Ok, so up until this point I have spent most of my writing time waxing poetic on my life or theorizing about the philosophies I hold dear. When people ask me how I made such drastic changes in my life I always try to provide a tangible tool for them. So far in my writing I haven’t quite found a way to do this without it coming across as a bit contrived. I am just struggling to tie tools into theories in a single blog post and for that reason I am going to attempt to provide separate posts that are more tangible than philosophical. These tools could be something as simple as a quote or mantra but normally it will be a book to read, app to utilize; it could even be another person or program to follow. I try as hard as I can when someone asks me for advice to just give the motivational stuff because often after you walk away from the conversation it wears off. I know for myself it would have been so much easier if there was someone along the way to help with the first steps or a “tool” I could pull off the shelf to help on my journey to mental toughness. So here I am doing what they say to do in writing or entrepreneurship, help people with what you wish you had help with.
I do want to preface all of this with the fact that there is no one size fits all path to mental toughness. Where I needed cold showers and outdoor workouts in – 50 degree weather others may need meditation and silence. It is all understanding ourselves, what we need and how to get to where we can not only manage but thrive in the ups and downs of our incredible and crazy world. So some of these tools may not always resonate with you and that is ok. I believe I have cultivated a well-rounded opinion of what true mental toughness is and will do my best to provide a breadth of tools not just variations of a hammer if you know what I mean.
So long winded interlude aside let us get to the books (well only 3 of them for now) that redefined what I understood mental toughness to be and helped me the most on my journey.
1. Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins
I don’t believe any list pertaining to any form of toughness would be complete if they don’t reference David Goggins. Even if this was only auto-biographical in nature it would be full of incredibly eye opening stories that can easily be interpreted into dramatic life altering lessons. But having a book that is written almost as a story book with a built in lesson plan I cannot imagine a better tool for providing both the framework and inspiration to start your journey to becoming more mentally tough. I will not spoil the book but it reads like a novel as some of the stories are almost too insane to believe. Goggins wraps it all up with some subtle but interesting tweaks he made after many of these experiences and shows a side of himself we do not get to see on social media and in the public eye. He is truly one of the most (if not) mentally tough humans to ever walk the earth and that is only exemplified in his ability to share some of the stories that do not paint him in the best light. His ability to show real vulnerability and not just host a pity/macho party is incredible.
As a note I do not listen to a ton of audio books but would highly recommend listening to this instead of reading it. Adam Skolnick who is Goggins ghostwriter actually narrates the book and him and Goggins discuss and dive into each story and lesson at the end of each chapter. It provides so much extra value listening to them dissect each piece that you just wouldn’t get out of reading the book. This audio book actually drug me through an incredibly difficult 4x4x48 challenge where my whole left quad locked up. I wouldn’t have completed it if I wasn’t listening to this through the first night. Now I know most people would much rather hear the author narrate the book and I would normally firmly fall into that camp this format was incredible and if it helps Adam may not be on Goggins level but he literally swims with great white sharks regularly with not a care in the world.
2. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
This book is easily the hardest book I have ever read. It also may be the most important for understanding the nature of people and how to look at yourself. It is not hard to read for the way it is written. I could barely put it down to be honest. It is hard to read because it stares at one of the hardest moments in human history through the eyes of one of the only men to come through it with his soul intact. It is hard to read because it bores into your soul like nothing else. If a man that experienced first-hand the horror of internment camps and somehow come out with his morals intact, why can we not make the drive to work with ours? All that being said the book is written with a softness that shows Viktor’s true wisdom and understanding of the human condition.
Frankl is an accomplished psychologist and through WWII he forms his trademark theory “logotherapy” which posits that true happiness and peace comes from finding meaning and purpose. In his storytelling he helps you understand just how to find that meaning in everything you are doing. I often found myself crying while reading this book, unable to manage the emotions it dragged out of me as it firmly puts the mirror in front of you and shows you that the only thing in our life we truly have control of is what is between our ears and in our heart. If we maintain that we maintain who we are and that is what is truly important in being the best versions of ourselves.
3. Atomic Habits – James Clear
Now I know at first glance most people wouldn’t lump this book into a mental toughness category. Lightly maybe it could fall into mental health but full stop it is a personal development book. But as you start to dive into mental toughness you understand very quickly that discipline is one of the main keys to maintaining and increasing your mental toughness. As Jocko Willink says Discipline Equals Freedom. And no one does a better job in the world of breaking down how to set the habits that truly are the precursor to discipline. In one of James more famous quotes he states “you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”. Without habits and the ability to stop or start them there would be no discipline and if you are starting this journey as a middle aged, slightly soft father like I did you need systems to get you there as none of this is easy (nor should it be) and it does not come naturally.
Simply put this is the book that absolutely changed my life. I had a lot of pride to swallow as a washed up athlete. I was the guy that “didn’t have time” or “wasn’t as bad as that other guy” and I was lying to myself. I read this book just before Christmas, forgot about it while I over indulged and realized around March that I needed to get my shit together or I would be living in it forever. I went back to Atomic Habits, started with 5 push-ups and 5 sit-ups a day to start. We are almost 3 years in and I just signed up for my first 100km race. When you make things small enough to start almost anything is possible with a little effort. Trust me on this book as I have read most books on habits at this point and nothing compares in providing tangible, actionable things you can start this instant.
I have so many more books that have made an indelible mark on me and have been instrumental to my mental toughness journey and over time I will try to break down books individually as I believe they are the most important tool man has ever created. There is no other avenue to learn from mistakes without making them in a more straight forward but well-rounded way than reading a book. I know personally books allow me to receive feedback I need to hear much easier as they don’t fight back and each time you read them depending on your situation there is something new to be garnered from them.
So there it is. These are my top 3 books to start your mental toughness journey, or maybe you just need to reignite it. Either way there is nothing better than paper to start a fire in reality and when we speak figuratively. Just remember that books can eventually become procrastination. The point is to read and then act on what you have read. Knowledge is never power unless applied. Good luck and I hope this helps. Let me know which book resonates with you!
* While I chose these books based on their merit and how they have helped me I may earn affiliate commissions from links on this page. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.