Building Psychological Toughness

Last week’s blog discussed how to mentally handle the daily training stress, and this week we’ll discuss how to handle long term mental challenges.  Again, we’ll use the model from James Loehr, Ph. D. ‘s The New Toughness Training for Sports.  Loehr provides a document called the Competitive Adjective Profile which we use to evaluate our psychological strength and weaknesses.  We can find out what we need to work on most in the course of a month, focus on acting to improve those weaknesses, and then re-asses ourselves at the end of the cycle.


The table consists of 26 pairs of Psychological Characteristics.  As an athlete, you rate yourself on a scale between the characteristics in order to determine your emotional resilience and ability to handle pressure.  Any score under a “4” is a weakness, and after you take the profile, you will choose ways to work on your three biggest weaknesses (lowest scores). 

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Even-Tempered Moody

Resilient (quick emotional recovery) Non-resilient (slow emotional recovery)

Competitive Noncompetitive

Self-reliant Dependent

Committed Uncommitted

Aggressive Passive

Confident Insecure

Patient Impatient

Disciplined Undisciplined

Optimistic Pessimistic

Responsible Irresponsible

Realistic Unrealistic

Challenged Frightened

Coachable Uncoachable

Focused Unfocused

Mature Immature

Motivated Unmotivated

Emotionally Flexible Emotionally Rigid

Good at problem-solving Poor at problem solving

Good at team Playing Poor at team playing

Willing to take risks Unwilling to take risks

Skilled at acting Unskilled at acting

Strong in body language Weak in body language

Relaxed Tense

Energetic Non-energetic

Physically fit Physically unfit

Once you complete the table, you must share it and discuss it with someone you trust and who will be honest with you.  One of the first Weightlifting Athlete to whom I gave this project came back to me and completely misread every weakness he had.  He literally listed Resilience as a strength while complaining about missing lifts last week and how those misses stayed in his head. 

Once you identify the weaknesses, you’ll need to plan a way to overcome them.  There’s a process for working on these weaknesses explained in Loehr’s text:

Step 1: State the Weaknesses in Positive Factor Form

e.g. “I’m highly motivated.”

Step 2: For the next 30 days, make those four Positive Factors the most important themes in your life as an athlete.

1.       Write one positive factor on an Index card, Post-It, etc.- and put them up around you where you’ll see them.

2.       Imagine yourself in a situation where you are using one of these positive factors with great success. Be your “Performer Self”.

3.       Spend 30 seconds every morning and every night thinking and feeling each of the positive factors. Do this when you first wake up and when you are about to fall asleep.

Step 3: Write a one-page summary of what you will do in the next 30 days to improve each positive factor.

One page for EACH Weakness, not one page all together.  Make yourself think.

Step 4: Track your progress daily for one month on each of the factors.

Make a chart with the factors on top and the days on the left.  Use a “=” if you did well/ made improvement that day, a “0” if nothing changed; a “-“ if you did poorly/ regressed in that factor.

 Very Patient Highly Motivated Skilled at Acting

Day 1 0 0 +

Day 2 - + +

Day 3 + + -

Step 5: At the end of thirty days, retake the CAP; profile your strengths and weaknesses, and select the next four Factors you will overcome for your next thirty-day cycle.

Remember that this is not a one and done task.  Working to overcome psychological weaknesses is an ongoing process, and sometimes you’ll regress and a weakness will return.  That’s normal and understandable.  Work on it again.  Next week we’ll do the final installment of our mental prep series and discuss our Competitive Self.

Michael McKennaComment