How To Achieve Long-Term Success By Building Mental Toughness

What do the greatest, most inspiring entrepreneurs share? They all possess an extraordinary level of mental toughness.

Photo by Winggo Tse on Unsplash

In 1998, future Spanx founder, Sara Blakely was a 27-year-old college graduate selling fax machines door-to-door in Clearwater, Florida. While she was actually quite good at it, she wasn’t passionate about selling fax machines. In fact, she hated it.

In a 2016 interview Sara recalls:

“I woke up one day and thought. ‘I’m in the wrong movie, call the director! What Happened? This is not my life!’”
“So I wrote down on a piece of paper the things that I was good at, and one of them was sales. I just started thinking about that, and I ended up writing down in my journal, ‘I want to invent a product that I can sell to millions of people that will make them feel good.’”

So she started looking around at everything, trying to find her idea. One day, after going through idea after idea, she famously cut the feet off of a pair of tights, to wear underneath a pair of cream-colored pants that she was premiering at a party.

She looked down at the frankensteined tights and asked,

“Are you my idea?”

Though the edges of the hastily altered tights rolled up her legs all night, she was pretty sure that the smoothed-out, timeless look she had achieved was something other women would happily pay for. After some perfecting, of course.

She knew it. She had found her idea. This was indeed something she could A) sell to millions of people and B) that would make them feel good.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Even after the completion of her idea, it took Sara two years to get anyone to see the value of her product. For the most part, she was on her own.

“I didn’t realize that selling fax machines door-to-door was really laying the groundwork for me to be able to be an inventor and create a product that had never been done before and bring it to market, because doing something like that requires hearing the word ‘no’ a lot,”
“The cold-calling to sell fax machines was an amazing training ground for hearing ‘no.’ I just learned that there’s a formula, you have to go through a certain number of ‘no’s to get to a ‘yes,’ so don’t let it discourage you.”
— Sarah Blakely

Without the mental toughness she had built through her years of cold-calling, selling fax machines door-to-door, she may not have been able to wait out those two years of hearing “no.”

When asked if there was anyone to whom she ever felt the need to say “I told you so,” Blakely says:

“There were a lot of ex-boyfriends who dumped me, who I wanted to have my Pretty Woman moment with, to say, ‘Big mistake, huge!’ But I think my success did that for me.’”

What is mental toughness?

What do inspiring entrepreneurs, elite athletes, great leaders, and brilliant scientists all have in common? They all possess an extraordinary level of mental toughness, which is also known as grit.

In an article for Inc. Magazine, Jeff Haden defines grit as:

“The ability to work hard and respond resiliently to failure and adversity; the inner quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals.”

So, how do we build mental toughness?

By building habits.

You see, mental toughness comes from our habits — not from motivation.

So we need to build habits that constantly challenge our own status quo and force us to grow as individuals.

Here are some tips to help you build incredible mental toughness:

1. Always act like you are in total control.

“Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.” — Ignatius

This same premise applies to luck. Many people feel that ultimate success or failure just has to do with luck. If they succeeded, luck was on their side, and if they failed, they simply weren’t lucky enough.

Most successful people do believe that luck played some role in their success. But it’s hardly the reason for their success, and they certainly didn’t wait around for good luck or worry about potential bad luck. Successful people act as if everything is completely under their control. If they succeed, they caused it. If they fail, it’s because they came up short.

Worrying about luck simply drains your mental energy, instead put that energy into making things happen.

You can’t control luck, but you can control yourself.

2. Don’t worry about things you can’t control.

Mental strength is like muscle strength — no one has an unlimited supply. So why waste your power on things you can’t control?

Everyone has their different push points. Maybe it’s politics. It could be family. Or maybe it’s global warming. Whatever the topic is, you care about it. And you want others to care too.

That’s fine. Do what you can do. Be your own change, but don’t try to make everyone else change. Quite honestly, they won’t.

Don’t waste your mental energy trying to change things and people you have no control over.

3. Look at past mistakes as training for future success, then move on.

Learn from your failures and the mistakes of others. Think about what went wrong only in terms of how you can use it to create a better outcome in the future. Then let it go. Leave the past in the past.

When something bad happens to you, or you fail at something, take it as an opportunity to learn. And when someone makes a mistake that affects you, learn from it. But also use it as an opportunity to practice being kind, forgiving, and understanding.

The past is a training ground for future challenges. Embrace it, but don’t let it define you.

4. Show up to win.

“I wasn’t there to compete. I was there to win.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

That’s what Arnold Schwarzenegger had to say about his first title as Junior Mr. Europe.

Mentally tough, successful people don’t see failure as a viable result, they envision success. Then they show up with that vision in mind, not with arrogance but with confidence.

Most people show up to give their best effort.

Winners show up to win.

5. Celebrate when others succeed.

Some people view success as a zero-sum game, meaning they view success as a scarce resource. But this couldn’t be further from the truth; being around success actually encourages more success. But having the zero-sum mentality causes resentment.

And resentment drains a massive amount of mental energy — energy much better applied elsewhere. When a friend succeeds and does something awesome, that doesn’t prevent you from succeeding; it actually increases your chances. In fact, when it comes to success, birds of a feather tend to flock together. So draw your successful friends even closer, encourage them, and learn from their successes.

In essence, don’t resent awesomeness — create and celebrate it.

And in time, you will find success within yourself, and you will have plenty of friends happy to celebrate with you.

6. Focus on being your authentic self.

No one likes you for your clothes, your car, your gadgets, your title, or your accomplishments. Those are all just things. Sure, some people may like your things, but that is a superficial relationship, not a friendship.

Superficial relationships are defined by their insubstantial nature.

A true friendship is built on authenticity. Being genuine. And we need more of those — the deep friendship connections.

So stop trying to impress people and just be your true, authentic, genuine self.

7. Never allow yourself to complain.

Your words have power. And they are especially powerful over you. Complaining about your problems will always make you feel worse, not better. 100% of the time.

So if something is wrong, don’t waste time complaining about it or thinking about its negative impact. It will take more mental energy in the long run to continue worrying and complaining about it than simply fixing it. So put that mental energy into finding a solution.

Instead of complaining about what’s wrong — even if you’re just talking to yourself — talk about how you can make things better.

8. Think productively instead of negatively.

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about our thoughts, but increasing your awareness of your own thought patterns is effective in building resilience. Negative thoughts hold you back from your potential, so catch those negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and influence your behavior.

Identify and replace these negative thoughts with more productive thoughts. Productive thoughts don’t need to be extremely positive but should be realistic. Instead of “I am absolutely terrible at everything” it could be “I have some weaknesses in this area, but I’m working towards progress.”

The important thing is to remove the negative thoughts from your mind.

9. Count your blessing and practice gratitude.

Now that your negative thoughts have been replaced by productive thoughts, we need to throw some gratitude and positivity into the mix.

I remember every Thanksgiving growing up, my grandma would bring out a book that everyone had to sign. Next to our names, we each had to write at least one thing we were grateful for.

Studies consistently show that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression. Take a moment to stop worrying about what you don’t have and focus on what you do have to be thankful for.

Start off your day by identifying at least 3 things you are grateful for. Make a daily habit of doing this first thing in the morning, as it will set the tone for the rest of your day.

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.” — Philippians 4:8

10. Act like the person you want to become.

It can be tempting to sit around and wait until you feel stronger before you start something new or take on a new challenge. But waiting until you feel better about yourself before acting could easily backfire. Delaying on applying for that promotion, or waiting until you feel happy to go out with your friends could reverse the effects of acting as if you are in control, breeding the mentality of a victim rather than a winner.

Instead, you should visualize yourself as the person you want to become. This will help you decide how to act. And when you focus on changing your behavior, your thoughts and emotions will follow.

If you’re having trouble making a decision or figuring out how to react to a situation, try asking yourself, “what would my ideal self do?”

Then, act as if you are already the person you want to become.

You’ll grow stronger as a result.

11. Reflect and practice daily.

Reflecting on your progress towards goals can reinforce your ability to reach success. By looking back on where you’ve been and learning from it, you can better plan how to move forward now, and envision what your future may look like if you continue moving towards your goal.

At the end of each day, ask yourself, “what have I learned today?”

Think about it from the perspective of your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Consider how you have improved over time and what you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow.


Mental toughness comes from your habits, not motivation.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” ― Archilochus

Motivation is fickle and willpower is limited. Building your mental toughness will better prepare you to take on the challenges necessary for becoming the person you want to be.

Lastly, challenge yourself to build mental toughness.

Because mental toughness builds the foundation for long-term success.


Thank you for reading! 👏

If you enjoyed this article, please comment and give it a couple claps. This will help others find the story as well.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +367,690 people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.

Like what you read? Give Joshua VanDeBrake a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.