Four Pillars of Mental Toughness

By Drew Holcomb

Navy Seal training is considered some of the toughest military training in the world. With such high dropout rates, the Navy decided to find out what makes a successful candidate. What neurologists found is that it’s not always those who are physically strong, but more importantly those who are also mentally strong as well. To improve the candidate’s success, neurologists created the “Four Pillars of Mental Toughness.” Not only do these principles apply to Navy Seals, but they have also been proven to work for musicians, professional athletes, and successful entrepreneurs.

  1. Setting Goals: For Seal candidates, short-term goal setting allowed students to conquer everything handed to them. Instead of focusing on the larger picture of everything that had to be done that day or that week, they focused on one task at a time. As a result, they didn’t have time to worry about what else is to come. Is an essence, they were able to turn off part of their brain that allows you to worry and quit. For musicians, this principle can be applied to learning a new piece and tackling it head on in pieces rather than look at the daunting task of completing it all at once.
  2. Mental Visualization: Seals, professional athletes and musicians alike all use mental visualization. By visualizing a scenario, you are essentially practicing it. Some even say this is just as important as doing the real thing. For some musicians, performance anxiety is an issue. To overcome this fear, many envision the whole performance and run it through their brain over and over again. You might envision your hands plucking the notes, performing in front of a crowd or even making a few mistakes and completing the performance anyway. The goal behind this is to visualize each scenario and prepare for it accordingly so that when you do the real thing it is not the first time you are doing it.
  3. Positive Self-Talk: Studies show that people talk to themselves on average of 800-1600 words per minute. Depending on your mood, your self-talk can also affect your performance for the day. By staying positive, you will be able to make it through any hardship. For a musician, you may be stumped on a piece and unable to make any forward progress. It’s easy to get down on yourself, but remember back to a time that you had overcome a similar obstacle and how you overcame it. Nothing is impossible and someone else has done it before.
  4. Arousal Control: Controlling your mental state is easier said than done. However, the successful Seals that make it through training attribute a lot of this to breathing exercises they call the 4×4, where they inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds as well. By doing this, you essentially mimic your heart rate at its resting state. It is a great technique at calming you down when your senses are heightened. For musicians, this technique can be applied before a performance. By using this arousal control technique, you can diminish the natural adrenaline jitters of performing, allowing you to stay calm and perform with less tension and anxiety.
Catoctin School of Music
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