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How to Improve Your Mental Toughness



Cross country is such a mental sport, and I've learned that more this year than ever before as I've dealt with injuries. I ran cross country in middle school, and not only was I not in great shape, I was so weak mentally. Learning to push through pain and all the "just stop!" feelings going on is super important, and I think it makes you a stronger person overall.


Mental toughness isn't just for runners, though. Life is hard, y'all, and being able to withstand that and be steadfast in Scripture is such a valuable skill. Ultimately, it's by the strength of God that we learn to become stronger and hold firm in hard times!


While some of these tips might be more applicable to runners, I pray that all of you are able to take something away from this post!


1. Pray, pray, pray

Our God is the one that provides us the strength to endure, not us! At the end of the day, there is nothing that we can do to fully prepare for the struggles that life throws our way. We can do everything in our power to strengthen our minds and hearts for the hardships of this world, but being fully human and fully imperfect, it will never be enough.


That's why prayer is so important! When we are communicating and conversing with God, we are able to lay everything before the Lord. As we lay down the good times and the bad times, we humble ourselves to receive the strength that Christ invites us to take. These prayers don't need to be long or eloquent, but a sincere "I surrender" prayer.


For runners, I pray constantly before races or timed trials. This helps me release all the stress I have about it and embrace the peace of Christ. Oftentimes, my Bible study the night before and the bus ride to the meet is filled with prayer and laying it down at the feet of Jesus. I'm telling you - prayer is the best race strategy. Does it heal all the ways my body hurts? No. Does it make me run faster? I doubt it. But it fills me with a supernatural peace and strength that you simply can't find anywhere else. It changes the race, y'all.


2. Create mantras/chants

Being mentally tough requires you to figure out how you can push through the struggle. For me, it means praying, but it also means filling my mind with truth. These repeated truths, or mantras, that I preach to myself while I run or during a tough trial, help give me the strength to keep enduring. When I'm running, I'll say:

  • "There's no such thing as pain" (while this doesn't usually work, I try)

  • "You can do hard things"

  • "You have trained for this and put in the work - you got this!"

  • "Keep pushing"

  • "In the name of Jesus" (this one has been my favorite lately - every run, every workout, every homework assignment, everything, it's all for Jesus and through His strength.)

Although these mantras probably don't seem like much, it is so helpful for me to have phrases that I can keep repeating in my head. Somehow these truths give me more confidence and power to keep going, and they might work for you too.


But sometimes these "power phrases" are applicable for non-runners too! Sometimes I like to tell myself:

  • "Give it to God"

  • "Jesus has it all figured out"

  • "Breathe in Jesus, breathe out ______" (sometimes I breathe out Satan, specific lies, stress, anxiety, whatever I'm struggling with)

  • "Let it go, girl, let it go"

Whatever power phrase or mantra you use or try, personalize it to you! The truths that I need to remind myself of might not be the same truths that you need to remind yourself of.


3. Be comfortable being uncomfortable

When you run, it's pretty much a guarantee that you're going to feel some sort of ache or pain. That's the same thing with life - it's a guarantee that you're going to encounter some sort of trouble or hardship. You can't avoid the pain or the hardships, but you can get comfortable with the struggle.

Now, that doesn't mean accept the pain and give up, but it does mean that you're okay not feeling happy-go-lucky all the time and learning how to grow through the discomfort. If your going to be mentally strong, you have to accept the fact that it will hurt, and it will be hard (because that's a fact of life) and you have to be comfortable with that. You have to be willing to work through that struggle and not let it destroy your mindset.


4. Dig deep + be passionate

To be mentally tough, you have to dig deep to keep pushing even when things get hard. You have to have a reason, your "why" to keep going. Your reason, or "why", is your driving force and passion that keeps you going.


My big "why" is Jesus. He's completely transformed my life and made me who I am today. Jesus gives me the strength and peace that I need - but can't find anywhere else. He saved my life, and I owe it all to Him. I want to live my life for Him and Him alone, so that keeps me going when things get tough. Whether it's trouble at school, conflicts with the people I love, an internal struggle, or even a hard run, I can lean on the Lord and that helps me dig deep.


I also have some "littler whys"; things that matter but aren't quite as big as Jesus. I fight to keep going for my family. I fight to keep going for Ayden and my friends. I fight to keep going for my teammates and my coaches. These people keep me passionate about what I'm doing and passionate to keep going.


For you, your "why" might be other people in your life that matter to you. Your "why" might be a dream or a goal that you have, or maybe a mission that you want to support. Whatever it is, it should be something that means something to you and motivates you to keep working hard and pushing through the struggle.

 

I know that over the past year my mental toughness has improved so much, and so has my performance - both on the cross country course and off! It's my prayer that this post has helped you strengthen your mental toughness as well. If this is something that you're struggling with, then please let me know in the comments below so that I can pray for you! Or, if you have any tips for others to help them improve their mental strength, then please drop them below as well so that we can encourage and challenge each other!

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