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#155940 - 10/17/11 11:24 AM Re: Mental toughness [Re: ppine]
Steadman Offline
member

Registered: 09/17/09
Posts: 513
Loc: Virginia
I'll weigh in here.

I'd define mental toughness as: the ability to continue to go on, even after conditions become adverse, and even after a person has been pushed past their breaking point. People who are mentally tough get up and continue to go on after they've been brought to their knees, often in tears.

Mental toughness and physical conditions (enough rest, food, etc) are directly linked. Mental toughness and a perception that participation is "worth it" are linked. Thus, mental toughness is situational and linked to the physical.

An example is, the guy who passes out while his wife is in childbirth, but goes back again knowing that he needs to support his wife, is mentally tough.

You can generalize this statement by saying "the person who crumbles or folds, but continues to go on in spite of the continued precense of the stress that caused them to fold, because they need to do something important, is mentally tough."





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#155943 - 10/17/11 11:56 AM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Steadman]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
For me it wasn't the birth part, it was that big long needle that they stick in her back. Twice I almost passed out. The last three kids, I left the room until the doctor had put in the needle, and then came in a "helped" with the birth. Of course, all I did was hold her legs and watch the doc pull out the kid. Needles are my weakness. I guess I will never be a heroin addict.
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#155967 - 10/17/11 02:37 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: ppine]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3917
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Quote:
Would anyone like share some experiences that demonstrate mental toughness?


I find it hard to rate my personal "Mental Toughness", and to be honest, I've never spent much time trying to convince myself that I am mentally tough. I have regrets, so I'll probably never be able to convince myself of that. Instead I try to convince myself I can do better.

Becoming a single parent was probably the biggest challenge I've ever faced because I knew I had to take over the duties normally done by moms, and I had almost no clue how I'd figure it out. Handing my daughter off to a relative was not an option, I knew it was up to me and it would be a long haul before things got comparably easier. I figured it fast enough though. It was women that got me through it. They weren't always gentle about telling me when I was screwing up either, but what they taught me was always in the best interest of my daughter so I did my best to "take it like a man" whenever a mom jumped on me about what I was doing that was stupid. The first few months that happened quite a bit, almost daily. Of course, my daughter let me know constantly too, but I hadn't a clue of how to interpret that. She was really the tough one wink

Being there for my mother and grandmother when they passed away was tough. Neither of my brothers were there. For me, living with that would be much tougher.

I walked just under 2 miles to school everyday when I lived in northern Illinois. We had some pretty vicious weather. My mom would only give me a ride if it was below zero F. Rain, snow, sleet, ice, that didn't matter a bit, below zero was the rule. My grandmother got up and left for work every morning before me, and she never accepted a ride. I watched her head out when it was -20 and knew I had no ground to stand on for complaining. When I moved to SoCal when I was 14 and told the kids out there about that they flat out didn't believe me, but where I lived, 0 was the rule for most us kids, and they all watched my grandmother walk by them too. She made it tough on all of us wink

I suppose that standing up and not agreeing to do or believe something stupid when it's the general consensus of your peers to do so requires mental toughness. I can think of several instances when I flat out refused to follow and the end result was the group involved followed me instead. Not because I was artful at convincing them I was right, but because I refused to follow and told them why. There have been many more times when they went ahead without me, but I've never regretted my decisions, even when my apprehensions or fears were not realized. I've also had quite a few opportunities to say "I told you so". When you're right, you're right, so you learn fast that saying "I told you so" doesn't do any good, so you don't. For example, several years ago a couple young men invited me to hike with them in the Hercules Glades Wilderness around late May. I told them no, told them why, invited them to do some boating or floating instead, but they had both just bought new gear and were intent on going. They did run into exactly what I had cautioned against. They were hot, miserable, tick and chigger bit, one had a bug crawl into his ear and had to go to the hospital to get it out, and sadly, his dog was snake bit and died out there. I suppose one could say that you have to be "Mentally tough" to not say "I told you so" when that happens laugh

I suppose too that I still shouldn't make a joke, the dog dying and all, so more to the point, both of those young men still go backpacking and have done many more trips in the years since. And it should be noted that this was a tough experience for them. They learned a lot from it, and I must give them credit for being tough enough to take the lesson and benefit from it.

I could go on but I'm sure you'll all agree that's enough of my examples laugh
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#155981 - 10/17/11 04:57 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: billstephenson]
ringtail Offline
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Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
Originally Posted By billstephenson
I suppose that standing up and not agreeing to do or believe something stupid when it's the general consensus of your peers to do so requires mental toughness.


Resisting peer pressure was and is hard for me. It takes courage to do what you think is right is some cases.

I hate public speaking, but I accepted a volunteer job that requires me to be live on local TV twice a month with daily reruns. I would rather have root canal than watch the reruns and try to get better.

I physically challenge myself, but that takes place during training and not the backcountry. The backcountry is much more enjoyable when you stay within your limits.

For those of us that are more comfortable in the backcountry than town it take more mental toughness to live our everyday life than to enjoy our hobby in the wilderness.
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#155982 - 10/17/11 05:19 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: ringtail]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
Quote:
I physically challenge myself, but that takes place during training and not the backcountry. The backcountry is much more enjoyable when you stay within your limits.

For those of us that are more comfortable in the backcountry than town it take more mental toughness to live our everyday life than to enjoy our hobby in the wilderness.


A large, resounding yes! to that Ringtail. Although, through training you also learn what your body can do if need be.

What makes a Man? Is it being prepared to do the right thing; no matter the cost? To quote "The Dude", "...mmmmm...sure, that and a pair of testicles." Ah, I watch too many Coen Brothers movies. What can I say, but from the start this thread made me think of that quote.

sK

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#155984 - 10/17/11 06:41 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: skcreidc]
balzaccom Online   content
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 2026
Loc: Napa, CA
Public speaking is one of the greatest fears for most people. I love it. Doesn't make me tough. My wife hates it. Doesn't make her weak.

And I will say that having true and sympathetic support can often make the difference between somebody who bails out and somebody who toughs it out. That's a part of what true teamwork is all about.

I have found over the years that if I tell my wife I really want her to do something, and that she really ought to be able to do it--she resents the attitude and pretty much bails.

If I tell her that it is pretty much up to her, and that we'll do just about as much as she feels comfortable doing...well, then she won't ever give up.

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#155986 - 10/17/11 07:08 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: balzaccom]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
There is a good book on the subject. "Deep Survival, Who Lives and Who Dies."

It has good reviews. I just got a copy for Kindle and I'm finding it interesting.

ADDED: I'm about a third of the way through the book. It's more about why experienced people do dumb things than mental toughness. It's a difficult read and probably not interesting to many. Some of the SAR people might be interested, but they have probably heard it in their training.


Edited by Gershon (10/18/11 07:59 AM)
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#155995 - 10/18/11 09:48 AM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Gershon]
Paulo Offline
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Registered: 01/27/11
Posts: 158
Loc: Normally Pacific Northwest
I think what Gershon's book says is important and it outlines something about "mental toughness". FOr me, it's all about will to live. Pretty much every survival guide/manual says that the psychology of survival is the most important thing.

John Wiseman calls it "Will to live" and rates it far more important than knowledge and kit (a

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#155998 - 10/18/11 11:53 AM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Paulo]
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
Paulo,

I heartily agree with your sentiments. We have had a great discussion about what constitutes mental toughness, and why it is important. Would anyone like to tell a story that illustrates the point?

Here's one from about 1993, Chilkoot Pass, Alaska. There is a 34 hike one-way from Dyea to Bennet Lake, British Columbia which follows the only overland trail between Seattle and the Klondike gold fields near Dawson City, Yukon. Peaking in 1898, one could take a steamer to the dock in Dyea up and over the Coast Range to Bennet, where people built boats and floated down the Yukon River to find fortune.

It was late August and all went well for a couple of days. At Sheep Camp at the base of the Golden Stairs it began to really rain for 30 hours straight. A lady the day before was packing up in her tent when a black bear unzipped the nylon with a claw and came in without knocking at 0900. She was shaken but unhurt. The Stairs were usually crossed in snow because the boulders vary from the size of refrigerators to cars. It was the first time serious knee arthritis showed up. Over the pass thru customs with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), and thinking about their requirement for 98ers to bring with them 1,000 pounds of food. Starvation was common in those days. The wind was gusting to 60 knots.

We reached a small hut past the pass, well above treeline which is only about 2,300 feet at that latitude. The hut, at 3,200 feet was full of wet people and smelled like Nepal- sweat, propane, white gas, wet wool, curry and had 100 percent humidity. Three guys with snores like Popeye, drove me outside in a tent. On Aug 31 the night was very windy with horizontal sleet. I committed a mortal sin and had allowed my down bag to get soaked, the only time in my career. (If you are going to wet country bring a pack cover, even in August). I spent a fitful night afraid to go to sleep for fear of not waking up. It was cold, windy, black and miserable. At first light, about 0400, my wife and I dejectedly trudged to lower elevations back into a beautiful forest of lodgepole pine with fuel to get warm. The trail in exteme northern BC was covered with animal tracks and few human tracks- wolf, bear, moose, and caribou. We sang in a loud voice to let them know we were coming.

We dragged ourselves and our heavy soaked packs about 8 miles and found an old cabin built by Parks Canada, a log affair with an iron stove and quickly built a fire after splitting some wood. We hung up our whole outfit in the rafters to dry, and made a hot meal. We were so low on calories, we cooked a whole other meal and consumed it with great relish. Then we had about three hours of sleep in the warm cabin.

Upon awakening we were clear-headed enough to reflect on the previous 24 hours. We had been the most tired, cold, and depressed of any time spent in the outdoors. Our normal limits had been greatly exceeded. The cabin had saved us from serious trouble, and changed our morale from a 1 to a 9 1/2 in about four hours. We learned later that several people on the trail had been evacuated by boat by Parks Canada. The narrow gauge train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad back to Skagway seemed like real luxury.


Edited by ppine (10/18/11 12:56 PM)

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#155999 - 10/18/11 11:57 AM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Paulo]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
The first third of the book is about doing things to not survive rather than to survive and what leads us to make poor decisions. For those willing to wade through diffcult reading, it's really quite good.

The kind of toughness that has been talked about so far is giving everything you have without complaint. It's the unwise pursuit of this type of toughness that may lead to accidents. It's one thing for a person on a SAR mission to go 20 miles through the snow at night to rescue someone. It may be quite another for the same person to do it when it's not necessary.

Another kind of toughness is deciding not to do something that is pressing personal or nature's limits.

Accidents are really pretty rare compared to the number of people out there. I've never witnessed one on the trail. However, I know poor decisions can lead to bad discomfort or worse, so I tend to fail safe a lot. Because of the relative rarity of accidents, many press on into situations that will cause a problem for someone that does what they did.

One reason I like to backpack solo is there is nobody else to involve me in what I may consider to be a bad decision for me even if they are able to safely do something.

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#156000 - 10/18/11 12:01 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Gershon]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Ppine,

You were posting while I was typing, so I'll illustrate one for being a mentally tough chicken.

When I was in Boy Scouts, each year we had a Klondike Derby. We made a dog sled and then dragged it around some trails. I was with a group that decided to cross the ice on a pond. It didn't look like a good idea to me, so I refused. I got the usual comments from the other kids.

Well, when they got in the middle of the pond, you could hear the rifle shots of the ice cracking. Fortunately it didn't break, but it could have. There weren't anymore comments about being a chicken after they got off the pond.

What was their motivation? To avoid some fatigue from pulling the sled around the pond on the trail.


Edited by Gershon (10/18/11 12:02 PM)
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#156001 - 10/18/11 12:14 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Gershon]
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
Gershon,

We are moving on to an equally important topic- judgement. Maybe most people backpack in the summer, and haven't had a lot of experience with emergencies, really bad weather, etc.

We have all had experiences with people who want to push everyone. I liked your story about crossing the pond. Do not be persuaded by anyone's bad judgement. If you are going to cross a pond, at least carry a long sapling just in case.

My favorite is the old Voayager line- No one ever died on a portage (carry around). Boating rivers is a complex form of negotiation everytime there is a major rapid. I have said let me out here please, more than a few times. The issue is not toughness, but common sense which improves with experience.

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#156004 - 10/18/11 12:53 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Gershon]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By Gershon
The first third of the book is about doing things to not survive rather than to survive and what leads us to make poor decisions. For those willing to wade through diffcult reading, it's really quite good.

The kind of toughness that has been talked about so far is giving everything you have without complaint. It's the unwise pursuit of this type of toughness that may lead to accidents. It's one thing for a person on a SAR mission to go 20 miles through the snow at night to rescue someone. It may be quite another for the same person to do it when it's not necessary.

Another kind of toughness is deciding not to do something that is pressing personal or nature's limits.



Mental toughness isn't anything covered in Deep Survival - what they talk about is the predisposition of people to react in certain ways in survival situations. The thing that makes the most difference between survival and death in the sorts of situations in the book is not toughness, but the ability to accept the situation for what it is and not panic and start to make the poor decisions that lead to being more lost, more hypothermic, more dehydrated and more at risk.

As a mental health practitioner and SAR volunteer I did find Deep Survival interesting, but the psychology of survival is more about how lost people behave - and one is not always lost when in survival situations. We have mental maps, a set of beliefs informed by myths, half truths and our own experiences, and a mindset that's determined by all of that. Survival skills training can offset some of it, so can research and gear testing, but in the end we sometimes make assumptions that lead to more mistakes and more assumptions, bad choices, and eventually we are left with open cases years later, like the hunter who vanished in a forest he knew well with only his guns, some bullets, and the clothes on his back. Massive efforts to locate any trace of him have failed despite knowing exactly where he left his truck full of camping gear and food.

Mental toughness is the sort of thing that leads to going backpacking again after learning from disastrous attempts, or continuing to rebuild oneself to physical fitness after devastating illness. It can play a part in survival but it's more the panic/not panic factor plus education that can help you out when you're lost. One of the things that Deep Survival won't tell you is that children have a higher survivability rate than adults - children who are lost in the wilderness stop to rest, drink when thirsty, and depending on age, are more likely to just stay put than adults are. So they are usually found unhurt and alive.
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#156005 - 10/18/11 01:21 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Gershon]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
My intro to SAR, back when I was in college, involved some Boy Scouts who were not quite so fortunate. They attempted to climb Mt Wrightson (9400 ft (just south of Tucson, AZ) in the face of an epic mid-November storm that left six inches of snow in Tucson (2500 ft).

Their disappearance triggered an epic, and inept, search effort that involved untrained volunteers, and eventually boots on the ground from Fort Huachuca. We had lots of occasions to display "mental toughness" or something similar. To this day I remember getting an absolutely fire kindled, and then thawing my companion's frost-nipped toes on my tummy as we slept fitfully.

The sister of one of the survivors, Cathy Hufault, wrote "Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy" which details the whole sad story. Even as a participant, I learned things from that book that I had not known. The one positive outcome was the development of competent volunteers who today provide capable assistance to those in trouble.

The vast majority of victims that I have dealt with were inexperienced in the environment in which they were struggling. Without knowledge and decent information, how can anyone make good decisions?

Ppine, you will be interested to know that riders from the Pinal County Horse Posse were heavily involved. Years later, our group was involved in a search for one of the major participants, then in his 90s, after he had strayed from his assisted living facility.

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#156007 - 10/18/11 01:47 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: finallyME]
Steadman Offline
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Registered: 09/17/09
Posts: 513
Loc: Virginia
I can watch needles go into you all day long. It's needles into me that I mind... sick

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#156008 - 10/18/11 01:48 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: oldranger]
balzaccom Online   content
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 2026
Loc: Napa, CA
I think it always harder to grant someone the "mental toughness" description when they tell the story about themselves. It's a lot easier when someone else, an independent observer, tells the story.

PPine--if you were REALLY mentally tough, you would have fought through the snoring! grin.
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check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#156011 - 10/18/11 03:32 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Steadman]
Gershon Offline
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Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Lori,

Nice summary of the book.

It's not surprising we can't agree on a definition. I looked for books on Amazon. On says it's aggressiveness, one says it isn't.

Interesting topic.
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#156012 - 10/18/11 03:55 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: balzaccom]
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
balzaccom,

We are exploring an important topic here. I have invited people to tell some personal stories twice to no avail, so I decided to get the ball rolling by leading with an example. This is not a contest. Please tell us one of your stories.

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#156014 - 10/18/11 04:09 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: ppine]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Well, this goes along with the book. When I was in AF survival school, we had a 2 week unsupported trek with not enough food. I lost 21 pounds. Tom W. was tough. He never once complained the whole time.

On the other hand, Tom T. complained a lot. Rather than keep his down bag dry the first day, he slept out in the rain with it. So he was cold for a lot of days. (Nights were spent bushwacking and trying to find our way to the next checkpoint.)

Still, I sat next to Tom T. in jump school on our first jump. He fell asleep on the way to the drop zone and did on each of the 4 jumps after that. He never comnplained during any of the training.

As a teacher of mine once said, "Who does the tough things? The ones who can." I'm still trying to figure out if toughness can be developed.

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#156021 - 10/18/11 05:37 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: ppine]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3917
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By ppine
balzaccom,

We are exploring an important topic here. I have invited people to tell some personal stories twice to no avail, so I decided to get the ball rolling by leading with an example. This is not a contest. Please tell us one of your stories.


I don't really have one when it comes to outdoor adventures. I've never been in a terrible situation. I've always chosen to go out in nice weather, or prepared to go in inclement weather. Knocking in wood, I, or no one with me, have ever been seriously ill or injured while hiking or backpacking (more than a few I've camped with have hurt themselves pretty bad with liquor).

Lori, I really liked your last post. I've never read the book in question, but your summary and observations are well thought out and help illuminate the complexity of the subject.

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#156022 - 10/18/11 05:47 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: billstephenson]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I think when it comes to this topic, we are like the blind men feeling different parts of the elephant. It would probably help if we defined exactly what we are talking about.

Basically we seem to be discussing how some people respond well, or well enough, to adversity which challenges them both mentally and physically.

I'll bet that we would all agree, that, in a bad situation, the ability of the mind to analyze, form a strategy, and persevere, is more significant than physical prowess.

Interesting discussion....

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#156024 - 10/18/11 06:01 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: Gershon]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By Gershon
Lori,

Nice summary of the book.

It's not surprising we can't agree on a definition. I looked for books on Amazon. On says it's aggressiveness, one says it isn't.

Interesting topic.


I don't recall aggressiveness being mentioned in the book.

Most of the people were just tenacious in a matter of fact sort of way. Not aggressive - just keep on walking out of the wilderness, as your clothes tear, your skin burns, bugs bore into your legs, and your shoes fall apart. Drink and eat things you find. Keep walking on blistered feet. (The lady who survived the plane crash really impressed me a lot hiking out in what was left of her dress without any real supplies.)

There have been many other stories I've read and heard that are similar - watch Touching the Void for a great example of just get-down-to-it dedication to the goal. Joe faltered, hallucinated, stumbled, passed out, but he just kept getting back up again, and again, to creep down the glacier one stiff broken leg drag at a time, dehydrated as all get out and suffering frostbite. Mental toughness maybe - not sure if it meets anyone's definition of that. A lot of the time he really wasn't in his right mind. But he accepted the situation right down to acknowledging that Simon and the other guy were very likely gone already, and he would be stranded and starving to death at the empty base camp - something in him just kept him stumbling along.

Not everyone could survive being left for dead in the ice at 15,000 feet with a broken leg - pretty much a miracle for Joe, despite his determination.
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#156028 - 10/18/11 07:07 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: lori]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Lori,

Aggressiveness was a definition of toughness in some other book summaries I read. I was looking for an accepted definition.

In chapter 9, it did mention kids below 7 have the highest survival rate. And from 8 to 12 have the lowest.

Thanks for the tip on the movie. I can watch it on Netflix.

Here is the definition according to Merriam-Webster. I kind of like the first one the best.

1. a: strong or firm in texture but flexible and not brittle b: not easily chewed <tough meat>

2. glutinous, sticky

3: characterized by severity or uncompromising determination <tough laws> <tough discipline>

4: capable of enduring strain, hardship, or severe labor <tough soldiers>

5: very hard to influence : stubborn <a tough negotiator>

6: difficult to accomplish, resolve, endure, or deal with <a tough question> <tough luck>

7: stubbornly fought <a tough contest>

8: unruly, rowdyish <a tough gang>

9: marked by absence of softness or sentimentality <a tough critic>
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#156031 - 10/18/11 07:50 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: billstephenson]
lori Offline
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Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Complex, and confusing when people have varying understanding of the terms thrown around.

Mental toughness seems to me to be a mindset you develop - resolve, tenacity, determination, rationality in the face of pain, or fear of the unknown. Or maybe a response to potentially traumatic experiences that only builds your stubborn, no nonsense stance rather than resulting in a wilting retreat into negativity, panic or despair.

In any case, telling stories about myself has resulted in accusations of grandstanding, so I find it less than desirable to do so in any forum. People who know me know that I'm nothing unusual in my peer group. My clients are the toughest people I have ever met and they do not hike.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

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#156036 - 10/18/11 11:00 PM Re: Mental toughness [Re: lori]
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
Lori,

A nice piece of writing that captures my original intent. I am new to this group. Do others really feel that telling a story about personal experience to illustrate a point is grandstanding?

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