Soapbox: The 10 Executive Toughness Fundamentals

Any person, in any kind of pursuit, can achieve his or her highest goals and become successful using these mental training techniques.

By Dr. Jason Selk

I have had the privilege of serving as a performance coach to some of the most successful businesspeople on the planet, including scores of individual Fortune 500 and 100 executives. I use a methodology I call Executive Toughness, a mental training program that helps people boost their leadership performance and achieve truly ambitious goals.

Any person, in any kind of pursuit, can achieve his or her highest goals and become successful using these mental training techniques. I adapted them for businesspeople based on the Mental Toughness techniques I developed for athletes and sports coaches, which helped the St. Louis Cardinals win their first World Series in 20 years in 2006 and again in 2011. Since then, I have helped many other world-class athletes win championships, achieve world records, and earn millions.

Executive Toughness is designed to help you build and strengthen the three traits all highly successful people share: accountability, focus, and optimism. Here is a brief rundown of the program’s 10 fundamentals.

Know What You Want and Who You Are

The first two Executive Toughness fundamentals are about how you define success for yourself.

Fundamental #1: Develop Your Vision of Self-Image

Define your win. Know your purpose and priorities to solidify your ability to win in the important aspects of life. How in the world can you achieve what you want without identifying your true purpose for being here, knowing your greatest priorities in life, and envisioning how you want your life to turn out? Reinforcing what you want to accomplish helps you develop and maintain passion, motivation, and inspiration—the very bonding agents of accountability, focus, and optimism.

Fundamental #2: Create Your Vision of Self-Image

Take 30 seconds every day to visualize who you want to be and how you want your life to turn out; set an alert on your calendar to remind yourself to replay this self-image video each day. This simple mental training exercise dramatically increases the likelihood that you will achieve your win, and improves both focus and performance. Give your video specific details, which elevate a vague life plan into a true vision of self-image you can use to transform the way you think about yourself, your potential, and your future.

Master Accountability: Do What Needs to Be Done

The next three Executive Toughness fundamentals help you develop one of the necessary traits for success: accountability.

Fundamental #3: Set Product Goals and Emphasize Process Goals

If you want to achieve greatness in life, you must set end goals (product goals) and then place significant emphasis on what it takes to accomplish them (process goals). The difference between wanting to win and
actually winning is accountability and follow-through. To become good at being accountable, identify three process goals to finish every day that will help you achieve your product, or end, goal.

Fundamental #4: Prioritize the Priorities

Schedule it or forget it. If you want to achieve your product goals and live your vision of self-image, process goal completion must be your top priority each and every day. Scheduling time to complete your three process goals every day is essential. Don’t let anything take precedence over these daily tasks.

Fundamental #5: Complete Daily Performance Evaluations

Learn to look in the mirror every day for 15 full seconds—15 seconds of accountability. Take the time on a daily basis to evaluate your personal progress and effort, and you inevitably will learn to achieve your win. Commit on a daily basis to using success logs, and fill out quarterly evaluations to track your progress and better control your success.

Build Focus: Improve Consistency and Execution

The next three Executive Toughness fundamentals sharpen a new behavior: focus.

Fundamental #6: Control Your Arousal State

Learn to control your arousal state—the extent to which nerves and emotions are engaged and on alert. If your performance arousal is too high, you’ll be going a thousand miles an hour and not doing things well. If it’s too low, you’ll be lethargic. Finding and maintaining your ideal performance arousal state will cause your confidence to build, your brain to function more effectively, and your successes to grow. By maintaining basic physical fitness, and by preparing yourself intellectually by knowing your markets, customers, and competitors, you will be able to control your arousal state so emotion doesn’t get in the way of your focus.

Fundamental #7: Know Your Scripts

Develop your focus by knowing and practicing what you are going to say—before you say it. Through accountability, you have defined the tasks that deserve your focus. Creating and memorizing scripts for key interactions helps you maintain focus. These scripts build confidence and reduce the anxiety that often gets in the way of leadership performance.

Fundamental #8: Prepare Mentally Every Day

Every day, do the 100-Second Mental Workout. Briefly, it’s this:

Step 1: Take a deep centering breath to get calm and focused.

Step 2: State who you are as if you’d already achieved your goal.

Step 3: In your mind, play your self-image video of what your life is like as if you’d accomplished your goal.

Step 4: Again, state who you are as if you’d already achieved your goal.

Step 5: Take another centering breath.

Completing this 100-second mental training exercise every day dramatically improves your focus and your ability to execute consistently.

Develop Optimism: Overcome All Obstacles

The last two Executive Toughness Fundamentals will help you stay optimistic, resilient, and positive so you will be ready for change.

Fundamental #9: Adopt a Relentless Solution Focus

Within 60 seconds, replace all problem-focused thought with solution-focused thinking to dramatically improve your health, happiness, and success. Becoming optimistic is one of the most critical pieces of your mental toughness puzzle because it means you approach every situation with hope and the confidence that you will succeed. Within 60 seconds of having a negative thought, learn to replace it with relentless solution focus (RSF) by using the RSF question, “What is one thing I can do differently to make this better?” When you answer that question instead of thinking about problems, you demonstrate your mental toughness and are well on your way to greatness.

Fundamental #10: Develop Uncompromising Discipline

When you set your mind to do something, find a way to get it done, no matter what. Limit temptation that gnaws away at staying disciplined. Overpractice being disciplined so it eventually will be easy and feel natural. Internalize someone you admire, and keep him or her in your mind’s eye as your own personal mental coach to motivate you and keep you on track.

With the Executive Toughness mental training, you can accomplish anything you want to. I have seen it happen hundreds of times, and I continue to see it happen every day. It’s all about training yourself and doing daily drills, just as athletes do, to strengthen your business performance muscles and to become your greatest self.

Dr. Jason Selk trains companies and organizations—including athletes, coaches, and business leaders—on how to achieve optimal performance. He’s the bestselling author of “10-Minute Toughness” (McGraw-Hill, 2008) and “Executive Toughness” (McGraw-Hill, 2011). He’s a regular television and radio contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC. For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.