Golfing great Arnold Palmer said: “My father always said to me, ‘Remember, whatever game you play, 90 percent of success is from the shoulders up.’”
Palmer has never flaunted his success as a golfer or businessman. When I visited him a couple years ago in Latrobe, Pa., I learned that although he has won hundreds of trophies and awards, the only trophy in his office is a battered little cup that he got for his first professional win at the Canadian Open in 1955. There is also a framed plaque on the wall, which explains why he has been successful on and off the golf course. It reads:
If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost certain you won’t.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins Is the man who thinks he can.
I later discovered that this was part of a longer poem written by C.W. Longenecker. It’s all about mind over matter – mental toughness.
We often hear the term mental toughness from athletes, coaches and sports commentators, but it translates to all aspects of life, especially business. Mental toughness is persevering through difficult circumstances. It is conditioning your mind to think confidently and being able to overcome frustration.
Athletes must be in tip-top physical shape, but if they don’t prepare themselves just as much mentally, they will never become champions.
Serena Williams, like other top tennis players, uses her mental strength to succeed. She uses power thoughts during her matches and reviews them on changeovers, which helps her focus and get her game back on track if necessary. Her power thoughts include: “My good thoughts are powerful.” “My only negative thoughts are weak.” “Hang on to the thought of what you want. Make it absolutely clear.” “You are #1.” “You are the best.” “You will win.”
Dr. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute defined mental toughness in his book “The New Toughness Training for Sports” as “The ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.” He went on to add, “Mental toughness is all about improving your mind so that it’s always on your side; not sometimes helping you nor working against you as we all know it’s quite capable of doing.”
Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised to grow and develop. You must get out of your comfort zone by taking on new tasks. As your comfort zone expands, seek out other duties to test your determination. You will soon discover that there is almost nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it. Truly, it’s mind over matter.
Dr. David Yukelson from Penn State University lists the key characteristics associated with mentally tough elite athletes as:
- Self-Belief – Having an unshakable belief in one’s ability to achieve competition goals.
- Motivation – Having an insatiable desire and internalized motivation to succeed.
- Focus – Remain fully focused on the task at hand in the face of distractions.
- Composure/handling pressure – Ability to regain psychological control and to thrive on pressure.
But in my opinion, those characteristics translate seamlessly for business people in every discipline. If your mind isn’t prepared to take on the challenges that constantly arise in business, you are doomed to fail. It’s that simple.
Three cowboys had been riding the range in New Mexico since dawn. Busy with the herd of cattle they were tending, there had been no time to stop and eat. As the day wore on, two of the cowboys started talking about how hungry they were and about the huge meal they were going to eat after the day’s work was done.
All they talked about was food. Finally, they asked the third cowboy if he was hungry. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “No.”
At sundown, the three cowboys rode into town and ordered the biggest steak dinners at the local restaurant. The three of them ate every last morsel. One of the trio reminded the third cowboy that less than an hour earlier he had told them he was not hungry.
“Not wise to be hungry then,” he replied. “No food.”
Mackay’s Moral: Life is ten percent how you make it and ninety percent how you take it.