Mind Games

Packing out elk

Mental toughness in the mountains & beyond.

Grit. Moxie. Pluck. Perseverance. No matter what you call it, it takes determination to push onward for the long haul. And everyone hits a wall sometimes—whether it’s in the mountains, at work, or even at home. But quitting when the going gets tough shouldn’t be your first option. Instead, learn how to keep going when adversity or obstacles stand in your way.

“Mental toughness is a mindset that is unique to each individual,” says Dustin Diefenderfer of MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab. “It’s harnessing actions and habits that are intentionally developed to apply to physical and emotional situations and allow you to look for another way, another solution, when you hit that figurative wall.”

Adaptability is key, and knowing how to thrive under pressure can be learned. Think of it this way: how do you respond when faced with a setback? Do you dwell on the negative? Or do you figure out a solution?

In other words, it’s the ability to grind through things no matter how difficult they might seem. And it’s an essential trait for everyone. Whether you’re scrambling up a mountain, hiking into the backcountry, or packing out after a successful hunt, physical strength will only take you so far. Mental toughness allows you to push through rather than turn back—no matter the pursuit or activity.

Toughness 101
Learning your individual level of resilience and confidence will help you stay calm and positive, even in the most difficult situations. While some may think this only applies to extreme or dangerous situations, the truth is that developing keen mental toughness isn’t only for backcountry athletes. It’s practiced by business leaders, coaches, and professionals in every industry. Mental strength comes from resisting the urge to be derailed by negative thoughts. And that mental muscle can be developed to improve overall wellbeing.

Adaptability is key, and knowing how to thrive under pressure can be learned. Think of it this way: how do you respond when faced with a setback? Do you dwell on the negative? Or do you figure out a solution? Can you tune out distractions to solve the problem at hand? Just like you would increase your reps at the gym, building a daily routine to reinforce mental toughness is critical to learned behavior. Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. Focus on the task at hand. Practice control and commitment to get the job done. Concentrate on what can be gained by completing a challenge, and above all, believe in your own success.

“Focus on who you want to be in different types of situations,” says Phil Kornachuk, director of MTNTOUGH’s mountain-mindset program and a retired Green Beret. “Know how you will react in a way that’s less reactive and more proactive. Be intentional. Everyone can decide the direction they want to head and what they want to do.”

By strengthening your mental toughness, you should experience decreased stress, increased motivation and confidence, and a greater sense of adaptability in the face of adversity.

MTNTOUGH pushups

Small Steps
Beyond daily practice, there are other ways to cultivate mental grit. Here are some easy tactics.

  • Practice mindfulness. Join a yoga class, try mindful breathing, or go for a walk in the woods—select a calming activity to fit your lifestyle and incorporate it daily.
  • Keep a journal to track your progress. This will help you see personal growth, which is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem. It can also help you identify any stressors that can trigger feelings of being overwhelmed or inability to adapt.
  • Practice self-compassion. We all have faults, but we also all have things we excel at. Learning to focus on the positive rather than the negative can pull you up when you are feeling down.
  • Don’t go it alone. Find your tribe and stay connected. Talk about how to approach different problems and collaborate on solutions.

Remember that mental strength is finding that balance of how to push and pull, listen and learn. We all want to be our best physically, but nurturing our mental health—and cultivating our mental toughness—creates holistic individuals ready for whatever comes their way.

Weston Paul is the director of business development at MTNTOUGH. Download the MTNTOUGH+ App and choose from a variety of hard-charging fitness regimes, mental-toughness trainings, PT, mobility, and nutritional programs.