4 Elements of How Mentally Tough People Think

Passionate action is most useful when it follows dispassionate analysis.

learn more about Andrew D. Wittman

By Andrew D. Wittman

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Have you ever thought about how you think? Most people don't realize that there's an actual process by which they think their thoughts. Mentally tough people, those who can withstand huge amounts of stress and act with focus under pressure, take a deliberate approach to how they process every thought throughout the day. It's similar to how a professional golfer approaches their swing.

If you've ever played golf yourself, then you know that there's a process for every stroke that includes factors related to grip, stance, body position and the mechanics of the swing. If you'd like to become a member of the mentally tough and I hope you do as it will serve you well in business, start to apply this golf-swing-like process to your decision making.

The Golf Swing of Thinking is the four-step process through which to run every thought. I call it thinking like CRAP: Clarity -- Relevance -- Accuracy -- Precision. Funny yes, but most importantly it's memorable. Here's how to do it.

1. Clarity.

This is the first step. Most of us have a difficult time communicating clearly, but that is a symptom of not thinking clearly. Most tell others what they don't want, but have an extremely difficult time saying what it is they do want. We come by it honestly. Our parents raised us that way. "Look both ways when you cross the street."


"So you don't get hit."

Related: Five Ways To Develop Your Mental Toughness For Startup Success

But is not getting hit the target or is crossing the road the real target? The way the brain works is this, if you say "don't," the brain chops off the "don't" and whatever is left becomes the new target. Don't think of a pink elephant with purple floppy ears. Stop it.

For a golfer, "Don't hit it into the water obstacle!"

Where's the ball going? Ga-Bluuush! Exactly!

Don't hit it into the sand trap. Don't spill your milk. Don't screw this up. Don't fumble the ball. Don't let this fall through the cracks. Don't lose that million-dollar account. Unconsciously, these all become the new target.

So the first step to becoming a mentally tough thinker is to clearly define what it is you DO want. When faced with any decision, ask yourself, what is the outcome that I really want?

2. Relevance.

To achieve a clearly defined target, we must filter everything by asking, "Is this relevant?"

For the golfer, is the sand trap, the water obstacle or the trees relevant? What's the target? The hole. The sand trap is not relevant to the target.

Let's take it to the office. Have you ever been in a meeting that got off target and ended up in a sand trap for two hours? Hours of your life you can never get back? Without a clearly defined target of what we do want, we have a difficult time identifying the sand traps of thinking.

Related: Why Every Leader Needs Mental Toughness

Focus only on what is relevant by asking, "Is this a sand trap? Does this help me or hurt me in hitting my target?"

3. Accuracy.

Once we have clearly defined our target and have identified the sand traps, we must drill down further. To be accurate in our thinking and our communication we must separate facts from truth.

Facts and truth are two completely different entities. Facts are something that have actual existence. A fact is merely information, neutral, independent and objective. As a former cop, I was always in search of the facts. If and when a case went to court, facts were entered into evidence, but the witnesses would swear to tell the truth. Which one is more reliable? Evidence or eye witness? We know, for a fact, that eye witnesses are unreliable at best. "Truth" is our internal perception of the facts and circumstances that make up the experiences of life.

In order to help you make an important decision, ask yourself: "Is this aspect a truth or is it a fact?"

4. Precision.

Once we move things into the fact column from the truth column, we ask, "Can this fact be more exact?" Be precise and specific. A common occurrence at work is when the boss drops one more thing on your plate and says, "I need this ASAP."

Is "ASAP" a fact or a truth? "ASAP" is a truth, it means different things to different people.

"Boss, when do you need this?"

"I need it by Wednesday, this week."

Truth has now been moved into the fact column, and now ask, "Can this fact be more exact?" Yes, it can. Wednesday is a big block of time.

"Boss, what time, on Wednesday, do you need this?"

"By 12 noon Eastern time."

With daily practice, thinking like CRAP becomes natural and fluid and orders your thoughts, emotions and attitudes, and that is the sweet spot of mental toughness.

Related: 15 Habits of Mentally Tough People

Taking a golf swing approach to thinking pushes the process through your conscious mind, helping you make more informed decisions that will lead to greater levels of success. The skill still takes focused effort but soon, with training and commitment, the swing is done "by feel".

Andrew D. Wittman

Personal and Executive Leadership Advisor

Andrew D. Wittman, PhD, is a United States Marine Corps infantry combat veteran, a former police officer and federal agent. As a Special Agent for the U.S. Capitol Police, Wittman led the security detail for Nancy Pelosi and has personally protected Hillary Clinton, Tom Delay, Trent Lott, King Abdullah of Jordan, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Sir Elton John, as well as Fortune 20 CEOs. As a security contractor for the State Department, he taught high-threat diplomatic security to former Navy SEALS, Marines, Rangers, and Special Forces.

Wittman is founder of the Mental Toughness Training Center, a leadership consultancy specializing in peak performance, team dynamics, resolving conflict in the workplace and is the author of the new book, Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You (2016). He holds a Ph.D. in Theological Studies, is a guest lecturer at Clemson University and co-hosts the radio call-in show “Get Warrior Tough.”

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