Toughen Up

Bill Abbate
Photo by Sides Imagery from Pexels

Like many young men around 1970, I won the lottery. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of lottery where you win money! No, I "won" the Vietnam era draft lottery with a number so low there was little choice for someone like me but to join the military. Knowing my number was up, I went to a recruiter and signed up right before graduating from high school. A couple of months later, off I went!

You learn a great deal during those two months in boot. The experience made two significant changes in me. First, it helped me gain more discipline. As a teenager, I certainly needed more discipline in my life. The kind of discipline that makes you grow up quickly!

The second thing boot camp helped me with was toughening up. Not only physically but mentally. It helped me develop tenacity and resilience I had not known before and the fortitude to make it through anything. It is little wonder boot camp will either break you or turn you into a responsible adult.

Toughening your mind

Many of us exercise to strengthen our bodies, but why would anyone want to toughen their mind? Because of the tremendous benefits you receive!

Think about it. The opposite of tough is weak. Would you prefer to be tough-minded or weak-minded? You may think it best to be neither or in the middle, but not so fast. Before making your mind up, here are just a few ways mental toughness can benefit you. Becoming mentally tough helps you:

  • Face the challenges and adversities that inevitably come in life.
  • Recover more quickly from setbacks.
  • Get past failure, accept, and learn from mistakes.
  • Enhance your mental and physical performance.
  • Avoid being around the wrong people.
  • Find the strength to regulate your emotions.
  • Get and stay on the road to success.
  • Provide greater life satisfaction.
  • Place the correct value on life.
  • Place a higher value on relationships to strengthen them.
  • Get tough when life gets tough.
  • Find the strength to say yes or no.
  • Develop the courage to accept and overcome what life throws at you.

There are more benefits to be added to this list, but it clearly shows the value of becoming mentally tough.

At least three things are critical to developing mental toughness in your life. They include:

- Tenacity – the quality of being determined.

- Resilience – the capacity to recover from difficulties.

- Fortitude – the courage to face pain or adversity.

Let's look at these areas of mental toughness to gain additional insight into each.


Tenacity will help you overcome practically anything in life. Tenacity is the ability to persist and persevere. It is the determination and firmness of purpose that will help you push forward and not give up.

"All excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose." John W. Gardner (1912-2002)

Several years ago, I had four consecutive widow makers in one day and spent 55 days in intensive care. When you are on your back that long your muscles atrophy terribly, and I lost 50 pounds. Considering my waist size barely changed, you can imagine how much muscle I lost. A week or more before leaving the hospital, I started taking physical therapy. I was so weak I could not stand without a walker. This was quite a blow, having been a fitness nut my whole life, running, biking, swimming, weightlifting, with many 5k's, 10k's, marathons, and sprint triathlons under my belt.

"To make our way, we must have firm resolve, persistence, tenacity. We must gear ourselves to work hard all the way. We can never let up." Ralph Bunche (1904-1971)

My wife often says she could see how determined I was to regain my strength and comments on how hard I worked. I was fortunate to have had years of physical training and seeing results, and I knew if I stuck with it, I would regain much of what I had lost. Today, I am reasonably healthy and plenty strong with a great life. I'm glad for the many life lessons that taught me to be tenacious. Otherwise, I may have given up.


Developing resilience is crucial to every person's growth and change. Resilience provides the ability to bounce back from whatever happens. It helps you not give up or give in and adapt to any situation. It provides durable strength to spring into action whenever required.

"Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." ― Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Childhood conditioned me to be very resilient. With my stepfather being in the military, we moved constantly. When you live for years in Asia and Europe and attend 12 schools from first to twelfth grade, you have little choice but to adapt and grow.

"It's your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life's story will develop." Dieter F. Uchtdorf (1940-present)

While I did not enjoy my childhood with the constant moving and leaving so many friends, it prepared me in a way little else could. It was resilience that got me through the many trials and tribulations of relationships, career, death of my spouse, health issues, and so much more. I am thankful for the toughness and resilience these experiences added to my psyche!

"The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived." Robert Jordan (1948-2007)


Fortitude provides courage when facing pain or adversity. It instills bravery and strength of character. It makes you fearless and steadfast, with resolve and patience.

"There is no treasure equal to contentment and no virtue equal to fortitude." Sarada Devi (1853-1920)

Despite the many things that have happened in my long life, I am thankful for them. The challenging times, the discomfort, and the wariness of life prove difficult for so many of us. Yet, we face the pain and resistance and live another day. We can sometimes become downright stubborn, which gives us the resolve to push through the adversities life throws at us.

"Receptiveness is a rare and massive power, like fortitude." George Eliot (1819-1880)

The biggest lesson fortitude taught me is you don't lose if you don't give up!

How can you toughen your mind?

Only you can decide how tough your mind is and is becoming. Examine your life to find times when you have been tenacious, resilient, and stood firm in the presence of pain and adversity. If you look hard enough, you will find them. What can you do to embrace the lessons and build on them?

One of the best ways to toughen your mind is to find something that challenges or pushes you. It could be anything from running a 5k or 10k to finding that new job. For some, it is climbing Mount Everest, and for others, it is asking that person you love for their hand in marriage. Anything that helps you do more, and become more than you are now, can toughen your mind.

If you seek such a challenge, you will find it. If you don't, it will find you!

Final thoughts

I hope your takeaway from this article is you can benefit from toughening your mind, as will all of those around you. Use the tough times you have already experienced to strengthen and toughen your mind to the point nothing can defeat you. Stand firm, be strong, and commit to living the best life possible!

I leave you with this quote from one of our nation's founding fathers. Although written more than 200 years ago, it speaks strongly to us today.

"The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance." Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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