A Pro Athlete On Going Pro in Startups, Life, and Happiness

My Insights on Practicing Mental Toughness

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Find Your Mental Toughness True North

Jason Selk is one of the world’s leading peak performance and mental toughness coaches. He won a World Series ring as the director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals and he says, “Our minds need to be trained just like our bodies. And just as our physical fitness begins to deteriorate within seventy-two hours of our last workout, so does our mental toughness.”

Did you hear that parents, athletes, and humans?

Let’s get to training!

Literally, in my 14 years of professional basketball in Europe and the NBA, if I took more than one day off, my shooting, dribbling, and passing skills diminished. My mental and physical fitness went down, my legs felt heavy, and worst of all, mentally, I felt out of rhythm.

But training for pro sports is over. Whether I want to admit it or not, people will try and beat me at whatever I choose to do next. Writing. Coaching. Training kids and adults. Startups. It’s a competitive world out there. To be honest, I believe we can stay true to ourselves and do what we want if we approach it the right way.

It’s not our competitors we should worry about first. To understand where we should start, we must first know what we are not.

What I am not:

A 9–5 guy. Dramatic. Volatile. Boring and routine. Mechanical. All that logical. Good at accounting. Selfish. Vain. Being involved with something I’m not passionate about. Being part of a negative, non-funny, non-inclusive culture. Lazy with my curiosity and passions.

I find it odd that humans fight for bigger bank accounts, more money, and shiny, expensive things, instead of competing for more happiness, peace, laughter, and community. Unfortunately, I know why humans do this. There is a part of our ego that wants to command power, to call ourselves masters of our craft and get the accolades that come with being labeled an expert:

Getting paid.

Being famous.

Driving Bentleys.

It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!

Slim, let me tell you a little secret about being happy and getting to the top of your field, industry, craft, or job:

You better be passionate, mentally tough, and figure out quickly what you need to eliminate that doesn’t help you get there.

Let me give you an example, as an aspiring professional player in high school and college, I eliminated 99% of all partying, drinking, trips to the mall, the beach, trying to be cool, hanging out after school, doing drugs, and playing video games all day.

I replaced the fluff stuff with doing challenging workouts, skill drills, and activities that helped me become a pro. And I showed up every day.

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Success is self-improvement by Nghia Le on Unsplash

To find success, you also need to know where you want to go.

Knowing where you want is a good start. But taking steps to walk that path every day take mental toughness. Don’t know where you want to go? Well, start practicing mental toughness anyway. It will help you succeed when you do figure it out. By practicing psychological toughness, by trying something mentally challenging, something new that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can better embrace a valuable mental skill that allows you to do what others aren’t willing to do.

Try some not-so-fun mental toughness drills.

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Photo Credit: Brian Johnson Optimize Me

Try breathing slowly for 5 minutes a day and counting down your inhale and exhale.

Try limiting yourself to 20–30 grams of sugar a day.

Try working out twice a day with weights or yoga in the morning and cardio/HIIT training at night.

Try writing and planning your to-do list every night before you go to bed and visualize what your morning will look like with more happiness and laughter.

Try keeping a journal of what you feel every time you have to do something mentally challenging or physically hard.

Try eliminating those things that don’t help you in life so you have more time to do the things that do help you in life.

Basically, fam, what I’m saying is mental toughness is a practice too, just like being weird and happy is.

Be relentlessly solution focused.

Every day, I have a new problem with working on the adult fitness startup. And every day, my goal is to find a solution. And not just 50% of the time. I have to know I will find a solution 100% of the time, even if it is the wrong solution.

At least, then, I can fail fast and validate whether my solution works or not.

My latest goal in building a successful fitness startup is to have 1000 members start, sign up, or try ten two-month seasons of HoopsLink Fitness by 2019 and create an inclusive pro basketball training experience for an adult basketball fitness community.

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Where are you driving? Why are you driving there? by Esther Tuttle on Unsplash

You may have to eat dirt while you do or start your life’s work.

And for the last six months, living here in Chicago, I have just made enough to scrape together some ramen and General Tso’s, but the point is, you better not care about getting paid for the amount of time you’ll be putting in.

You better take some time to reflect and define your version of success.

People always ask, “Trevor, why don’t you coach college basketball, or NBA, or just start coaching high school?”

Coaching competitive basketball isn’t my version of success right now and so, there is no middle ground for me. Being able to succeed in lifestyle design, in having the freedom to travel, in being able to build a value-aligned culture and community and do what I love is my version of success.

Yeah, but T-Huff, we need to eat, we need this, we need that.

Build your passion while you do whatever else you are doing. Find the time. Say no to things that take away from your purpose. Read above about eliminating the bad stuff.

Know what you are not first.

The pessimists, the liberals, the optimists, the conservatives, the naysayers, the media, the family, the critics, and the friends will chirp like birds when you decide to do something that truly scares and excites you. Spread your wings and watch how people will fret, worry, complain, gossip, and stress for (about) you.

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What are you practicing? by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

A truth of my life; the bigger the dream or goal, the more people will throw stones at you.

To become successful in doing what you want with your life, you will have to go pro. Going pro isn’t for everyone. It takes mental toughness. It takes thick skin and self-awareness. It takes showing up every day without fail for years and years. One of my favorite quotes:

When you are not practicing, remember somewhere someone is practicing, and when you meet him, he will win.

Going pro in what you love means you deal with the bullshit, the politics, the emotions, and negative feelings in a mature way, almost every day.

10–15 years from now, what will you be a master of?

What you love?

What you hate?

What pays you well?

What pays you enough?

Start practicing mental toughness through self-awareness.

In my own startup journey, my self-belief is put into question daily. I watch my thoughts go by like waves on the sea, my feelings their current. My mind will hallucinate and think we are further along than we actually are. My mind will fake me out with negative thoughts and tell me, “I’m not qualified or smart enough to create a successful startup.”

But listen, getting through this process is mental toughness.

The only difference is they bounce back faster than you, and get back to work in their genre of passion and purpose.

“Believe in yourself and your ability to make gradual improvements, and the results will follow.”- Jason Selk

You ever looked at people social media accounts and thought, “Damn, I’m failing big time!”

I mean, look at these awesome social feeds out there. The botox puffy duck lips. The perfect beauty or body. The smooth path. The comfortable travels. The glamour. The money. The stars. The fake happiness. The shiny cars.

I drove a cloth seat Hyundai Sonata for ten years as a pro athlete so I could save money to invest more of it.

I’ll tell you what I don’t often see on people’s social accounts.


Beating their struggle.

Winning out over their hardships.

And yes, I’m going to spill my feelings all over your inbox. I’m sick of the pro athletes (yes, I’m even sick of my own posts), famous rappers, role models for youth, cool kids in school, supermodels, millionaire CEO’s, and Instagram stars that portray the easy, perfect life.

This crap isn’t real life — the filters don’t make you happier, people.

These five things actually make you happier.

I want to show you my struggles, so you understand me more.

I want you to show me your struggles, so I’ll understand you more.

I want you to tell me about your dark side, your dark thoughts, your challenges, and how you choose the light instead. How you beat them. I’ll be proud to click your Instagram heart then.

Who are we following and why are we following them? Are they leaders with merit?

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What values help you succeed? Unsplash

What values do you have that will help you get to your definition of success?

Passion. Grit. Teamwork. Creativity. Autonomy. Strength. Communication.

Talk about that online. Share something that helps our society. Talk about what you do and practice every day that makes you unique. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on secondary education, but not a dollar on developing personal leadership.

By showing the world a false representation of ourselves, we are hurting the future generations of people that will want to succeed at their thing.

We all need to fail and learn how to be mentally tough enough to bounce back. This process comes in knowing you can handle challenges, adversity, and failure on a regular basis. This progress comes from getting up after you get knocked on your ass. I learned this process and progression of mental toughness in becoming a pro basketball player.

But the truth is, anytime you do something you truly love, and display it to the world, you will feel the entire spectrum of human emotion.

You will have to deal with this spectrum of emotions in a mature way if you want to succeed. You will have to eliminate the things that don’t help you succeed, define your own success, let go of what you are not, understand who you are, and where you are going, and practice daily toughness in getting there.

Want to read more about a 14-year pro athlete sharing my insights on happily staying true to yourself in startups, dating, love, and life. All the things: HERE.

  • 10-Minute Toughness: The Mental Training Program for Winning Before the Game Begins by Jason Selk

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