The power of the mind (June 3, 2015)
Mental toughness is a great leadership trait. It allows the leader to think clear and make good decisions. I recently ran into an article in Backpacker magazine that reinforced some of the leadership training that I learned early on in my life and it applies real well in Scouting and out-door adventures.
Mental toughness is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced as a result the leader will be able to be a more effective leader.
First the leader needs to Set better Goals. Again, we turn to the SMART Goal method and make sure that our Goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. With those goals in mind as we prepare to lead a task or move our Crew from A to B we need to think about those contingency plans and risk management that go along with our goal. Clear goal setting is the map that leaders use to guide those they lead.
Second the leader must Monitor his self-talk. Are your thoughts Purposeful, Productive, and giving yourself a chance for success. Self-talk needs to remain positive. It has been found that when the leader doubts himself or has a negative internal talk he will see those thoughts through. On the other hand a confident leader with a positive internal monologue will set his mind in motion for positive outcomes.
Third the leader needs to Control the Controllables. That is to say that you must wrap your arms around that which you can control and not worry about that which you cannot. You will never be able to control the weather for example. You can plan for it, prepare for it, but you cannot control it. You can control the skills and shape the conditions for your desired outcome. Stay focused on the things that you have control over. The number one thing that you control is your attitude and your ability. Having a positive attitude and the right skills are leadership traits that will give you more control over those that you lead. Do not misunderstand the use of control here. We are discussing the idea of control of situations, skills, and attitude. Not dictatorship style controlling of people.
And finally, the fourth thing to build mental toughness is Catastrophic Thinking. This goes along with the self-talk, but takes it a step further. Keep your mind from falling into the pit of worst case scenario thinking. Worrying about what can happen does not matter. Keeping it from happening using sound judgement and thinking about the risk and managing that risk is far more important than worrying about the worst cases.
I have seen leaders that get caught up in this trap and once they start with the “We will never make it” scenarios they adopt the idea that it is true. This attitude is contagious and will spread. This is critical when backpacking. The blame game starts to surface and one bad decision will lead to another.
Mental toughness is that attitude that “I am a leader and I will be successful”. It comes with confidence, practice, and when the leader realizes that the power of the mind is often greater than the power of the body.
The Scout Oath says to be mentally awake. Develop the mind to be mentally tough. We saw this at Philmont over and over again either in our crew or in other crews at the many camps we passed through. A Scout would give up on himself. He could go no further… according to his mind. He could make it, but he was mentally weak. A 14-mile day on the trail is just 14 miles. You can do it when you set your mind to it. You can be the leader that inspires others to make it when you set your mind and attitude in the right direction. You can be the best cheerleader by putting one foot in front of the other and a smile on your face. No need to yell or cheer. Just encourage by your actions and mental toughness.
I once hiked with one of our newer Scouts. We had gone four and half miles and had four more to go to get into camp. He stopped on the trail and threw his pack to ground proclaiming that he would walk not one more step. I told him that it was fine with me and took my pack off and joined him on the ground. He was mentally finished. Video games had got the best of him and he did not want to finish.
I talked with him about our options. We could walk back to the cars almost five miles away, or we could push to camp four miles away, but either way we would have to hike out of there. The benefits of getting to camp were greater than going back to the car. Food, relaxing, and hanging out with his buddies versus going home without success, better known as being a failure. He looked around and saw that he was the only one not willing to move forward and the decision became easier for him to make. We got into camp and never had another issue with him.
To many people these days fear mental toughness. They think it is a trait of a bully or tough guy. It is a trait of leadership and one of being a man. We want to develop both leadership and manliness in our Scouts.
Something to think about in working with your crew at Philmont and in life.
Have a Great Scouting Day!