Building a mental toughness toolkit

This post is in response to a particular person’s situation but it’s also an area of inquiry that doesn’t receive anywhere near as much formalization as it needs. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of mental toughness, but very little discussion of technique because people just rely on their natural strengths and plateau at a comfortably amateur level. Melonheads typically over-rely on their executive function and vast reserves of willpower, leading to overambitious goals and burnout. Neanderthals over-rely on the guidance and strength of their obsessions, leading to supervaluation, unbalanced reasoning, and therefore frustration at the ineffectiveness of their promotion and marketing efforts to produce market adoption. Conscientious cro magnons over-rely on structural social validation for cultural ideals, leading to unbalanced and extreme levels of competition in overcrowded niches, such as virtue signalling, earning ability, or healthfulness.

In order to build a mental toughness that can be applied to self-directed behavior, we will need a more structured approach, and one that is both broader and deeper. What follows are simply a beginner’s observations based on my reading and experience.

1. Mental toughness is a set of practiced, internalized thoughts that are used to reframe a subjective experience of hardship to motivate executive function and performance.

2. These reframes are usually visualizations or stock phrases, and often based in idealized fantasies, goal achievement, or fear of failure. One visualization I like to use for sprint workouts is to imagine I’m chasing a fleeing criminal who’s going all out, so that I have to go just as hard or harder while maintaining perfect form to catch up (or else justice won’t be done!). A stock phrase I like to use for static hold exercises is “I can’t be perfect, but I can have perfect form for the next ten seconds.” A friend of mine who’s afraid of getting Alzheimer’s like a family member might reframe the choice of riding his bike each day as choosing between Alzheimer’s and a little temporary discomfort.

3. Reframes always fall into Seligman’s categories of either distraction or disputation. For example, during a long distance run a man might distract himself by imagining he’s been transported into the past to relive the feat of Marathon, immortalizing the Greek triumph with the most famous distance run in history. Or he might dispute with his feelings of hardship, by telling himself “I ran this distance last week and didn’t have a problem” or “Maybe I’ll stop but I’ll do another five minutes first” or “It would feel ridiculous to stop at 55 minutes and not be able to say I did a full hour.”

4. Mental toughness techniques are situational, specific to both the activity and the intended effect. My fantasy about chasing a fleeing criminal will not help me to refocus on my homework exercises or remain socially fluid under stress. Insofar as toughness techniques generalize into an abstract quality of all-around toughness in life, it is due to a large crystallized store of techniques having broad application and an acquired fluency in generating new ones for novel situations. If you have an IQ north of 130 it will generalize quite well after use in only two different areas of life.

5. Due to this property of situadedness, it is best to learn and deliberately practice mental toughness techniques within the context of another current obsession, rather than as a discipline of its own. If it’s something academic, use it to increase the average difficulty of your reading material, the length of time you’re able to focus on your work, and your discipline in organizing your material. I record which ones I use along with my workouts in my training journal as an essential element of improvement in those activities.

6. The difference between the organic practice done by anyone who ever attempted a difficult task and the serious, intentional practice of a professional is in maintaining a written list of your preferred visualizations and stock phrases. Track which ones you actually use, the subjective experience of using them, and objective data showing which actually work better for you. For each entry, write a description, situation, and intended concrete effect.

Example
Description: Imagine I’m Duterte chasing down a fleeing Purdue Pharma salesman.
Situation: 20 and 30-second wind sprints.
Intended effect: Subjective experience of at least a 9/10 effort. Get heart rate into zone 4 for 20 seconds.

I keep my list in a text file on my phone and occasionally upload snapshots to Dropbox.

7. The ones that work will be idiosyncratic to you, so prefer the ones that occur to you organically if possible. My fantasy of throwing big punches in the pilot’s seat of Big O as I chest-press dumbbells probably isn’t going to do it for you if you aren’t an anime dork. That said, even the ones you like can get old after several uses so it’s better to have several on hand to rotate through, and that means you’ll have to steal ideas from other people. If you’re looking for them, you’ll see examples everywhere (especially in the idealized fictional characters you prefer).

8. There are two ways I’ve found that are good for generating new reframes from my personal creative drive: pushing through a difficult spot with pure willpower and observing my self-talk grandiosely rationalizing the performance, and paying attention to and repurposing my daydreams. It’s important to remember to transfer the idea to your written list and test it a couple times (because you’re a trained professional tough guy now, remember?).

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17 Responses to Building a mental toughness toolkit

  1. Obadiah says:

    Good post overall, I think; good intentions/message

    Conscientious cro magnons over-rely on structural social validation for cultural ideals, leading to unbalanced and extreme levels of competition in overcrowded niches, such as virtue signalling, earning ability, or healthfulness.

    Also dat sensing preference/poor AH keeping them from perceiving or being interested in anything outside of their narrow field of vision (all according to keikaku)

    Neanderthals rely on the guidance and strength of their obsessions… leading to frustration at the ineffectiveness of their promotion and marketing efforts to produce market adoption

    ^The fact that you’re telling most potential market exchange participants (I.e. most humans) that theyre some various form of subhuman creature probably isn’t helping the cause (at least in the case of edenism). The truth isn’t a business enterprise, it’s a war.

    My fantasy of throwing big punches in the pilot’s seat of Big O as I chest-press dumbbells

    ^Based but unironically

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >Good post overall, I think; good intentions/message

      FRENS REUNITED :DDD

      >Also dat sensing preference/poor AH keeping them from perceiving or being interested in anything outside of their narrow field of vision (all according to keikaku)

      Good point.

      >The fact that you’re telling most potential market exchange participants (I.e. most humans) that theyre some various form of subhuman creature probably isn’t helping the cause (at least in the case of edenism). The truth isn’t a business enterprise, it’s a war.

      You heard Hitler, I’m no longer a reliable source.

      >Based but unironically

      :DDDDD

      But seriously, that’s one of my favorite ones.

  2. aiaslives says:

    >written list of your preferred visualizations and stock phrases

    Preferred for ease of use, or for comfort? Some things shouldn’t be used to visualize success because they should stand alone. If one is completely committed to this “purity” and does not want to defile any experiences by associating them with things that are too high up for the skill you need to train for, then using something like anime is okay (I don’t watch anime) because it won’t be connected to anything else.

    A better alternative is to visualize scenarios that are independent of your current requirements, and then evolve them to serve your required skill development. Making the visualization as detailed as possible while maintaining organic progression of the same is effective. Letting the progression run ahead while increasing the detail of your visualization irrespective of your level of visualization is even better.

    If trying to write down the same, then don’t bother with structuring text at any point – commit glossolalia on paper with short definitions, if need be. This helps one recall things faster. A paragraph for a word, if need be.

    RIP all the koan articles, I don’t even remember if that is where I got the previous paragraph from.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      Bro, low-key, I didn’t understand a word of that.

    • Shitpost says:

      What does
      >things that are too high up
      Mean? I think you’re saying that watching more anime is always good. I agree. Or perhaps you’re saying that it’s justifiable to excite motivation through rewarding yourself with low-quality entertainment/hedonism. For the visualization, maybe you’re saying to build up a fantasy in your head and use this fantasy as a source of motivation for things that actually matter.

      I don’t understand the difference between level of visualization and detail of visualization.

      • aiaslives says:

        One’s own experiences can be classified by the achieved “heights” and “depths”, with every experience standing at one level (for long periods of time).

        When looking to achieve something, you need to know what you’re getting into. You get an idea of what you need to do during the process, and so you can estimate just how rewarding getting perfect execution will be, on its own and with regards to how this skill connects to the rest of your abilities. So, this gives you an estimate of what range the process of learning this new thing would occupy on the aforementioned scale, and you should only associate it with things as high as the highest point you have envisioned for the same, in an extreme case. If you want to be safe, you should maybe only associate it with levels a couple of points higher. Or you can go lower and experience the K rubberband.

        >I think you’re saying that watching more anime is always good.
        Nope. But I don’t watch anime anyway, so idk.
        >Or perhaps you’re saying that it’s justifiable to excite motivation through rewarding yourself with low-quality entertainment/hedonism.
        definitely not.
        >For the visualization, maybe you’re saying to build up a fantasy in your head and use this fantasy as a source of motivation for things that actually matter.
        “Fantasy” is too strong, “personal, mildly important situation” is closer. It’s more a way to box complexity until you’re ready for it than it is a source of motivation.
        >I don’t understand the difference between level of visualization and detail of visualization.
        People can either be Aphants (Aphantasia) or Hyperphants (Hyperphantasia). The level of visualization also determines the detail, scale and complexity of your visualizations, assuming you’re not punching above or below your weight.

  3. Boneflour says:

    “This pain is nothing… Compared to what HE went through.”

    -Fullmetal Guy

  4. Mr. T. says:

    Useful post. I also ordered that book by Watson and Tharp (Self-Directed Behavior). Looks promising. Of course, then you have to learn to apply all of this to real world scenarios…

  5. bicebicebice says:

    “Mr. T. says:
    March 2, 2020 at 12:10 pm”

    What is this “apply” you speak of? this is 50 shades of grey for autistic people who just likes to mentally masturbate their minds now accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior won’t cost you a thing, actually work and change your behavior in 5 minutes with 10 simple rules. no xanax bed making or penish washing required

    • Mr. T. says:

      Personally I have to write a master’s thesis, so this is my current behavioral modification issue. Gotta read a lot and write about 60 pages of decent/passable academic text. No great ambitions to revolutionize science, but I’m hoping to graduate this year. Then have to build mental toughness to enter the so called working life or at least go job hunting. So pretty normal life issues, but my scheduling and daily life management skills aren’t great. And some mental toughness is probably needed to even do daily life.

  6. Pingback: Self-improvement books I like | Aeoli Pera

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