Today, I will distinguish between willpower and toughness: Willpower is a strength I exercise relentlessly. The importance of discipline is not open for debate, and I do not believe in willpower fatigue because that limits my strength. Mental toughness, on the other hand, is a strength I exercise with caution. (For the sake of getting my point across, I define mental toughness here as “pushing the body to the extreme,” thus neglecting mental toughness both as a general attitude and as cognitive endurance.)
For example, I use my willpower go to the gym and stick to my training plan without exception: I never take a day off, I never miss a workout, I never skip leg day. That is discipline. Mental toughness, however, signifies how hard I go at the gym: Do I give 100%? Do I deadlift every set to the verge of blacking out? Do I row every set to total muscle failure? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. That is the caution I have with mental toughness.
The same applies to training. I use my willpower to never skip BJJ training, but do I always use my mental toughness to keep on rolling after class or to burn up my remaining energy at the heavy bag? No, because I exercise mental toughness with caution.
The same applies to the cold. I use my willpower to take a cold shower every day and to practice winter swimming, but do I always run around outside in shirts and shorts in the deep of winter? No, because I exercise mental toughness with caution.
See, I systematically destroy myself, but I do not kill myself. I challenge my immune system, but I do not break it. I understand that mental toughness is a turbocharger for my body:—to be used with caution.
I incessantly ask myself, “Right now, do I want to toughen my mind or my body?”
A hard 45-minute full-body workout strengthens my body. If I regularly double the time and volume, I will exercise my mental toughness, but at the cost of bodily strength (overtraining).
An intense BJJ class strengthens my body. If I regularly cut into my sleep, recovery, and last energy reserves to keep rolling after class, I will exercise my mental toughness, but at the cost of bodily strength (overexhaustion).
A cold shock response strengthens my body. If I regularly freeze for extended periods, I will exercise my mental toughness, but at the cost of bodily strength (hypothermia).
I use willpower in excess, but mental toughness in moderation. For in daily life, mental toughness leads to sickness, injury, and mutilation. However, in systematic practice, mental toughness leads to improvement; and in special events, mental toughness leads to victory.
Knowing when to exert mental toughness is a matter of body intelligence and of having your will and goals in line. To know when to stay mentally tough and when to push your body to the limit, know your True Will.