6 Habits That Build Mental Toughness

These Are the 6 Habits You Need to Build Mental Toughness

Peloton instructor Logan Aldridge shares his tricks for persevering, no matter what challenges you’re facing.

By Dana Meltzer Zepeda and PelotonUpdated November 1, 2023


Sometimes staying motivated and focused on your goals can feel emotionally challenging, especially when life throws you a curveball. With the right mindset, however, it becomes easier to persevere under stress or pressure. With insight from Peloton’s first adaptive instructor, Logan Aldridge, who lost his arm in a wakeboarding accident at 13, these are expert-recommended and research-proven ways to build mental toughness. 

Introduction to Mental Toughness

Before we dive into how to build mental toughness, here’s exactly what mental toughness means and why you should care about it—both in fitness and in life. 

What is Mental Toughness?

According to research in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology which focused primarily on mental toughness in athletes, “mental toughness” can be defined as having a psychological edge that helps you cope better than your opponents with the intense demands of your sport (like competition or training). Through this learned resilience, athletes can “be more consistent and better” when it comes to mental strength, as seen in maintaining determination, focus, and confidence under pressure.

But even though you may be highly competitive during workouts, you’re likely not a professional athlete—so this interpretation of mental toughness may be a little intense. BetterUp, a comprehensive coaching platform used by NASA, Microsoft, and Google, offers a more relatable definition: “the cognitive and emotional skill of reframing negative thoughts and adverse circumstances.” In that framework, mental resilience helps you stay true to your goals, regardless of outside influences or external stressors.

Put together in plain English? Mental toughness (or mental strength) is your ability to be resilient and maintain confidence in the face of pressures, whether those pressures may be the upcoming Olympic Trials or an unexpected work project with a difficult client.

Why is Mental Toughness Important?

Mental toughness is the bridge between you and your goals, the extra boost that helps you overcome any obstacles in your path. Yes, mental toughness is important when it comes to sticking to your fitness goals—after all, no one ever said training for a half marathon or building a regular fitness habit would be easy. You’ll need mental strength to overcome early morning alarms, after-work exhaustion, and low motivation. 

But the mental toughness you build in your workouts will translate to everyday life too. Mental toughness can help you through periods of personal and professional stress, so that you’re confident in your ability to roll with the punches and overcome anything standing in your way. With mental resilience at your side, you’ll see obstacles as opportunities instead of reasons to give up. 

The 6 Habits to Cultivate Mental Resilience

Now that you know what mental toughness is, you can start taking actionable steps to develop it in your everyday life. Here, Peloton instructor Logan Aldridge shares his best strategies for learning how to be mentally tough.

1. Focus on the Positive

Mental resilience is about so much more than gritting your teeth whenever things get hard. It's also about looking for ways to overcome those difficulties and embracing challenges with a positive mindset. “As an adaptive athlete and coach, I have a unique perspective and approach to any obstacle or challenge. I am aware of a problem but recognize the solutions,” Logan says. 

One way to practice focusing on the positive is to find your own positive mantra. Maybe you love Peloton instructor Christine D’Ercole’s signature phrase, “I am, I can, I will, I do” or instructor Jess Sims’s “You don’t have to, you get to.” Or maybe you have an internal affirmation that’s all your own! Whatever your inspirational words are, practice repeating them to yourself in times of stress. In fact, one study from Brain Behavior found that repetitive mantras can have a calming effect on brain activity. Translation: Positive affirmations can calm you down in moments of stress, giving you the confidence and cool head to prevail. 

“When there are reasons to complain, I prefer to smile,” says Logan. “When it comes down to it, attitude is everything. If we can have this perspective, our potential is truly endless and growth is inevitable in all aspects of life.”

2. Try Something New

It might seem counterintuitive that trying something new can help build confidence. After all, you’re not going to be great at something the first time you try it. However, trying something totally outside of your comfort zone can help you feel more confident in your ability to handle stressful, unfamiliar situations.

“Acquiring new skills helps develop a sense of mastery and competence,” Logan explains. “For example, after I lost my arm, I focused on acquiring the skill to write with my non-dominant hand and developing dexterity, range of motion, and strength through shuffling cards and rolling Chinese Baoding balls. These skills seemed minuscule in the moment, but monumental in the development of my mental framework for what I may be able to accomplish in the future.”

You might also work on developing a “growth mindset,” a concept theorized by psychologist Carol Dweck. This framework suggests that a person’s abilities aren’t fixed or set in stone. Instead, skills and intelligence can be developed through hard work and determination. Plus, someone with a growth mindset will view setbacks as opportunities for improvement instead of flat-out failures—or worse, reflections of their own worthiness. Ergo, challenging yourself to try a dance cardio class for the first time or take up the piano will help you build your mental resilience.

3. Practice Acceptance

At the same time, even a growth mindset has its limits; no matter how much you train, you’re pretty unlikely to make the Olympics as an amateur. Coming to terms with the truth and letting go of what you can’t control isn’t easy. But learning to accept the hand you’ve been dealt in life—even if it isn't what you had envisioned—is an important step towards becoming your best self. 

To practice acceptance with grace, consider turning to a mindfulness routine. Here’s why: A study in Current Opinions in Psychology found that “experiential acceptance” (a.k.a. not trying to control your current circumstances) is a big contributor to all the benefits of mindfulness—like reducing anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, and improving sleep, according to the National Institute of Health

With that in mind, a mindfulness practice or meditation routine can help you accept the unchangeable and move forward. Try meditating in bed or using a visualization meditation that imagines a positive outlook. Whatever you do, remember that there’s power in giving up control. 

“Get to the truth and deal with it,” Logan says. “My arm was never going to come back. I will be this way for the rest of my life. I did not want to put false hope into thinking that a prosthetic limb would replace my arm. Instead, I wanted to accept the reality of this situation and own it.”

So Logan resolved to turn his life around. “I decided losing my arm was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “I was determined to use this unforeseen experience as a catalyst to learning more about myself and growing into the person I wanted to become.”

4. Keep Your Perspective

It may feel like your life is ending if you've suffered a traumatic event or you've been sidelined by a major injury, but you can build mental toughness by keeping your perspective. “See it as it is, not worse than it is,” Logan says. “When my arm was amputated, my life wasn't over, although in traumatic, life-altering moments, the mind will try to evaluate the situation and adopt a mentality of 'learned helplessness.' This means the tragedy was unforeseen, so the mind assumes all future events may be unforeseen and traumatic.”

But you might find some much-needed perspective, he adds, when you consider what’s actually true about your situation. “Seeing it as it is—not worse than it is—allows acceptance of the hard facts without exaggerating the truth with emotions.”

Another thing that might help build mental strength: reflecting on past experiences and how you handled them. What went well, and what would you have done differently? This type of self-reflection helps build up your stores of resiliency as you learn from past obstacles and put those insights into practice. 

Once you’ve analyzed any past struggles, you can start to build new mental strategies for facing hurdles. Set clear plans for how you’ll react to and approach certain scenarios with “if this, then this” strategies. For example: “If I’m not able to work out in the morning, I’ll get out for a 20-minute walk at lunch.” 

Throughout it all, make sure you’re remembering your “why.” What’s your reason for taking these actions, and what’s driving you to maintain your focus during difficult times? Your “why” is your North Star, so keep it front of mind during potential setbacks.

5. Find a Role Model

Emulating somebody you admire is a great way to build mental toughness. After all, if they overcame similar challenges, why can't you? “You are not alone,” Logan says. “Find a role model and learn their strategy. See how they moved through and past it. [Surfer] Bethany Hamilton reached out to me while I was in the hospital, and I was able to develop a friendship with her and learn her approach to life with one arm. I also relearned how to surf and taught her how to wakeboard!”

In fact, building your own support system is an incredible way to give your mental toughness a backbone. In fact, research from the journal Psychiatry shows that having social support helps build resilience to stress. 

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas: Find an “accountability buddy” who can check in with you frequently to see whether you’re sticking to your habits. A professional coach—whether career, life, or fitness-specific—can give you specific strategies and routes to the metaphorical finish line. Or even a group text made up of your best friends can give you encouragement and major cheers when you make progress toward your goal. Your social support system will help boost you up when your mental strength is flagging.

6. Give Back to the Community

Paying it forward helps others, but it can also improve your mood, mindset, and entire outlook on life. Engaging in generous acts helps you find a bit of perspective on the challenges you’re facing, making them seem not so enormous and giving you the courage to face them head-on. 

“Give more than you expect to receive,” Logan says. “Do the unexpected. Focus on ways to exceed others' expectations. Be the role model, mentor, shoulder-to-lean-on for someone else. Selfless acts are contagious.”

Plus, getting involved in your local community can help you develop the internal and interpersonal skills you need to build mental toughness—like empathy, problem-solving, developing new skills, and being a positive role model.

Logan likes to give back by showing others, especially those with disabilities, that they’re far more capable than they know or believe. “I encourage you to never accept the expectations of others,” he adds. “Instead, strive to exceed them and do the unexpected.”

The Role of Exercise in Mental Toughness

Exercise and mental toughness go hand-in-hand. Here’s how sticking to your fitness goals can help you build mental toughness, and vice versa.

Physical Endurance and Mental Strength

Pushing yourself past your physical limits is uncomfortable, difficult, and stressful on the body. (Seriously—according to Harvard Health, exercise is a form of physical stress.) By repeatedly putting yourself in a position to challenge your physical endurance, you’re building your mental strength brick by brick. Every rep, every dumbbell you pick up, helps you prove to yourself that you can do hard things and overcome previously insurmountable hurdles. 

The benefits of regular fitness can actually change your brain chemistry too. A study from Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience showed that regular exercise helps the brain build resilience against cognitive impairment, setting you up for a long, healthy life and plenty of mental toughness.

The Mind-Body Connection

On the other hand, having a strong mind can help you tackle physical challenges with—well, if not ease, than with optimism and determination. If you believe you can, you’ll get a lot further than if you think a certain task (like sprinting for a full minute or carrying your groceries up four flights of stairs) is totally impossible. 

Plus, if you’re mentally tough, you’re more likely to stick to your workout routine and chase your fitness goals with enthusiasm and motivation. You might find that you’re drawn to endurance sports, like running or cycling, since you’ve got the fortitude to train for long periods of time and break through mental fatigue. 

Finally, you might find that once your mental toughness is locked down, you notice a stronger mind-body connection between your muscles and your performance (especially if you’ve been sticking to your mindfulness routine). With a heightened awareness that recognizes if one hamstring is a bit tight or whether your form is a little bit off, you have a better chance of crushing your workout goals.

Books and Resources on Mental Toughness

Want to keep learning about how to build mental toughness? We recommend checking out these books and resources on mental toughness:


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