In my opinion, Jessie Diggins has been the greatest representation of mental toughness through the entire Olympic games. Considering no American has ever won a gold medal in cross country skiing, both Diggins and her teammate, Kikkan Randall deserve major applause.
In her first race, the announcer commented that Diggins works very hard to have the ability to push herself through pain more than her competition. After hearing this comment, I must admit that I watched the Diggins events with an increased level of interest.
To be able to push through pain as Diggins did requires serious mental toughness. The human body is designed in a way that when we experience physical pain, our brains become highly aware of the discomfort. The mind then focuses on the pain. Once we focus on something, we then expand it.
Normal people begin to experience exhaustion during physical activity. They feel that their legs and lungs hurt. The mind fixates on the pain, and before long, the pain is screaming to discontinue the exertion. We actually create more pain by focusing on it. This normal process causes people to avoid pain. This serves to protect the organism and increase survival.
Now, think about what Diggins has trained herself to do. When she begins to experience pain, she pushes her thoughts to focus on her inner strength. While her pain tries incessantly to gain her attention, she wages a mental war of controlled thought. Instead of allowing thoughts of pain and suffering, she directs her thoughts to emphasize her skill and toughness, eventually choking out the weakness-- and she does this for extended periods of time.
Diggins embodies mental toughness, but this is not something she learned in a pep talk. She has trained for it. Mental toughness is abnormal, but it can be learned.
There are two very important steps involved:
1. PREPARATION: No matter how mentally tough you are, if you are not prepared, you will not be mentally tough for long. Confidence is a major ingredient, and if you have not prepared, you will not succeed at elevated levels of competition.
2. THOUGHT CONTROL: During performance and preparation, you must work on controlling your thoughts. The rule is that anytime an unproductive thought enters your mind (i.e., any thought that emphasizes weakness or negativity), you must replace that thought quickly with a productive thought (i.e., any thought focused on strength or success).
Unproductive thoughts weigh you down like wearing sandbags throughout the day. It's no wonder Diggins felt like a coil ready to spring at the end of her gold medal race. While the other competitors had been allowing the pain to wear them down, Diggins felt an abundance of energy. Every Olympian works on preparation and thought control. Those special athletes like Jessie Diggins simply invest more into mastering them.
In the end, here is what Jessie Diggins has taught me: even if you or your team has never won a gold medal, it doesn't mean you can't. Every one of us has gold medal potential, no matter what the event. You just have to invest more than your competition into your success.