Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Phil Mickelson recently became the oldest golfer to win one of the four major professional golf championships by taking it one mental stroke at a time.

Confidence and the physical part of golf has never been an issue for Mickelson, but he recently talked about his mind and the mental lapses that were costing him. He hadn’t won a tournament on the PGA Tour in two years or a major championship in eight years, until winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in May.

Mickelson said: “I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.

“Physically I feel like I’m able to perform and hit the shots that I’ve hit throughout my career, and I feel like I can do it every bit as well as I have. But I’ve got to have that clear picture and focus,” Mickelson added.

And that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t hit a shot until he had a clear picture in his mind of what the shot was supposed to look like.

Another golfing great, Arnold Palmer, said: “My father always said to me, ‘Remember, whatever game you play, 90 percent of success is from the shoulders up.’”

Famed NFL football coach Vince Lombardi said: “Mental toughness is essential to success. You’ve got to be mentally tough. Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it character in action.”

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms,” according to Muhammad Ali. “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

After Tom Brady won one of his seven Super Bowl championships he was asked what makes his team so special. His answer: “Mental toughness.”

Psychologists have defined mental toughness for athletes as “having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.”

Note a trend here. Most people attribute mental toughness to elite athletes. I disagree. Being mentally tough can apply to anyone in any profession. Wikipedia defines it as a measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in sport, education and the workplace.

Mental toughness is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart.

Mental toughness grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway.  Anyone can give up. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true mental toughness.

Mental toughness comes into play when the going gets tough. Achievements are more rewarding when you work hard for something.

Fortunately, mental toughness can be cultivated and developed. Start by making a commitment to succeed. Only focus on what you can control. Be confident and thrive on adversity. Learn from your failures, but don’t dwell on them. The past is valuable training — nothing more.

Don’t complain or show emotions. Train your mind to be stronger than your emotions or else you’ll lose yourself every time. In sports, you don’t want to show your opponent that you are hurting or tired.

Be well conditioned. Physical strength will get you to the starting line, but mental strength will get you to the finish line.

Ten-time NCAA basketball championship coach John Wooden said: “I always stress condition with my basketball players. I don’t mean physical condition only. You cannot attain and maintain physical condition unless you are morally and mentally conditioned.”

Solicit feedback. Listening to advice or criticism is not easy for most people. In today’s business environment, where the landscape is changing rapidly, learning how to accept feedback is a key skill for advancing. Everyone can improve performance.

History has shown us that the most celebrated winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats. They have grit and resilience.

Mackay’s Moral: Mental toughness is what separates champions from near champions.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.