How to Build a Foundation of Mental Toughness

STACK Expert Dr. Rob Bell breaks down the hierarchy of mental toughness training—motivation, confidence, focus and letting go of mistakes.

When I present or conduct workshops with teams on mental toughness, I ask, "what's the most important skill?" Naturally, I get a variety of answers. But to build true mental toughness, you need to start with basic skills and progress—just like you need to master basic exercises before advancing to advanced physical moves.

There is a hierarchy. One must master the bottom level of mental skills before progressing to higher levels.

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Motivation is the prerequisite for all mental toughness. If one does not possess the passion and perseverance for never giving up, the other layers become less important. It is critical to realize that everyone is motivated by different things. Also, what motivated you last year or a few years ago may not be your current motivation.

Confidence follows in the hierarchy. You need some level of belief and trust in yourself and your coaches to attempt anything. Unfortunately, this is where many get stuck. Confidence needs to become stronger.

The ability to Focus on the task at hand is the next level. This skill is broken down into how we focus. Do we view events or people as challenges or threats?

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Show me someone who can Let Go of Mistakes, and I'll show you someone who is mentally tough. This is the last level in the hierarchy of mental toughness.

This model is not static, meaning that you can visit and revisit the layers on a weekly or even daily basis. Some days, you may feel confident, while others you may struggle with just wanting to be out there. It's about progress, not perfection.

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