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Mental toughness is a measure of individuals resilience and confidence and is a key predictor of success in sport and in life

Put simply: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable”

Mental toughness is a learned skill, it is not something that comes easy as for anything worthwhile pursuing it takes time. It is cultivated through the discipline to step out of your comfort zone time and time again, pushing the boundaries of what you believe to be possible and in doing so you will build your resilience and confidence until you will eventually solidify a new belief in your abilities and what is now possible.

Why is it important?

Most elite athletes report that at least 50% of superior athletic performance is the result of mental or psychological factors. Further, 83% of coaches rate mental toughness as the most important set of psychological skills for determining competitive success. I think these stats will come as no surprise, we all understand this intuitively. However, not many put the work into to pursue it, the mind must be trained just like the body.

I have created a model that I truly believe underpins the development of mental toughness


Taylored Mental Toughness Model:

Your perception builds your resilience which reinforces your belief, your belief dictates your success

Perception → Resilience → Belief = Success


Before I break this model down, I want to first discuss my own personal experience and learnings.

Why is Mental Toughness a favourite area of mine? 

For those that know me, you probably aware I am extremely competitive and I don’t like to lose. However, it is not the winning or losing for me it is the challenge. I thrive off challenges and surpassing preconceived beliefs. This leads me to repeatedly dream big and chase down the so-called impossible.

Where did it all start?

It began at a young age, thanks to my awesome mother who installed a limitless belief into me and never said “that is not possible” instead she would say “Great! How are you going to get there”. Not only was she removing barriers of impossibilities she got me process driven, helping me outline the required stepping stones towards my dreams. 

Beyond this, she also possesses an unshakable positive outlook and spins on everything. Always quick to focus on the positives of any situation, regardless of how negative it may be. 

It was fair to say thanks to my mum I had my perception on lockdown from an early age which turned out to be vital as I was faced with adversity early on.

My Own Adversity 

I won’t talk exhaustively about my personal story here as I have discussed this in other articles. If interested please visit this link

The adversity began at a young age when I was diagnosed with a flexibility disorder at the age of 4yrs old. I was told if I was not physically active as a child I may be wheelchair bound as an adult and may require invasive surgery. You can imagine the impact as a child but of course, 

But luckily I had my mum in my corner with her own positive narrative, highlighting this is just a challenge that would instil discipline and make myself a better person and athlete. 

There were many times where it felt unfair especially as I was always the sorest and most injured athlete in the team even though I was by far the most disciplined and vigilant athlete, with exhaustive 60min stretching regimen each day. In reflection, it could have been easy to accept my fate and play the victim but my thanks to my positive mother, this never even crossed my mind instead we viewed it as a challenging obstacle to overcome.

Too tough for my own good

However, by my early 20’s I had potentially cultivated to a strong sense of mental toughness for my own good, as I now possessed the ability to push through a great deal of pain. Sounds powerful right but there comes a time when you need to become in tune and listen to what your body is saying. As I learnt the hard way when my body shut down as a result of pushing too hard for too long. 

I also placed too much trust, my rugby coaches at the time. Who’s coaching method was the classic old-school style they were narrow sighted, focused on short-term results. You know the type often using the terms “No Pain No Gain” or “she’ll be right!”. Not ever thinking about the impact of what the were putting through and the long term effects.

After a season playing 80min every game, my body broke down and I was no longer able to run due to severe injuries and imbalances I had created. This persisted for 3 brutal years of pain and inability to do what I loved most which were to train and run. 

Find the Sweet Spot

With no sense of what my body was telling me, I had to dial back to mental toughness and become more in tune with the body once again. Although I preach the power for mental toughness, I want to express the importance that it should be coupled with a strong intuitive sense of what your body is telling you. What is limiting pain that you should push through vs what pain is beyond healthy. Not to say never push beyond healthy now because if that was the case I would not race Ironman. In no evolutionary time was it ever natural to go out and race for 8-15hrs. Instead, we need to be aware of the stress and treat it accordingly and have the right strategies in place around events or moments that we push beyond human limits. 


Taylored Mental Toughness Model:

Your perception builds your resilience which reinforces your belief, your belief dictates your success

Perception → Resilience → Belief = Success


1. Perception

Perception is everything! My perception was installed from a young age for me. I never accepted the response that I would never be able to run again. 

Perception is cultivated by the people you surround yourself with. Seek those who have similar or ambitious goals that inspire you and drive you to keep pushing, even when things get tough. If you are struggling to find the right people Watch case studies, and documentaries these are great, as you see others with much greater challenges than my own really puts things into perspective.

My dad another great example after becoming a double amputee at the age of 17, and there is nothing that has held him back from doing what he loves. Not only did he have to learn how to do everything with the left side of his body, but he also swims a few times a week and recently just became a  part of the NZ team for bowls

Roger Bannister probably one of the greatest examples of perception when he broke the 4-minute mile in 1954. A pursuit that had been underway for over 50year, many physiologists and doctors even argued it was not physically possible. However, after Bannister finally broke the barrier it shifted the perception of possibility and in the next 2 years, 37 people broke it!! With no changes in surfaces or technology just the belief that it was humanly possible.


2. Resilience

Facing adversity and embracing it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

For me, this was Frustration and Uncertainty

When told I would never run again by specialist it would have been easy to accept the fate, instead, I kept searching. Don’t get me wrong, the continuous lack of answers was extremely frustrating but this led me down the path to developing new skills and resilience where I am now able to relate and share with others in similar situations to help guide the way. This is why I work with many “lost causes” that have had similar experiences that have been failed by the medical system..To me, no one is a lost cause.

Another great example was the day I realised an Ironman was truly possible was the day I underwent one hell of a training day. First I began with an open water 3km Swim race at Huntly, off onto the bike for HILLY 180km then into straight 1:30 run. Not only was this the first time I did this distance on the bike I also hit a mental and physical wall at 60km! However, I pushed through thanks to the awesome group of friends I was riding with and ticked off the 180km hitting a second wind near the end and felt amazing into the run. Not to mention this day was the wettest coldest day you could have asked for! 


 3. Belief

The unknown is scary and really don’t know the unknown and what to expect until you truly challenge yourself and once you overcome adversity you reset your norm, the bar shifts that little bit higher, you no longer scared of what you once were terrified of. You have reached a new level and there is no better feeling in the world!

For me knowing I survived that brutal training day, I knew I was ready and ironman was truly possible. Then once I completed my Ironman anything seemed possible. No longer was I scared of any race, half ironmans now looked a lot easier and previously perceived challenging feats such as running Cambridge hills a 28km run of massive hills, I ended up running it a few weeks following my Ironman for fun, I did a marathon following a 4km swim and 180km bike how bad could it be! However, it is important to note prior to my Ironman it was something I had never done and always been scared of now it was just a fun run.

Once you have the belief in your abilities nothing can stop you!


 4. Success

Anything is possible if you truly believe it to be. If you are really pushing the limits you will face adversity, if not you are not aiming high enough. When truly pushing limits you will face adversity from all angles even those you love the most, just remember they are trying to protect you from failure but as you know failure and adversity are apart of the journey. Also remember their beliefs as a reflection of their own shortcomings in perception and lack of resilience, not yours! Only you know what you are truly possible of achieving so use their doubts as fuel and keep pushing and prove them wrong.

Once you reach some success and achievement of a goal you will quickly learn this is an endless pursuit and you will never truly reach the apex, there will be an extra level to pursue. However, take the time to reflect and celebrate your progress and success along the way and see if you can inspire others to push their limits

How are you challenging yourself? What is your ambitious target you are seeking? 

Let us know and share it with us. You can check out my previous post where I shared my current goals and focus. Social accountability is powerful! Put yourself out there and claim it