When we know what to do, but continue not to do it, often the place to start is with mental toughness.

“Mental toughness” is a common term that is typically taught or talked about by someone bragging about his or her ability to endure and then strongly encouraging you to do the same. This really just puts most people back in the cycle of knowing what to do (be mentally tough), but not knowing how to actually become mentally tough, how to build up that muscle or skill.

Physical toughness is much more obvious -- lift weights, learn to take a punch. It’s all pretty straight-forward, but how about building up something that is not physical, such as courage, honor, or perseverance? These are the untouchable things that make up mental toughness.

Most think of mental toughness as something they have or don’t. They think it is developed by enduring hard times when, actually, it’s produced by developing these 8 tenets and practicing them in your day-to-day life.  

  • Honor

  • Courage

  • Innovation

  • Communication

  • Perseverance

  • Respect

  • Responsibility

  • Confidence

To get you started on your mental toughness muscles, I’ve provided a brief, but highly functional, definition of each tenet, along with a practical way to apply it to your day-to-day life.  



"Courage is not the absence of fear but making the right choices, and taking the right actions in spite of fear."

Consider the things you’ve missed in your life where you’ve failed to take actions because fear stood in your way. You didn’t start that business, ask for that raise, learn that new skill, or approach someone you were attracted to.

Now, think about the good things that are in your life because you took action despite your fear.

The contrast can be anything from interesting to completely life changing and once we understand the components of courage we can not only take more action in our own lives, but we can teach others to do the same.  

Courage is a skill that can be developed like a muscle.

Fear is nothing more than an obstacle in our minds that restricts our action. With knowledge, practice, and experience you are able to manage fear and build courage. With each new obstacle that is overcome, fear is reduced and your tolerance for fear is increased. Courage is formed.

In simple terms, your actions become increasingly less restricted by fear as you overcome each new larger obstacle.



Taking action that is organized around something or someone.  

To respect something means that we alter our actions to care for its existence. I can respect a moving train by stepping out of its way. I respect my children when I don’t demand that they shut their book immediately when I decide it’s bed time, but, instead, ask them if they are almost finished so that I don’t interrupt them. I care for the concerns of those I respect.  

Many people don’t understand respect, which has them fail to demonstrate it at the appropriate times. When we fail to respect the realities of life -- earning enough money for retirement, caring for our health, paying attention to important relationships -- we not only lose the opportunities that come from them, but we trigger negative consequences that can consume our lives. People who are in constant struggle usually are people who don’t understand respect.  

Our current situations, good and bad, are the byproduct of who and what we have or have not, intentionally or unintentionally, respected. If you can’t affect someone’s life in a major way, positively or negatively, there is no use in attempting to demand respect from them. Respect is the byproduct of someone’s perceived value of you.  

So it’s not that you need to show respect to get it, but that you need to show importance in someone's life to get it. They need to want you in their life enough to alter their actions to keep you there.



To Be Cause In The Matter

In SEAL training you and only you can be responsible for making it through. Are there unfair things like instructors’ attitudes and unfavorable ocean currents to contend with on a timed swim? You bet. Are there things that occur that might seem beyond your control like getting pneumonia, a stress fracture, or drowning? Oh yeah. Do the instructors care? Nope.

Unlike current popular culture, SEAL training tests one’s ability to be responsible in the matter of his own success. One must cause himself to pass, despite any and all obstacles, or else he fails and is dropped from the program.

Responsibility, like all of the other tenets, can be broken down and developed as needed. Here are the elements that must be present for one to be responsible. If you, or anyone you know, is failing to be responsible, here is where you look.

Standards: Are clear and measurable. They must be understood if one is to be responsible for meeting them.  

Power: Is the ability to influence change. For someone to cause anything they must have a sufficient ability to modify what must be modified to reach or meet a standard.  

Choice: Freely selecting an option. For someone to choose to be responsible for something, the responsibility should affect their ability to survive, be free, and live a good life.  



To stimulate another organism?

I begin with this definition because it’s important for us to realize that much of what we consider communication is little more than simply triggering another person's eardrums. To better communicate requires us to differentiate between mere communication and effective communication.  

Effective communication is made up of repetitive signals that lead to desired actions. and outcomes.  

There are many things that interrupt, pervert, or derail our attempts to communicate. To solve this, we must have a map -- a sort of guardrail to keep the environment and our psychology from interrupting the flow. Here is the beginning of that.  

  1. A clear request is made that includes specifics as well as a deadline. Often we expect, or hope, others read our mind

  2. A promise is made by the listener.

  3. The action is taken.

  4. The requester declares satisfaction.



Believing that you can do something that you’ve never done before.

When most people think about confidence, they assume it means that they feel strongly that they can do something because they have done it before. I don’t consider that confidence. That’s just consistency.  

Since we live and work in the most dynamic and competitive world we’ve ever seen as a species, our ability to innovate and take new ground is critical to survival. That’s right. It’s our job to not only do things we’ve never done before, but to do things that no one has ever done before.  

Confidence is closely related to courage as it depends on the same process to develop it: Learn, practice, experience.

With my kids, I do something called SEAL Pups. It’s like a dangerous version of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. One of the primary reasons I do this is to produce confidence. My kids learn new things so that they can practice them, and that enables them to eventually experience the ability to do what they couldn’t do before. That builds confidence.

The reason I do SEAL Pups is because we can build even stronger confidence when that which we learn to do is uncommon.   

If you have a confidence issue, the answer is to learn new things.  



The ability to continue despite & because of challenges, difficulties and failures

You’ll hear me speak about the importance of mental toughness and how these very tenets are what creates it, but I’ll always work my way away from the need to muscle through something and show you how to make the things which must get done in life not only easy, but desirable.

When we look at video games, sports, and even our jobs, we can see people everywhere continue to apply effort because the challenges and difficulties keep them engaged. Psychologist and author of “Flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls this the “state of flow.”

People assume SEAL training, and especially Hell Week, is relentless torture. This is true for some, and that is why they quit. The challenge became too far beyond their skill or desire. For those who find the challenge to be harmonious with their skill and desire, Hell Week -- and all of SEAL training, for that matter -- can actually be fun.

In our continued course work, we will work both sides of the equation. We will increase your mental toughness and ability to muscle through things as well as work on your desire. You’ll get the job done while we work to, someday, make it fun.  

If you’re currently challenged with your ability to stick with something, the fastest way to correct that is to reduce or increase the challenge that keeps you motivated. You can reduce it by breaking it into smaller pieces or increase it by tying it to a larger ambition and making it bigger.  

We’ll work on the strength stuff as we go.  



Something new that increases your power.

It’s common to think of innovation only in the terms of creating a new product or inventing a new machine. These are, for sure, innovations, but I’m talking about something more personal here. I’m talking about the invention of better ways to live life, get things done.

Life is complex. There are a lot of concerns we must deal with to survive and thrive, and often we’ve not the power to care for them all. Money, career, family, our bodies, our brains...They are in constant need of attention and care.

Within our definition of the roles of a leader, we find a practical formula for innovation that we can get started with:

  1. Identify the gap: This means we need to be clear on what we’re responsible for and recognize the space between where we are now and where we need to be. Once the gap is identified our ability to fill it will depend on innovation.  

  2. Institute change: Change is always costly, meaning that we’ll have to divert resources from another concern to fill the gap we’re working on. 

  3. Resolve conflict: Change will cause conflict because existing concerns are affected. Recognizing this produces the space for us to invent new ways of getting things done and generates the need for the next step.

  4. Gain knowledge: I often see people get stuck in the narrative “I don’t know how to do that” or “I’ve never done that before.” To innovate, we must learn new knowledge or else we’re stuck with what got us here in the first place. To resolve conflict, we need new thinking that allows us to make changes and fill in the gaps.



Being someone that others value.

What is the source of all war and fights? They’re all the product of one person trying to force another person to do something. A curious opening to a section on honor, I know, but forcing someone to do something never works. If you really want someone to do something, be very valuable to them. If you want them to follow you, be of value to them. If you want them to respect you, be of value to them. Honor isn’t an adjective; it’s a verb.  

For you to lead others or even yourself, you need to be followable. That means you and others must assess you as being the best way to get where they want to go. They need to hold you in high esteem. That's honor. 

As you’ve heard me mention, life is complex and chocked full of many things that need to get cared for, and the help of others is important and potent.

For now, I’ll leave you with this thought. Whatever you put first is what you can count on. Put yourself first, and you’ll only have you to count on. Put many others first, and you’ll have many others to count on.