10 Tips to Increase Mental Toughness

A question we get weekly is “Coach, how do I improve my mental toughness and create an inner strength?”.  We all want to be strong in times of adversity. Deep down we all want to be ready for anything at anytime.

We don’t need to look far to find some good answers. Lebron James and Tom Brady are great physical specimens. But their elite mindset allows them to play at the next level.

When the game is on the line all of these athletes seem to rise above the norm and perform at an extraordinary level.  Mental toughness allows them to not panic and focus on the task at hand.

Check out these tips to condition your mental muscle and improve your game like a champion.

#1. Focus on the Present

It is hard for us to focus on the present.  With so much chaos going on around us it is easy to see how we could forget our own names.  Cell phones, texting, traffic, earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters.  You name it – there is crazy stuff happening all around us and it is tough to stay centered and focused.

So how can we stay focused?

By only focusing on taking the next step. Then take the next step and the next.  Dont think about what is going to happen in 20 minutes.  Or what happened in your past.  Only focus on the present and taking that next step (or next putt or next free throw or next hand off with the football).

#2. Have a Short Memory

The number one job of a quarterback is not to pass the ball – it is to “protect” the ball.  So what happens when a quarterback fumbles the ball in a big time game like the Super Bowl and the opposing team goes up by 6 points?  A great quarterback that has made a mistake will not put his shoulders down or argue with teammates. They will go to the bench and understand the mistake they made. They must have a short memory and then forget the recent failure. A great quarterback like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady will not dwell on the past mistake or let it shadow them.  They move on.  You must do the same.  Learn to let go and move on quickly so that you can achieve your goal.


It is easy to become negative when a tough situation arises.  If left to our own devices our brains will seek the easy way out and sometimes that means flight – instead of fight.  A warrior who has command of their mind will take control of the situation.  Mentally practicing the ability to drive out the negative and reinforce with the positive is an acquired skill.  You can work on this every day with tough physical workouts or being exposed to arduous conditions (swimming in cold water, running in heat).  In those tough conditions you have the ability to control your thoughts. Tell yourself what is good about your situation and dwell on that aspect.

It takes 21 days to form a habit so start now and write down all negative thoughts you have in the day.  On the next day begin to get rid of those negative thoughts and one by one replace them with positive ones.  This is a great start to a new mind set.


Everyone has a ritual.  We get up in the morning on the same side of the bed and brush our teeth.  We get a cup of coffee and read the news on our Ipad (or newspaper). We go to the gym and workout and then go to work.  We all have a ritual.  Some rituals are good – some are bad. Top championship athletes also have rituals.  Michael Jordan goes to the basketball court every day and shoots 1000 free throws.  Tiger Woods putts for hours and hits 1000’s of golf balls.  Herschel Walker does 1000 pushups every morning.  They all have a ritual that has conditioning them to be tougher than the average athlete.  Yes; there is athleticism involved in shooting 1000 free throws but Michael Jordan intentionally stepped out onto the practice court to perform this task daily – which conditioned him for future success.

Do the extra work to ingrain rituals into your daily routine.


Currently, I compete in the Masters division of CrossFit competitions.  It may be one of the hardest things I have ever done.  At my age I could go sit on the couch on a Saturday and know one would give me crap.  But I want to progress and become a better athlete and warrior.

So I go to battle on Saturdays.  It is hard to keep your chin up in such awful conditions of heat and hardship while dragging tires on 100 degree Georgia asphalt.  But I love to compete.

I tell myself I love to compete – and I have grown to learn to love and enjoy the middle of the battle as much as the finish.

Telling yourself that you love the battle is a start.  Over time as you grow accustomed to this thinking you can embrace it on a more wholistic manner.  But start out by telling yourself you are enjoying this tough competition and force yourself to “smile” inwardly.  You can feel the paradigm shift right in that moment. It works. I dare you to try it.

#6. Visualize your Future Self

Thats right — get a mental picture of how you want to be in your future self.  In order to get through this current tough workout or hardship you have to not only survive – but thrive.  Think of your future self and how it will feel to stand on the podium with a medal draped around your neck.  Think about the cool breeze flowing against your skin and you hearing the crowd cheering in the background.  Use details to create a positively charged emotion that your mind will connect with.

It has been said that if your going through Hell – dont stop.  So keep on driving through the tough stuff and use this clear mental picture of what you will be and what you will look like at the finish.  Very powerful stuff.

Mental visualization is key.  Before the Championship game – athletes like Michael Jordan rehearse the winning shot, playing it over and over in their mind as they practice and shoot baskets. Michael Jordan pictures himself cutting down the basket from the winning game.  Tiger Woods see’s himself putting on the green jacket at Augusta Nationals.  What do you visualize that you will put in your mind to help carry you through the rough and bumpy road?

“It is the nature of thought to find its way into action” – Chrisian Nevell Bovee: was an American author and lawyer in the late 1800s

#7. Hang Around Winners

If your wanting to get great at basketball do you go down to the local playground for a pick up game with some first graders?  Or do you go downtown to the courts where the big boys hang out and jump in the game? Do you head to the gym on a Friday afternoon or do you head out to the local bar for Miller Time with Joe and the boys?  To get better – you have to workout with (and hang around) those that are at or above a level you want to be at.  To get mentally tough you have to do the same.  Get in an environment where only the tough survive and you will see your mental conditioning rise after the first day.  Iron sharpens iron.  So get tough by getting next to those athletes at the next level.

#8. Repeating Affirmations

Take one minute and think of a short phrase that makes you smile. It could be something like “looking good, feeling good” or “one more step”. Repeating positive words in your mind to help you focus on a task is an excellent way to cast off the extra chaos. It is harder for negative thoughts to enter your mind while you are chanting “I am a winner”, “I’m an overcomer”.  Come up with a few affirmations.  Write them down and use them when your out on your next 5k run or weight workout.  You will be surprised how well they keep you on track, focused and keeping negative thoughts in the far back of your mind.

#9. Reading Good Books

You can create discipline by reading every night.  Reading a good book is a form of ritual but it also helps to put great things into your mind.  Most people go to sleep watching all of the violence and no good on the evening news at 11.

Try reading 10 pages of a good book every night.  A good book to help build your mind is “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” by Marcus Luttrell.  Reading every night will build consistency and ritual in your life. It will also help to build mental muscle that you can use in your next tough workout.

#10. Calm Yourself

Have you noticed that top champions are calm during the toughest of situations?  They have learned to calm themselves to be ready for the unexpected.  Yoga and meditation are excellent methods to calm your mind and body.  Deep breathing and stretching has a unique ability to lower your heart rate and decrease stress.  Listening to mental edge audios can help reinforce good habits. The key is to find the method that works for you and begin to incorporate that activity into your weekly routine (remember ritual?).  For me – it is deep breathing and bike riding, so I make sure to add this in to my weekly schedule.

Question: What do the SEALs use to make them so mentally strong?”. The simple answer is they are tested at a high physical level which makes them tap into their mental resources to survive. Those that are not able to do this quit or fail out.

Question: What are some drills for mental toughness? I would say to write down small obtainable goals and work towards them. While you are in this motion – use the visualization and affirmations. Control your breathing. These are all great drills to do to help you progress.

Question: What is one of the toughest tests for Navy SEALs? There are many tough test so it may be hard to say one single test. Hell Week is the toughest big test.

Question: Where can I get the navy seals training guide mental toughness pdf? Sign up for our newsletter and we will send you our Ebook report.

Question: What are the navy seals four big concepts of mental toughness? 1. Goals 2. Visualization 3. Mantra Self Talk 4. Breathing

Question: Hey Coach Brad, I hardly know you, but I think you would be able to respond to me with alacrity. What do you do to flip the switch when you are felling REALLY burnt out.? And, I know it’s 90% mental.

Answer: I think about the goal and what my “why” is to complete. That flips the switch for me.

Questions from our SGPT athletes.

Question: Coach; I want to train for a GORUCK light that is coming up in the spring.  I am not in shape so how do I get started?

Answer: Good question. I would start by walking in your neighborhood and then slowly add a 10 lb weight vest. Check out this SGPT article: GORUCK Training Tips

Are you interested in training for the SEALFIT 20X event?

Do you have a big event on the horizon and you want to finish the drill?

Get individual coaching from SGPT Coach Brad McLeod (SEALFIT certified coach). Check out coaching here:

About the Author:
bradBrad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness after being kicked out of a top tier Spec Ops training unit. He failed out of BUD/S the first time after failing a math test (made it through Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp). He came back a year later and graduated and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams with a total of 6 years of military service.

Today, he helps Veterans and athletes achieve their goals. What is your goal? Lets work together to accomplish it.

Check out SEALgrinderPT Coaching to help you step up and take hold of your dreams and realize your goals. Contact brad@sealgrinderpt.com

Unbeatable Mind Academy Review
10 Tips to Breaking through Plateaus
Check out this SGPT Ruck March workout
Tips to Breaking through Mental Barriers
The Power of the Mind
10 Tips to improve mental focus

Seal Fit Stack

SGPT Upcoming Events

Personal Online Coaching

Work 1-on-1
with SEAL Grinder's Brad McLeod
To Achieve Your Goals

pic of brad

Personal fitness training from Brad McLeod, Navy Seal and CrossFit Level 1 instructor. Delivered online, directly to you.

"I recommend Brad to anyone that seriously wants to go to BUDs or anything else in life... try these workouts. Hooyah!" - Chris H.

learn more button