How To Build Mental Toughness – Support England!

by DavalosMcCormack on June 28, 2010

A vital part of being healthy is not just having a strong, fit body, you also need to have a strong, tough mind, one capable of withstanding tough times and maintaining a sense of balance and perspective. Building a tough body takes time and a lot of hard work. Building a tough mind is easy. Just support the England football (soccer) team.

English player can't watch as the team loses, again

Another day, another defeat for England's World Cup team

When you are exercising muscles you develop strength by stressing the muscle; as it recovers the muscle adds extra fibres to get bigger and stronger. It is the stressing of the muscle that helps build it up. It is the same with mental toughness. You need to stress the brain, to go through tough times, endure hardships and adversity to be able to develop the inner strength you need for god mental health.

Now no one in their right mind – and this is all about creating a right mind – would deliberately put themself through pain and suffering and anguish even if the end result was a healthier, more durable mind. But the good news is you don’t have to work hard to get that. It all comes naturally to supporters of the England football team.

Every World Cup that comes around the England team – if they even qualify – go in to the competition confident of their chances to win the whole thing. It’s not surprising really. The English invented the game, the English Premier League is the best in the world, and English teams often dominate European competitions. The problem is, many of the best players on those teams are not English and the best English players have consistently shown they are not good enough when faced by the best of the rest of the world.

End Result; Heartbreak

Every time English fans go into a World Cup game thinking ‘this time it will be different’. By the time the referee blows the whistle for the end of the match they have come to the sad realization that it’s exactly the same as it’s always been. Defeat. Pain. Frustration.

On the bright side that constant sense of frustration helps you develop the mental equivalent of a tough hide and that can be really useful in all walks of life.

Tough Times Breed Tough People

A few years ago a friend of mine was doing an in-depth series of studies on mental health in South East Asia as part of a Fellowship he won with the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism program. His Fellowship coincided with the 2004 tragic tsunami that killed an estimated quarter of a million people. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami there was lots of speculation that there would be tremendous levels of mental health problems in the months and years to come with people suffering from the equivalent of post traumatic stress disorder.

Aftermath of tsunami in Thailand

Village destroyed by tsunami

Several months after the tsunami Greg traveled to Thailand to see what kind of impact the event had on the mental health of people living in the hardest hit areas. To everyone’s surprise there wasn’t that much evidence to suggest people were suffering at dramatically higher levels than usual. It turns out that people in those communities devastated by the tsunami already had such a tough life that they were better able to cope with the tragedy. It’s not that they were emotionally unaffected by the loss of so many friends and family, it’s just that the day-to-day hardships of their lives had prepared them to endure something that would have left most of us a wreck.

An Easier Route To Toughness

The vast majority of people in the US, Europe and other developed countries don’t have any such hardships on a regular basis to toughen us up so we have to find other ways.

English boy painted his face in team colors

English fans have a cross to bear

That’s why supporting England is so useful. It will guarantee you heartbreak on almost every occasion and leave you better equipped for anything life can throw at you.

But just in case England one day surprises me and does win something I’ve taken out extra insurance. Since moving to San Francisco I have supported the Giants baseball team. They haven’t won the World Series since 1954. And while England only disappoint every four years, the Giants do so every year. It’s like having a refresher course every summer.

So even if England let me down by winning one day, I know my faithful Giants will take up the slack and keep me mentally strong.

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