What Is Mental Strength?

Mental strength is a really important and valuable asset for athletes. In this article, we'll talk about what it is and how it can help you achieve peak performance.
What Is Mental Strength?

Last update: 17 January, 2021

Many athletes agree that mental strength is one of the most important aspects of life. It can be a crucial part of overcoming obstacles and persisting in the face of adversity.

Mental strength has many similarities with resilience. Both of them involve an active and resolute effort to face up to stressful situations. In fact, they’re so similar, that many training models include resilience as a component of mental strength.

In this article, we’ll look at what it consists of and how it can help athletes and teams achieve their very best. We’ll also take a look at how you can increase it.

What is mental strength?

Before we look at this in more detail, it’s a good idea to have a look at some theoretical models. In particular, we’ll have a look at the model developed by the Council of the Ibero-American Society of Sports Psychology, in which mental strength has four distinct dimensions:

  • Psychological skills: this is about being able to control negative emotions, take decisions under pressure, or focus your attention on the most relevant details.
  • Resilient personality: this refers to a way of being based on commitment, control, and persistence. These traits help turn a stressful situation into an opportunity for development and personal growth.
  • Social and environmental variables: these include external factors such as parents, coaches, teammates, or referees, which help encourage you to face up to negative situations.
  • Confrontation strategies: this is everything that enables an athlete to effectively eliminate unease or discomfort. For example, this might be an attitude of looking for solutions to problems instead of avoiding them.

How to boost your mental strength

A swimmer summoning the mental strength to compete.

Mental strength isn’t a fixed or stable trait and it can be worked on and improved just like any other psychological variable. Below, we’ll look at ways you can boost your mental strength.

1. Control impulsive emotional reactions

In a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or nervous, but an athlete can’t allow these emotions to control their behavior. Controlling emotional reactions increases your ability to successfully deal with stress.

It’s important to emphasize that controlling emotions doesn’t mean ignoring them. It means experiencing them without allowing them to interfere in your behavior. For example, breathing techniques such as deep breathing can be very effective when you feel angry.

2. Face up to problems instead of avoiding them

Conflict is an essential part of life. Though they can be unpleasant, this doesn’t mean that they’re negative experiences. If they’re handled correctly, they can be an important source of personal growth.

People with great mental strength tend to have a brave and resolute attitude in the face of obstacles. These people know that avoiding problems will simply make things worse, so they look to solve problems and learn from negative situations.

Before facing a problem, it’s a good idea to think a little and come up with a plan. This doesn’t mean you need to have absolutely everything under control – there will always be unforeseen events. But it’s best to consider the potential pros and cons of each possible solution beforehand.

3. Relativize negative thoughts

Just like emotions, negative thoughts about yourself or the future can become so intense that they affect your sporting performance. Controlling them isn’t easy. The more you try not to think about something, the harder it is to get it out of your head!

However, there are some thought-control techniques that can help to reduce their frequency and intensity. One of them is cognitive defusion. This technique consists of relativizing, stepping back from your thoughts, and seeing them exactly as they are: internal monologues that don’t necessarily bear any relation to reality.

A tennis player sitting down in thought.

The most well-known cognitive defusion exercise consists of putting the phrase, “I’m thinking”, before the thought itself. For example, changing, “I’m never going to win a competition”, for, “I’m thinking that I’m never going to win a competition”.

Mental strength helps in all areas of life

Mental strength is an indispensable quality if you want to perform at your best. According to a study published in Revista de Psicología del Deporte (Sports Psychology Journal), athletes that want to perform at high levels need to be strong physically, emotionally, and mentally.

But mental strength can help you in many other parts of your life too. So, why not try to improve your mental strength?

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  • Hernández, L. (2010). Fortaleza mental en el deporte. EDITORES, 15.
  • López-Gullón, J. M., García-Pallarés, J., Berengüi Gil, R., Martínez-Moreno, A., Morales Baños, V., Torres-Bonete, M. D., y Díaz, A. (2011). Factores físicos y psicológicos predictores del éxito en lucha olímpica. Revista de Psicología del Deporte, 20(2), 0573-588.