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Head Games

Head Games
Most people misconstrue mental toughness. Action-hero worship and poorly interpreted male ideals lead many to think that mental toughness is facing every situation without fear and in the absence of pain. When, in truth, mental toughness is exactly the opposite. It's moving forward and taking action in spite of fear and through pain.

But resiliency born of a strong mind doesn't evolve on its own--like the body, the mind requires training. The progressive overload that you've used to build your bench press isn't different from that necessary to build mental toughness. Below I've outlined five useful strategies that, when used consistently, broaden and strengthen the mind.

Positive Self-Talk
Whenever I mention positive self-talk to people, an image of Stuart Smalley from SNL pops into my mind. He repeated his mantra--I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and, dog-gone-it, people like me--into the mirror with a self-affirming gaze. His daily affirmation kept him positive, motivated and moving forward.  

I'm not saying that you need to turn into Stuart Smalley--powder blue sweaters aren't a great compliment to broad shoulders--but when things get tough, avoid taking a negative turn. That's where many of our minds seem to go.

Ever said something like this to yourself? "You're such a sissy, man! Pick it up!" I definitely have. Problem is negativity breeds negativity. While we think we are motivating ourselves, in truth we are inhibiting ourselves. Being a jerk to yourself has nothing to do with being tough--it's just foolish.

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Instead, remind yourself that you are tough, capable and going to get the job done. When things get hard, hold in your mind a positive voice and reinforce confidence. Confidence enhances toughness.

Extended Isometrics
Before I found extended isometrics, I had a mantra that I'd frequently repeat. At least once daily I'd say to someone, "You learn more about yourself in the squat rack than you do on any psychologist's couch." These words still hold true--the iron still lends us powerful perspective, but the squat rack has been out-muscled by bodyweight isometric holds.

The process is simple; choose a bodyweight version of an exercise and hold the down position for as long as possible with good form. Essentially, you could choose any exercise--but my favorites are the push-up hold and the lunge position hold. These two are especially trying, but also produce a lot in the way of mobility and stability. They kill two birds with one mentally constructive stone.

At first read, they don't sound like much; I know because I was skeptical too. But as you sink deeper and deeper into a lunge hold, the sweat pours, your legs tremble and your breathing rate increases; you find yourself ready and willing to give up. You learn in this moment.

To make yourself tougher, to handle the stress, you slow your breathing and concentrate on something positive. You tell yourself that you're a rock and that you can hold the position all day. At the end of the hold you learn that you are stronger--much stronger than you thought before.  

  Weekly Challenges
Modern life doesn't pose many great challenges. Food is readily available, our dwellings are rarely uncomfortable and, if we didn't want to, we wouldn't have to be physically active. Our lives ooze luxury--making it easy for us to slide willingly into an ever-expanding comfort zone. It's mental toughness' antithesis.

Without natural means to expand our toughness capacity, we have to artificially create the means. Weekly challenges work well to disrupt our comfort homeostasis and build toughness capacity.

Pick one day per week--I often choose Friday--and pick a physical activity that is daunting to you. It could be a particular exercise or a mode of exercise. For many, it's a hard form of conditioning.

Set a goal--it could be a certain amount of reps of an exercise in a certain amount of time--and go after it with feverish intent. Don't hold back and don't think for a second that you won't accomplish it.

If you accomplish the goal during your challenge session, then set a new goal and move on. If you didn't, well, then you know what you'll be doing next Friday.

Fear List
A lot of our potential mental toughness gets tied up and defeated by fear. Don't mistake my words--it's okay to be afraid; don't believe anyone that tells you otherwise. But when the fear wins, we can't move robustly forward. The first step in defeating fear, and taking back toughness, is acknowledging that the fear exists.

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Take out a pen and piece of paper, or pull-up a sticky note widget on your computer, and think about what scares you. Write down the five things that scare you the most. Now for each, list why you think these five things scare you. You've acknowledged the fears and you've identified their sources--it's time to overwhelm them.

For each fear on your list, think about the worst case scenario associated with that fear. Usually, it's not that bad. Now that you've taken the perspective of rock bottom, come up with three solutions that fix your conundrum. You've come full circle.
To act in the face of fear, and improve your mental toughness, you have to be willing to accept that you're afraid. Then you take action with a bold perspective.

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Be positive, challenge yourself and quiet your mind. Incorporate these five, simple tips into your weekly life and you'll make progress toward becoming a stronger and more capable person. Life is short. Be bold, be tough and go after what you want.

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