failure is an event-not who you are.

jonathan rios

April 12, 2019

Developing Mental Toughness


By the time I arrived as a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) I had been unknowingly groomed for such a harsh environment.

VMI is the oldest state-supported military college in the country. Life at VMI requires strict military discipline in a physically- and academically-demanding environment. The school is designed to produce elite student soldiers who do not break under pressure. I learned very quickly that the mental game was the deciding factor. Ability to overcome adversity decided who had “the stuff” and who didn’t. This wasn’t something you could readily observe from the outside, often times those who “looked tough” were the first to quit. My first week alone, 3 of my 5 roommates quit.

For me, it was always about “winning the mental game”. The rules were simple. Stay stubborn. Embrace the suck. Remain flexible. Get up and try again. Quitting was not an option.

My point? We’ve got to remove the word “quit” from our vocabulary. There are many reasons people throw in the towel. One primary reason people quit prematurely is because they don’t have a clear “Why”. They don’t have a strong underlying reason for staying on task so they faulter as the resistance increases.

If you want the glory of achievement you’ve got to be willing to climb down into the trenches. Anything worth having won’t come to you without a dog fight.

If you weren’t blessed with a loving and nurturing household you needn’t be discouraged. You can still develop mental toughness. Start right now.

You’ll need to surround yourself with a few determined peers and mentors. Observe them. Ask them questions. Start small. Read a powerful biography or two. Stop & take inventory of the hardships you have endured. Notice that you are still standing.


One key is to expose yourself to hard physical challenges that push you beyond your limits. Sign up for a 5k, take cold showers for 30 consecutive days, run a spartan race, or a triathlon.  Set a date and hike a mountain. Join a local fitness bootcamp. Take a toast masters class. Do something that scares you. Challenge yourself. Push your limits. Throw your body into it. Stop making excuses. Push yourself out of the comfort zone and then stay there. Sit in the pocket. Take some hits.


Because you must learn to endure through fatigue & fear. Reading books and listening to motivational YouTube videos will not be enough to cultivate mental toughness. You have to expose your entire self to discomfort voluntarily. You need to push yourself until you reach your limits, and then step over the chasm of pain, fear, & self-doubt. The crucible is where you grow. The fire is where you forge mental toughness.

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