3 Lessons About Mental Toughness You Can Learn From Yoda

You might never use the Force, but you can learn a couple of tricks from the little green Jedi.
3 Lessons About Mental Toughness You Can Learn From Yoda
Image credit: Lucasfilm
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Yoda, Jedi Master and hand puppet, once said, “Do or do not -- there is no try.”

Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not (although I’m not sure how you can call yourself an American and NOT be a Star Wars fan), there is a profound degree of wisdom conveyed in the pithy quote above.

Let me set the scene if you need a refresher on the quote, which occurred in The Empire Strikes Back.

Luke Skywalker is stranded on the marshy planet of Dagobah, home of Yoda. The Jedi Master wants Luke to levitate a submerged, multi-ton spacecraft out of the swamp where Luke crash landed. The young Jedi half-heartedly says he'll try, which elicits the space leprechaun’s quoted critique of Luke’s mental toughness.

Bringing it back to our real world for a minute, all of us face challenges, obstacles or setbacks that seem insurmountable at times. While there are many traits that can help during those difficult situations, the one essential trait is mental toughness.  

Fortunately, the ability to endure and persevere through overwhelming circumstances is a critical skill that anyone can start developing today by using three common-sense tips.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

1. Decide what you WON’T think

There’s an ancient proverb (not from Yoda) that states, “As you think, so you are.” Many self-help gurus spin that into the power of positive thinking and proactive optimism.

That’s all good, but it’s equally important -- and usually easier -- to identify negative thought patterns you’ve had in the past and then choose not to engage in those again.

For instance, if you’re prone to thinking the worst outcome will occur, choose to take a wait-and-see approach instead. If you think you’re the only one who can save a project and that thinking causes you undue stress, decide to delegate to others. If you think a team member is trying to sabotage you, have a conversation to clear the air.

You dictate your thought life, so be mindful about avoiding negative thoughts that undermine your mental toughness.

Related: Inspiring Quotes to Help You Get Through Your Work Day

2. Build mental momentum

Mental toughness can wane when you’re stuck in a rut. The best way to break that inertial immobility is to achieve a small win for yourself and then build on it.

It can be anything. Commit to call a new client, pay a bill, meet a colleague for lunch, clear out your email inbox -- just do something.

Write down what you decide to do, then check it off once it's accomplished and repeat the process to build momentum.

This is a doable way to build a series of concrete successes that can advance you through adversity when everything seems to be falling apart. Intentionally making success a habit can empower you to focus beyond the current situation, build confidence in your ability and develop mental toughness.

Never underestimate the power of mental momentum!

Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People 

3. Channel your role model

Lastly, pick someone that you believe embodies mental toughness -- it could be an inspiring relative or neighbor who survived cancer, resurgent tennis star Serena Williams, maverick Tesla CEO Elon Musk or former POW-turned-senator John McCain.

Then, learn about your respective role model so you understand the thinking, anchoring beliefs, motivations and perceptions that make them who they are. Strive to gain as much insight into their psyche as you can and then mimic it within your own life every chance you get. Understanding how others successfully navigated through adversity can equip you with similar skills -- and that’s not Bantha fodder (that's a Star Wars joke, for the uninitiated).

We ask our kids what they want to be when they grow up all the time, and many of them go on to become what they dreamed about. Why can’t adults do the same thing and aspire toward someone with demonstrable mental toughness?

While you’ll probably never need the mental toughness required to destroy a planet-sized space station, these three actionable steps can help you overcome the everyday challenges you’re facing on this planet.

And that’s not a Jedi mind trick.