How to increase your mental toughness

On the toughest day of the Virgin Strive Challenge, I woke up in the pitch black to get going at 4:45am – and received a lovely surprise to find that my daughter, Holly, was up and ready to ride with me.

richard_branson and holly branson virgin strive challenge cycle

We rode for almost 200 kilometres, climbing steep mountains. After 14 hours darkness fell, and about half an hour from the end the organisers told us that we couldn’t carry on. There were still 12 of us cycling, with our lights on. On three separate occasions, the organisers set up roadblocks to stop us, but we broke through them, yelling that we wanted to continue.

richard branson virgin strive challenge cycle

Tired but determined to finish, we felt like naughty school children, and sang: “Everywhere we go, people always ask us, who we are, so we tell them: we are the Strivers, the mighty, mighty Strivers!” The organisers weren’t happy, but being a risk taker means knowing when to break the rules. We felt we needed to finish for the sake of the team and for the purpose for which we are striving. Plus we had a lot of fun!

We felt so elated when we finally pulled in to the day’s end point. That night, I bought the organisers bottles of champagne to say sorry, and we all celebrated as we enjoyed our well-earned dinner. I even got up and danced on my seat as we toasted to the journey so far.

The next day we got back on the saddle for the final stretch of the cycle; riding to the toe of Italy. It was a fascinating and picturesque journey, which thankfully wasn’t as physical gruelling as the day before. However, having already hiked 70 kilometres and rode nearly 2000 kilometres, my body felt completely worn out.

With just two hours to go to the finish line, my son, Sam overtook me. As he passed, something stirred inside me and I got a burst of energy. For the rest of the leg I rode flat-out at 45 kilometres an hour, whooping like a school boy.  

Half the team finishing the Cycle! What a feeling! #westrive for #bigchange

A video posted by Sam Branson (@bransonsam) on

There’s an old Navy SEAL idea that suggests that even when we are at our most exhausted we still have the potential to dig deep, and shine. Known as the 40 per cent rule, it argues that when your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only about 40 per cent done

Developing mental toughness isn’t just about being resilient – it’s about accessing your reserve tank when you think you just can’t go any further. In that moment, so close to the end, and challenged by my son, I felt my reserve kick in. It’s something that I’ve relied on a lot in life, and have had to access on many occasions in business. In the dark moments we all have the power to pull ourselves up to keep going.

richard branson virgin strive challenge cycle

This is the message we’re aiming to promote through the Virgin Strive Challenge. Together we hope to show young people that we can all achieve great things with a growth mindset (or as the Navy calls it, a mental toughness) in place.

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