At the elite level, mental performance--and mental toughness--is what separates the vast pool of "really goods" from the truly exceptional.
And, just like any other world class skill, elite mental toughness isn't something you pick up in a few hours, or over the weekend. Building and keeping it is "abnormal."
I don't say that to discourage you, or to make it seem like it's impossible to improve your own mental performance. In fact, it's the opposite. It's hard to do, but the only barrier between doing it and not doing it is deciding that you'll be determined and consistent.
Unlike throwing a 97-mph fastball, hitting a 320-yard tee shot or shooting a three-pointer, it doesn't take superhuman skill to be mentally tough.
Anybody can do it. It's a matter of going to the "mental gym" I talked about in a previous column, and applying yourself every day.
The every-day part is where most people struggle.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You decide that you want to get in better shape, so you join a gym. You do all the "right" things. You hire a trainer for an introductory session, to get an idea of what kinds of exercises to do. You start going every day, and pound the weights and treadmill hard.
For two weeks, it's great. You're feeling better, and the lifting and running is becoming easier.
But then, you have to travel for work for a few days. When you come back, you want to spend some time with your kids, so you blow off the gym for the weekend and resolve that you'll pick it up again on Monday.
You don't get to the gym until Tuesday, and when you weigh yourself in the locker room, you're back to where you where at the beginning of the process. You get frustrated, and you drop out of the workout routine like you have before.
To be "abnormal," you don't need superhuman willpower, or to spend thousands of dollars on a trainer to guilt yourself into a commitment.
You need to start with a small step.
Instead of striving to be perfect, commit to getting something done.
Take the mental workouts I described in the other column. They take two minutes to complete. Even at that short interval, there will be days when you don't feel like doing it, or you get too busy.
Instead of putting it off until the next day or some other time, do something. Even if it's just 30 seconds. Whether your working out your mind or your body in the gym, every workout doesn't have to be perfect.
Keep the momentum going, and don't take a zero. That's how the truly exceptional do it. One foot in front of the other.
Done is better than perfect.