How Daily Motivation Builds Mental Toughness for Life

A combat-wounded Marine works out in the base gym on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Cpl. Rory Hamill, a combat-wounded Marine, works out in the base gym on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Dec. 4, 2017. (Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

No matter which branch of service or local or federal law enforcement agency you select as a profession, you need to be motivated and prepared on many levels. People who need to be motivated typically may crumble when in training. It is the self-motivated who rise to the occasion when the days get long and the nights cold and wet.

The most important ability to have when serving your country or community is self-motivation. To be honest with self-motivation and determination, you can graduate from any program and not be the fastest runner or swimmer, or the strongest and best athlete. However, if you do not have a foundation of fitness, even the most motivated can fail due to physical injury.

It is not anyone's job but yours to realize that your fitness level and ability to perform under stress will one day be the difference between you or your buddy living or dying. If that does not motivate you to work out, then maybe you should consider a different occupation.

Not being motivated to exercise happens in all of us, but turning that around and working out anyway is a daily dose of overcoming quitting and building mental toughness. Besides, we all know that you always will feel better later in the day if you exercised rather than skipping a workout.

Your whole life has to be built around these near daily experiences of waking up early and running or swimming before dawn in any weather or putting on a sweaty/nasty pair of football, hockey or lacrosse pads for a second time during two-a-day practices. These experiences build mental toughness, and you can tap into this "never quit" attitude by remembering those days when you succeeded and performed at a high level.

There are many other ways to build mental toughness that do not involve sports or working out, such as a tough childhood, rough living conditions and even traumatic events. These things that do not kill us make us stronger.

Good luck with your daily challenge to be your best, whether it is working out, your job, school or whatever struggles you face. Share some of your tips to get up off the couch or push through the pain during workouts.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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