4 Books to Improve Mental Toughness Both In and Out of the Water

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By Courtney Mykkanen, Swimming World College Intern.

We all know swimmers don’t have much spare time, but finding a couple minutes each day to read a few pages of an inspirational book can be very advantageous to improve mental toughness. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media before bed, make it a goal to read 10 pages of a book instead. Many swimmers have read or are familiar with Anthony Ervin’s Chasing Water: Elegy of An Olympian and Michael PhelpsBeneath the Surface: My Story. The following list of books takes a broader perspective by focusing on individual mental toughness and strategies outside the water that can translate to success in the water.

1. Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack


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Mack explains how the mentally fit minds of world class athletes is what leads them to be top performers and allows them to reach success beyond just intense physical training. Mack discusses how athletes develop a stronger mental game over time and incorporates the “Seven C’s of Mental Toughness” to encourage the reader to take control of their own brain.  


“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course: the space between your ears. —BOBBY JONES” – Gary Mack


2. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy


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Hardy emphasizes six strategies that he believes in and are proven lead to greater success. The Compound Effect involves simple actions with massive results impacted by the decisions to work harder and smarter, create better behaviors and habits, and how to keep the momentum rolling. While this book is not directed towards swimming, it’s purpose is to help you take 100% responsibility for your life and success.


“You only need to take a series of tiny steps, consistently, over time, to radically improve your life.” – Darren Hardy


3. Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover


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Tim Grover trained athletes including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant by focusing on their work ethic and mindsets enabling them to overcome mental obstacles and be successful. As Grover examines common characteristics that separate the best from the rest, the reader becomes motivated to take advantage of opportunities to get in the “zone” and achieve the impossible.


“Success isn’t the same as talent. The world is full of incredibly talented people who never succeed at anything.” – Tim Grover


4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth


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Angela Duckworth, also featured in a Ted Talk, explores the importance of grit not only in sports but throughout all aspects of life. Talent does not define success – instead passion and persistence create the common characteristic of grit in the most successful individuals. Every individual is capable of being gritty, if they work hard and put their mind to it. 

“I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.” – Angela Duckworth

What are some other motivating books that build mental toughness that swimmers can use to become the best version of themselves in and out of the water?

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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