Peak Performance is 90% Mental Toughness
2017 Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcons were crushing the New England Patriots 28–3 at half-time. Half of the stadium emptied. I even turned off the tv. Those numbers would crush even the greatest of quarterbacks. But the Patriots, led by their quarterback, Tom Brady, came back to win 34–28 in overtime. In a post-game interview, Brady said he just took each play as it came. What do we have to do in this play? How far to we have to move this ball right now? He neither looked to what is behind him or what is in the future. Just that play.
Now, love him or hate him, Brady is GOAT (greatest of all time) for a reason. And numbers don’t lie. Brady has played in 9 Super Bowls with 6 wins. And the reason he is GOAT? He is the master of mental toughness. There is no one better. Period.
Being a peak performer requires many things. Amongst them, out-working, out-training and out-lasting your toughest competitor. But even if you have done the work and training, if you can’t out-perform then it is all for nil. I was a competitive figure skater. Extremely competitive. Remember, it isn’t bragging if it is true. But I competed against (and need it duly noted beaten Olympians Kristi Yamaguchi and Tonya Harding). And I can attest. I did the training. I did the work. But come “game day” for me, I was either on fire or my butt was wiping up a whole lot of ice. The judges never knew what to do with me, because they never knew who was going to show up that day? On fire Val? Or ice-wiping Val? I didn’t have the mental toughness I have now. I can even recall Brian Boitano telling me once, “Val there are two types of skaters. Those that are great skaters. (Brian was a great skater. In the seven years I got to train with him, I can probably count on one hand how many times he missed a jump). And those that skate great.” I skated great. Or I didn’t. I didn’t have my head screwed on correctly. My mental game was way off.
And this doesn’t just apply to athletics. It is whatever you do and whoever you are. The most successful people in life are mentally tough. Whether it be athlete, CEO or stay-at-home Mom. All of them require mental toughness to perform. And being elite is the ability to perform under pressure. Extreme pressure. 28–3 pressure.
I know what you are thinking. Yes! I want that! How do I get it? Well, the answer to that is as different and unique as a fingerprint. I do it through CrossFit. For me, there is a distinct connection between physical exercise and mental toughness. There is something so profound about not giving in to the pain, but rather adjusting to the pain. Stepping up to that next repetition when my arms, legs and lungs are burning. It takes every bit of mental capacity that I have. For others, it might be crossword puzzles or sudoku. Or memorizing all the Presidents in order. Yes, I am saying put yourself in uncomfortable situations, on purpose. Your task is to find what it is for you. Whatever it is, chase it down. HARD. And if self-doubt starts rearing its ugly head, remember this…..thus far, you have a 100% completion rate of getting through tough times. 100%. Maybe it didn’t look pretty, but who cares? No one said it has to look pretty.
Do you want to be eh? Or elite? Nobody hires ‘eh.’ You know this. But you decide. Nail down your mental game.