one day early in her mourning, a thought occurred to her: “I can curl up and die, or I can get on with my life.” Thankfully for me, my mom was capable of choosing to get on with her life. She decided she could rise above the tragedy that occurred and the situations she believed she was up against. The toughness that was in her all along shone through like a light from heaven, and her love created a new world, a world that was unimaginable before tragedy struck.
The personal weight of some tragedies is proof that toughness doesn’t have to be built. It is there when we need it. My mom wasn’t prepared for my dad’s death, and she wasn’t able to build it slowly as she needed it. She needed it revealed in an instant, and it was there for her. To access her toughness, my mom only needed to acknowledge its existence.
For this reason and many others, my mom is my hero. Who is yours?
My guess is that you don’t need to look any further than your own family or friends to find similar examples of someone who beat odds she once believed were insurmountable. If you can’t think of a story off the top of your head, ask around. My guess is you won’t have to look outside your own family. There is a chance you will gain new appreciation for someone close to you, and you might also prove to yourself that you are capable of more than you realized when you woke up today. Mental toughness is yours if you just acknowledge it.