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Mentally Tough or Stupid - What am I?

Navy SEAL eBooks or Books

I just found your website and I love reading through all of the articles that you have posted. I have found them extremely helpful. I have been interested in the Navy SEALs for several years and I am now looking to join the Navy in four years, after I graduate from college. I want to spend the next four years training and preparing for BUDS and beyond. I am training hard and pushing myself like no one around me. My question is:  What is the difference between mental toughness and stupidity?  

Ha – good question.  I am actually pausing as I write the answer to your question as I am trying hard to differentiate the two.  I have found that mental toughness can border on or cross over to stupidity very easily at times.  Personally, I tend to place mental toughness on two different standards.  For training programs the line is pain versus injury.  For getting out of life or death situations, there is no stupid way – only the way that yields success.  In a life or death situation, you may have to be severely injured and required to keep moving in order to live.  This requires a mental toughness that is ingrained in us all as a basic survival skill. 


For instance, when playing sports or going through training programs for military, police, and fire fighting, you will find yourself in pain from the daily grind very often.  Some of these pains will border on injury.  There is a fine line between sucking up pain and pushing into a more debilitating injury.  Yes, you can be stupid and ruin your chances of graduation or permanently disable yourself by pushing through injury – that would be stupid.  Sometimes it is just luck that gets you out of injury. It is wise to understand the difference between pain and injury while pre-training as well as during your choice of training.  When you suck up pain, it requires mental toughness.  When you push through pain and into injury just to avoid stopping or quitting, that is when the border of mentally tough and stupid becomes fuzzy.  You are now gambling with your luck to not become injured further. 


Basically, being mentally tough helps you to keep competing when your mind wants you to quit.  One thing I learned during Hellweek at BUDS was that we have a section in our brain that tells us to stop in order to prevent us from hurting ourselves.  There are times you have to shut that part of your brain off.  Your body is ten times stronger than the untrained mind will let it be. Your training helps you tap into this mindset, but often your life experiences as well can build a mental toughness and resilience that no one can beat.

Being mentally tough can take us into another level of competition or into a survival mode with success.  You will find when sh*t hits the fan and you are worried more about living than anything else that your body will do all the work for you and not want to quit or die.  We are built to survive as humans.  One thing the military, police, fire fighters and other type training will give you is an ability to think in that high stress situation when most people shut down.  But even then, it is the repetition of our training that enables our body to perform in order to survive or help others to survive.  The training does not make you mentally tough, it only brings it out.


So, what is the difference between mentally tough and stupidity?  Simply put, mentally tough people are not stupid and are those people you look to be around when there is danger or an impossible task in front of you.  It all depends on your point of view.  We all do stupid things from time to time because we are human.   But take a look at the jobs the proven mentally tough perform like running into a burning building to save others, running across a street when bullets are flying, or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into enemy territory.  Some may think all of these things are stupid, but it is the “stupid” people who keep us safe from terrorists, criminals, burning houses, and other natural / man-made disasters.

I would strive to be a little bit of both.  Thanks for the email.  This one got me thinking and will likely create some discussion.  Email if you have questions to .  For ideas on workouts that will push you physically and help you build your mental toughness, check out the Fitness Ebook Store.


Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the
Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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Published Books / DVDs
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
Maximum Fitness

The Special Operations Workout

The SWAT Workout - From Recruit to SWAT Team Member
The Combat Swimmer Stroke DVD

The Pre-Habit Workout DVD
Clinic DVD for Navy SEAL PST
The FBI Special Agent Test Clinic DVD

The Complete List of Stew Smith's eBooks:

Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness
The Advanced Maintenance and Recovery Program

Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The Advanced Weights / PT Workout (Fall / Winter Weight Gain Cycle)
The Perfect Pushup Workout

The TRX Workout
- Circuit Training 101 ebook

NEW Obstacle Course Race Ebook

The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts
 Combat Conditioning Workout

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1  Beginner Weeks 1-9
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT -  Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SWCC Workout

The Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout 

The Army Air Assault School Workout

The Army Airborne Workout


Air Force PJ / CCT Workout

The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Workout

The OCS, ROTC, Service Academy, & Bootcamp Workouts

New - Army PRT and CRT
Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard OCS Workout

The USMC IST and PFT Workout
USMC OCS / TBS Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout

The Army OCS and PFT Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Test Workouts

The FBI Academy / PFT Prep Workout

The DEA Prep Workout

The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB

The State / Local Police Academy Workout

The Fire Fighter Workout

Seal Multi Men's Multi-Vitamin Multi-Mineral

TRX Train Like the Pros


Some Titles Above available in Print Softcover Format