Keys to Mental Toughness: How to Manage Personal Expectations

What’s the secret to mental toughness?  How do you prevent the situation from controlling you?  Here’s one story from my early days to help you sort all that out….

[Watch the video above, or read the transcript below]

Pre-Dawn Road Work

One summer, while in in my early 20s I went to the Army’s Airborne School – it was a three week-long course that taught you how to become a paratrooper and jump with a parachute out of a perfectly good airplane.

The course had a reputation as being physically demanding, they had to be sure that graduates were up to the physical standards required of a paratrooper.  As a result, every day we ran four or five miles in formation through the pre-dawn Georgia humidity, while singing cadence.

These runs could be tough for some students, and they tended to fall behind the formation in the final stretch – something called “falling out.”

Fateful Friday

The Friday runs were special, if you “fell out” of a Friday run, you were deemed unfit to be a paratrooper and you were sent home.

I’ll never forget that first Friday run.  Off we went, on the same route.  Same pace, same last mile up the hill and headed for home. It was all so familiar.  As usual some of the students were struggling to keep pace, but they were hanging in there, and we were doing our best to encourage them to finish with us.

We topped the hill and the barracks came in sight – the same place we always finished.  The cadence was all about “going home, almost home” but when we got to the place we always stopped, we kept going.

The moment it became obvious we were not stopping, students started dropping out; we must have lost five or six in the next 100 yards; it was amazing and sad.

And then only about 200 yards beyond our usual stopping point, they brought us to a halt.

Managing Personal Expectations – The Key to Mental Toughness

Every one of those people who had fallen out at the last minute was very physically capable of running just another 200 yards.  But they stopped; they quit.  What was the difference?  Managing personal expectations.

They had it set in their minds that the run would go a certain way, and they depended on that happening.  The problem is they had no real control over where or how far we actually had to run, and when it changed, they weren’t prepared to adapt.

One of the keys to mental toughness is staying mentally flexible.  Try not to get set into a routine and expect things to go a certain way every time.  Expect that things will turn out different from what you expect, that something beyond your control will happen to change things.  Know that you are going to have to adapt.

When it eventually happens, keep your cool, focus on whatever your long-term goals are, and figure out a way around the obstacle so you can keep moving.

The Takeaway

It’s like they say,

Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. – Charles Swindol Click To Tweet

“Life” is going to happen, you can’t control everything.  Whether the run goes longer than you thought, there’s a sudden traffic backup, the power goes out during your presentation, … whatever it is, you are going to have to deal with it.  So focus on what you CAN control.

The key is to

Manage your personal expectations; don’t let them manage you. Click To Tweet

Begin every day with the idea that, whatever comes, it’s going to be fine, whatever happens, you are going to roll with it, accept it calmly, stay focused on your goal, and keep moving forward.

Thanks for watching!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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