The topic of Mental Strength is a difficult one to express. This topic involves a lot of my own personal philosophy.
Lets start again with our definition:
"Mental Strength: Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure." (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, p. 209)."
Deeply entwined with "strength" is:
"Resilience: The physical property of a material that can return to its original shape or position."(1)
Strength is the backbone, when it gets bent out of shape resilience allows the backbone to return to a healthy position.
From my experience mental strength is measured by how well a person deals with a difficult situation. I think most people can agree with this.
Mental strength has two components to it: the physical health of the brain and the strength of the mind.
Proper nutrition is a requirement for a healthy mind and body. The brain is a very complex and sensitive organ. There are many common nutrient deficiencies that affect the brain, here are a few:
Deficiency Effects: Depression and irreversible nerve damage.
Found In: Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs.
Deficiency Effects: Insomnia, Nervousness, Mood Disorders.
Found In: Synthesized in the body from sunlight, also found in egg yolks, fatty fish, and butter.
Deficiency Effects: Paranoia, Hostility, Irritability, Memory Loss.
Found In: green leafy vegetables, brewer's yeast, liver
Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD) is linked to excessive carbohydrate intake.(2)
Sleep: Poor sleep is linked to many mental disorders: Schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD; to name a few. The lack of sleep has many of the same effects as aging. This is the single best thing you can do for your body and mind. SLEEP!(4,5,6)
Elements of a Strong Mind:
Challenge: Like with muscles you have to challenge your mind to build both strength and endurance. Any physical challenge is going to have a mental component. You also need to mentally challenge yourself, learning something new or traveling are great ways to create new challenges for the mind.
Try some mind-over-matter exercises. Try and go 24 hours without food. Spend a day, dawn till dusk, in the outdoors with no electronics and no contact with other people. Both of these are great habit breakers.
Goals: Having meaningful goals is like having a finish line. When there is a finish line, there is competition, if only with yourself. Having something to strive for will give you the drive to endure and push yourself. With purpose will come confidence in your actions.
A goal is never absolute. You set one, accomplish it, and create another.
Focus: You must have focus. Focus is hugely lacking in society today. Everyone is always going on about "multitasking", but working with focus, on one thing at a time, will give you a better outcome. It will also train you to maintain focus in everyday life.
One way to develop a strong ability to focus is to start meditating. Not necessarily in the traditional sense of sitting meditation. Create time for silence. This will give you time to work through all the thoughts running through your head and clear your mind.
If you have a challenge to overcome, the right goal and focus will help you get through it.
Visualization: Studies have shown that you can increase strength and muscle mass by visualizing work-outs.
Visualization is the practice of imagining the desired outcome of an event. The mind cannot distinguish between what you do and what you vividly imagine. Imagining yourself dong something creates the same neural response as actually doing it. Thus reinforcing the behavior. This is commonly used by athletes. So imagining solutions or pre-running through upcoming, difficult, situations will reduce the stress involved and create a successful pathway through the mind.