Hint: It’s all about mental toughness.

So often in life, winning is about doing away with the competition. Few knew this reality better than the late, great, Muhammad Ali. His actions provide some useful lessons to anyone who wants to get out and win. Here are six of the most important ones.

muhammad ali, training, leaders, leadership, mental toughnessTrain Your Mind

Ali didn’t just train his body in the gym, although that was clearly important. He did much more by training his mind. Often, that is the only difference between a winner and the runner-up. The person who trains his or her mind always has an advantage over one who doesn’t.

It’s something that many people in business simply don’t recognize. Technical skills, like jabbing in the case of Ali, or analyzing companies in the case of bankers, go only so far. What distinguishes the truly successful is mental toughness and the ways in which they use their minds to win.

Use Your Environment

It’s not hard to see that someone training in the boxing gym from an early age will quickly develop mental strength. The regimen involves getting hit repeatedly by an opponent and yet still coming back for more, again and again and again. That alone takes mental strength—something conditioned on Ali by his environment.

Consider your job and ask yourself, how can you use the stresses of your environment to build mental toughness? Got a tough boss? Use him or her to harden you up. Face a lot of on the job stress? Take time each night after you get home from work and mentally prepare your mind to deal with the obstacles you think you will face tomorrow. You don’t have to get hit in the head every day to get mentally strong.

See Yourself as Invincible

Famously, Ali said, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” Is this the reason he is still lauded as the best ever pugilist?

Ali trained himself to believe that winning was inevitable: a sure thing, a forgone conclusion. There is no one harder to defeat than a person who believes that they are invincible. Think about that.

When your opponent doesn’t just think they can win, but just knows it, then they will keep going until the job is done. That was Ali.

What would you do, if you just knew you were going to succeed, that success was inevitable? Probably a lot more than most others.

Exploit Your Opponent’s Weak Minds

Better than just going in knowing he’d win, Ali waged psychological warfare on his opponents. He’d tell them again and again how he was going to destroy them in the ring.

His combined exuberance and eloquence were sure to raise nagging doubts in the mind of an opponent. That wasn’t just showmanship on Ali’s part, it was part of the strategy. Or put more simply, those boasts were an artillery barrage on the psyche of his opponents before he’d even stepped into the ring. By the time Ali arrived, the softening up job was already half done.

Now, I’m certainly not advocating that you taunt your colleagues or competitors, but do consider, how can you use your superior mental strength to exploit their situations to your advantage?

Use Your Opponent’s Strength Against Them

muhammad ali, training, leaders, leadership, mental toughnessAli wasn’t the largest heavyweight boxer in the field. He faced men who were much bigger and stronger than he was.

What did he do? He used their strength against them. Consider his match against George Foreman. Ali simply allowed Foreman to keep swinging and wearing himself out. Sure that meant Ali had to take a few hits to the body, but when the exhaustion slowed Foreman to a crawl, Ali finished him off.

Again, I’m not suggesting that you let your opponents keep swinging at you without fighting back, but consider how this idea applies to say negotiation. Fatigue your opponent, throw up roadblocks, find ways to wear them down and get what you want.

Have the Will to See it Through

Ali’s inner strength allowed him to take on the United States draft board when he refused to go fight in Vietnam. Others dodged the draft, or fled. He did not. He simply came out and took whatever was coming at him, stayed true to himself and his beliefs. He paid a price for that. But I don’t think he ever doubted that what he was doing was right.

Ali once said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

To build mental strength takes time, effort, and most of all, will. You can’t expect to hit the gym once and build a rock solid body, and you can’t expect to think tough once a year and build mental strength. Practice this in everything you do; make mental toughness not something that you do, but a part of who you are.


muhammad ali, training, leaders, leadership, mental toughnessGeoff Blades is an advisor to CEOs and other leaders on all topics related to winning and getting what they want. For more information, please visit, www.geoffblades.com and connect with him on Twitter @geoffblades.