In becoming mentally tougher you have to make changes to your mindset, the way you think and then create habits so that you unconsciously and automatically act in a new and different way.  In the short term you can act like mentally tough people do in a variety of situations and “fake it till you make it “ but in order to actually become mentally tougher you need to develop these habits so your actions become automatic and permanent.

One of the best recent short articles I have read on how to become automatically proficient in a new skill is by Industrial and Organisational specialist Benjamin Hardy and was reproduced in the excellent Fast Company online magazine.

He writes that achieving this unconscious habit is “about making a newly learned skill a part of who you are rather than what you do” because once you can perform a skill automatically you can free your conscious mind to focus on things other than the skill in front of you. In mental toughness terms this means being mentally tougher rather than acting mentally tougher.

To achieve this unconscious habit you need to over train your brain to do something so well that you are fluent and flexible at what you do so that you don’t have to think about it you just do it.

Three ways to achieve this are:

1.  Practise, practise and more practise

This is a key first step. You repeat the skill over and over again so that it becomes automatic. Our sons play basketball and the trick for them is to practise shooting free throws for hours and hours so that it becomes “automatic” in a match situation. This unconscious learning helps with flexibility as well as fluency.  In the basketball situation it means being flexible enough to deal with different challenges, a free throw to win the match, away from home in front of a hostile crowd. Hardy uses a quotation from Pablo Picasso to illustrate this point:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

2.  Make your training more difficult than the real thing

By making your training progressively more difficult you become accustomed to performing successfully at a higher level. This is easy to understand in a basketball sense by working the players in training for longer and imposing time and other constraints to make the task harder. If the players are used to working harder in training they unconsciously play to an optimum on match day and have the capacity to be flexible and fluent in different situations.  In a work situation you would try and “train” first in non critical or external circumstances. For example one of the 4C’s you may wish to improve is ‘confidence’ and specifically speaking in a group situation. You would seek to join groups such as Toastmasters to test yourself over and again in situations that aren’t work related so that you become less daunted and more capable once at work.

3.  Pass from doing to being

You know you have reached the ‘unconscious’ state when it becomes a natural extension of who you are and not just a thing you can do. This is having your heart line up with what you know in your head. In basketball you learn to automatically shoot free throws every time, it’s just what you do. This builds further confidence in you and your teammates that spreads to other tasks on the court. In mental toughness terms being mentally tougher when you need to be is just an extension of you and not something you have to think about anymore.

So, in summary in order to become mentally tougher, you need to develop a habit so that the attribute or skill in question becomes an extension of who you are not something you do and you achieve this through repeated practice and in a variety of different situations to the highest possible standard and ideally beyond what you would normally encounter.

Thank you Benjamin Hardy for your Fast Company article

Published by Paul Lyons

Paul Lyons is an experienced chief executive, leadership coach and mental toughness professional and you can reach him via or via his website at

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