Building Mental ToughnessSally Tamarkin on Mental Toughness

Sally Tamarkin is an associate editor for the health and fitness website Greatist. On her bio she describes herself as "a runner, nut butter enthusiast, and lover of early mornings." Oh did we mention she`s a super tough CrossFit enthusiast? Sally has a keen interest in the psychological side of fitness and how to make the mind as tough as nails. We got the chance to interview her and learn more about her perspective on mental toughness. In one of her recent articles, she describes mental toughness as “the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.” In other words even when you`re physically pooped, you force yourself to keep going. In our interview she touches on mental toughness, offers sage advice on how to get motivated to exercise, and leave her two cents on crossfit training.

From everyone you've interviewed and from your own experience, is mental toughness learned or innate? 

"I think mental toughness can be both learned or naturally instilled. Some people are hard-wired to be interested in testing their limits... The feeling is similar to riding a roller-coaster or watching a horror movie [if you are into those kinds of things]."

It isn`t about being extremely physically fit, but having great mental strength. Samatha Gash, the only woman and the youngest person ever to complete the Four Deserts Grand Slam, explains how its not necessarily what meets the eye when it comes to mental toughness. She talks about how there were people who looked super fit and had top notch gear and others who didn`t look like fitness savages or have the same level of equipment. Those who persevered weren't necessarily those who arrived geared up and chiseled, but those who had a "strong why" in their head about why they were destined to finish the race — to the extent that they actually did. The moral of the story is you can be physically fit as hell, but if you are not mentally tough your wheels can easily fall off.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to maintain consistency in their exercise schedule?

The first pointer Sally offers is to "make structural improvements! Determine how and when you can squeeze in a workout. Make small advances such as laying out your running clothes the night before, exercising during your lunch break, or finding a friend to exercise with after work."

She also recommends that everyone discover: "What is your why? Its important to determine why you want to increase your daily activity. Feeling obligated or feeling ashamed about your body are not good reasons. Progress is made by being excited about feeling your body operate better, loving the 'me time' you get during your workout, or the joy of feeling like a fit person," says Sally.

>What advice do you have for people who are trying to break out of the mold of sedentariness?

Sally recalls that she was farily senditary until her 20s and started with a 20 minute walk.  She kept it up until she wasn't out of breath and started feeling like her body was missing something if she didn't go walking.  Then she slowly picked up the pace until the walk turned into a run.

"I started with a calender and it worked, granted some people feel like that is a straight jacket. The fact is people have to do a lot of little experiments to find their sweet spot."

Is CrossFit hazardous our helpful?

Sally mentioned how CrossFit bands people together but is like anything else, depending on the type of instruction you have, you can train correctly or incorrectly. In the end, its all about your individual experience and each person must determine what feels right for them. However, it is always important to seek out the best instruction possible.

Here is a helpful guide that Sally wrote on choosing the best personal trainer for you.