Surviving life-threatening situations of an extreme nature, more often than not, requires much more than physical strength. It requires psychological stamina, strength of character, and a strong will. These characteristics could easily be referred to together as “mental toughness.” This trait allows people to survive situations that present relatively no hope for survival at all. In addition, in cases where physical endurance becomes a factor, these are the reserves from which the body draws the ability to become superhuman.
Viktor E. Frankl displayed mental toughness when it was presented with one of the greatest tests imaginable to the human mind. Dr. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist that survived the Holocaust during World War II. He spent more than a year as a prisoner in several different Nazis death camps throughout Europe. As a doctor, he was already intimately familiar with the vulnerabilities of the mind, but his scientific understanding of mental strength was pushed to its absolute limits during his encampment.
After his freedom was restored by American forces, he went on to write the novel “Man’s Search for Meaning.” This writing recalled the experiences of the camp which included the psychological and physical conditions he faced during his imprisonment. The key element that provided the cornerstone for his mental toughness was the pure will for survival. Though the odds were against him, he strove towards hope for life each and everyday. In less extreme situations, this aspect of mental toughness can be characterized as “stick-to-it-ness.” Once you fall off the horse, you brush yourself off and get back on again.
He described how many of the other prisoners simply lost the will to eat and to stay warm on a daily basis in the face of no tangible evidence that they would be rescued before being put to death. Mental toughness allows the individual to create a sense of hope and meaning within themselves in order that no physical obstacle can lead to defeat or despair. Dr. Frankl also elaborates on the need to exhibit compassion and cooperation. Facing extreme adversity rarely involves a struggle that must be endured in isolation. The person with the strongest mind will recognize that the ability to make sacrifices, and the strength of groups willing to help one another is an invaluable tool in the fight against a mighty enemy.
Mental toughness is also an aspect of the mind that applies over long periods of time. Many of the survivors of the Holocaust found it to be nearly impossible to return to a life that could be fulfilling on a daily basis. Although the scars of the event will inevitably exist, mental toughness allowed Frankl to view this experience as one that should provide insight and education as to the conditions of man. He did not let the experience consume the potential for the remainder of his life. A person that lacks mental toughness would generally not me able to move forward after an event such as this.
Man the fuck up. Until you’ve spent several years in Nazi death camps, watching people surrender the very will to live, you have no right to say your life sucks. Man up and get on with it, there is always someone worse off out there.
Look for the positives. If you focus on the negatives constantly, you will be miserable. Viktor Frankl was able to find hope in the bleakest of places; find positivity in whatever you do.
From Viktor E. Frankl we can learn that hope and meaning resides not in the experiences of man per se but in the potential of man to transcend his immediate environment in order to affect real change in the future of the world. Mental toughness, in this case, allowed him to recognize that true strength manifests itself based on the virtues of mankind’s inherent will. The ultimate battle field does reside in the mind. It is from here that the greatest victories are won and survival makes itself both attainable and necessary.