Spiritual Sprint #5: Mental Toughness

Spiritual Sprints_web-1It takes the average runner approximately 5 hours to complete a marathon. 5 hours! How does a runner occupy her mind for those long hours during a race? How does she avoid thinking about every ache, pain, breath (or lack of), and foot pound as she runs? Some runners plug in headphones and let music keep them focused. Others use audio books to occupy their minds. But even with these distractors, there must be a rigid focus in order to make it those 26.2 miles.

When I first started running, my body revolted, and my mind joined in on the revolution. For the first mile, I could think of nothing but the discomfort. My body was the enemy that needed to be taught to press through the miles. However, it wasn’t my body that needed a few lessons in submission, it was my mind. I needed some mental toughness.

When I first started running, my body revolted, and my mind joined in on the revolution. For the first mile (link to older post) I could think of nothing but the discomfort. My body was the enemy that needed to be taught to press through the miles. However, it wasn’t my body that needed a few lessons in submission, it was my mind. I needed some mental toughness.

Mental toughness is the psychological edge that enables an athlete to cope during a competition. It is not developed by accident, and it is not innate to humans. It is something that an athlete must fight for, train for, and practice repeatedly. According to Dr. Yukelson at Penn State University, there are some key psychological traits of a mentally tough aHow-Start-Runningthlete. As I studied each one, I realized that each trait needed for an athlete’s mental toughness would be useful in developing a Christian’s faith.

Mental toughness is the psychological edge that enables an athlete to cope during a competition. It is not developed by accident, and it is not innate to humans. It is something that an athlete must fight for, train for, and practice repeatedly. According to Dr. Yukelson at Penn State University, there are some key psychological traits of a mentally tough athlete. As I studied each one, I realized these same traits needed to develop an athlete’s mental toughness would be useful in stengthening my faith.

  1.  Self-belief: having an unshakeable belief in one’s abilities to reach a goal. As a Christ follower, we exchange that self-belief for God-belief. We rely on an all-powerful God who knows us personally, so therefore, we know He will work out His plan for our lives according to His perfect will. (Ephesians 2:16-17; 2:10)
  2. Motivation an insatiable desire and internalized motivation to succeed. There is a finish line out there for us, but we don’t know the day or time. However, like Paul, we forget the past and look forward to heavenly prize that lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14).
  3. Focusremain fully focused on the task at hand in the face of distractions. The Christian life will be full of distractions, and they will come in all forms: fun and not-so-fun. However, Philippians 4:8 reminds us just exactly what to focus on: things that are truthful, lovely, right, admirable, pure and praiseworthy. No matter what distraction comes our way, we can find at least on of these to focus on.
  4. Composureable to regain mental control in the face of unexpected events or distractions. On most days of the Christian’s life, there will be a moment where we must make a decision. Will a negative word or deed sidetrack us from our race? Will we let another’s poor choices, an unexpected tragedy, or life irritation control whether or not we stop racing toward our Heavenly father? Amid the impact of the situation can we handle the pressure and regain our focus?

The good news is that mental toughness can be learned. It will grow stronger each time we push past the negative thoughts to our knowledge of God. With each new challenge, we will find it a little easier to make it another mile. Pretty soon, we will look back at the miles we’ve run in this race for Christ and be amazed at how far we have come. Even better is each time God asks us to run another marathon, we will lace up our shoes and never consider anything other than the fact that we will finish strong!

Which mental toughness trait do you believe to be the hardest to maintain? 

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One thought on “Spiritual Sprint #5: Mental Toughness

  1. Jill

    Such a hard question to answer. I think I struggle with all of them, but each of them at different times. Composure is probably the one I struggle with the most, because I can sometimes allow my circumstances sidetrack me. This was a great analogy, and after reading it, I wanted to go home, lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement…both physically and spiritually. Awesome word!!

    Reply

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