Mental Training Resources for Fighters – Books, Podcasts & More
This is an ongoing list of resources for Mental Training. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’ll be adding to it as I discover new books, podcasts, etc. I’ve read and listened to a lot on the subject, starting out from a place where I just had no idea at all how to do mental training, to now as I experience it as not only indispensable, but the most important element in my approach. These resources are not only specific to mental training as a discipline, but also about achievement and endurance. I’ve tried to make annotations for each resource to explain what I got out of it.
You read all my Mental Training Articles here
I read a lot of mental training books, pretty much anything I can find. Much of the time it’s on Kindle, though sometimes its an audio book.
I’m currently reading this one, so I can’t write an overall assessment. But climbing mentality has similarities to fighting mentality, so translating to our sport is easy. What’s unique about this book is that Horst separates out “brain training” from “mind training,” which is actual synapse reactions versus how we think, and refining how to train each of those things is invaluable.
Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by Chade-Meng Tan
This one sounds real hokey-pokey but it’s not. The author does an incredible job of expressing concepts of meditation and mindset both with eloquence and remarkable accessibility. I’ve read a lot about meditation and it’s often just left me feeling like I’m not ready, or I’ll have to have some intermediate step before I can really start it. But Meng makes it immediately practical – immediately – and explains in words and concepts that I found really inspiring. I love this book and highly recommend it, for athletes and non-athletes equally. This isn’t just about meditation. It’s about becoming aware of how the mind thinks, and setting the best direction for it.
The author takes a lot from Buddhism. In fact, he paraphrases the story of Prince Siddhartha in such a way as one might rattle it off sitting on a bar stool. But, he’s speaking to an audience who might not know anything of that story or of Buddhist teachings, so giving a groundwork in short-form is reasonable enough. Most of what he argues in this book is taken from Buddhist meditation practices, but it’s written in an incredibly informal and personable voice. Like if you read “Sermon on the Mount” or the teachings of the Buddha in a Maxim article or something. In short, we can only give a certain number of fucks in life and Manson argues that we ought to value those fucks and spend them on the things which really matter. How to stop caring about the things that don’t matter, which don’t express our values, is the hard bit and he walks us through that as well. I wrote about my own realizations and responses to learning how to not give a fuck in this blog post, which didn’t come from reading this book but coincided with reading this book.
21 Yaks and a Speedo: How to Achieve Your Impossible by Lewis Pugh
I consider Lewis Pugh a personal hero. I don’t swim – at all – and his missions are very different from my own, but his methods and mindset is both similar to mine and more refined. I feel like I can learn a lot from him, even if it’s just nodding my head along to his words and saying, “yes, yes, so much so.” I wrote a blog post abut his commitment to achieving the impossible and have cited him in several other posts as well. He’s just amazing. This book is great because it’s 21 very short chapters, each dealing with a seemingly impossible situation and what it took to get through it. The stories are great, the writing is great, and the inspiration is intense.
Achieving the Impossible: A Fearless Leader. A Fragile Earth. by Lewis Pugh
I loved this book less than I loved 21 Yaks, but it’s still great. You can also watch his TED talk on swimming the North Pole.
Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
There aren’t a lot of books written about or by fighters. A boxer here and there, maybe a super new book on an MMA fighter, but there’s no great books – either biographies on or from the minds of – from fighters. So we have to borrow from other sports. I’ve found that ultrarunners have challenges and mindsets that really speak to what I experience in Muay Thai. Scott Jurek is one of the most famous ultrarunners in the world and, thank God, he’s also a good writer. So this book reads well and has recipes and tolerable explanations on why he eats a vegan diet. He’s not preachy or overly praising of himself, either as a vegan or as a runner. It’s a good read and the endless, mind-bending nights of running speak to the path of a fighter. As a high-volume fighter, approaching 200 fights, I consider myself something of an Ultrarunner of fighters, so this book spoke to me.
This is basically an introduction and elaboration on how Stoicism can improve the lives of modern folks, as a meditation on Manliness (I believe that this does not belong solely to men, even though they’re in the name) and how to face adversity and challenge with calm, grace. Meeting challenges as the manner by which we shape and improve ourselves in an absolute must in strong mindsets. We can’t just endure everything, we also have to improve by those hardships.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
Not so much a Sport Psychology book but the concepts will get you pondering and it’s in line with what mental training is about. Plus, I really love reading Gladwell.
I had completely forgotten about this book when first making this list, but some of the ideas presented by the author are still with me. A lot of Mental Toughness is about being keyed into your “animal instinct” and all this, but what’s lovely about this book is it presents the softer side of indestructibility. Think of a vase that breaks and when it’s glued back together it is on that seam, on the flaw, which is the strongest point. The mind is like this. The soul is like this. And as fighters, this is an invaluable lesson.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey C. Ward
Biography of one of my favorite boxers/fighters, the first African-American Heavyweight Champion, Jack Johnson. Reading about men who have done incredible, seemingly impossible things, is a huge part of motivation and inspiration.
Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover
(I listened to this as an audio book but I’m listing it here as a book because I hated how the guy read it aloud; just rubbed me the wrong way. So, maybe listen to a sample and make the call for yourself.) Grover is a coach, both a physical training coach and a mental training coach, to some of the biggest names in sports. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade to name the best. Michael Jordan though… could just leave it at that. I don’t love how this book is written, or at least how it was read-as-written, as the author is way into himself and has been eating his own ego for a long time. That’s kind of okay because there’s a lot of truth to what he’s saying and there are results to his methods, but there’s also a lot of talk about “darkness” in these top athletes that he kind of alludes to being animal instinct but also keeps really vague in a way that feels bullshitty rather than truly indescribable. But he covers a lot of the differences between the three categories he breaks high level athletes into: Coolers, Cleaners, and Closers. Those are good, better and best in order. He tries to tell you how to be a closer but also argues that you’re more or less born to it. Some great concepts, some really great thoughts.
My Fight/Your Fight by Ronda Rousey
I didn’t love this book but there are elements in there that give light to ways of thinking that probably aren’t common, especially for women. I don’t regard Rousey as a mentally tough athlete, but she presents herself as such and, deep down, she absolutely had mental fortitude to push herself to all that she has achieved. I do feel that this book also illustrates the holes in her mental training, which is also useful.
One of the first books I read and at the time I really loved it. I still think it’s a great book for those first starting out, because that’s where the author speaks from. It doesn’t hold up for me anymore, but I’m at a very different place than where I started and Sheridan simply never got to the places full-time fighters spend all our time, so it’s just not written for those folks.
The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game by Same Sheridan
I read this right after The Fighter’s Heart and wasn’t as impressed by it, but it’s a good read and the author talks to some greats. The downside is that it’s a lot of “bar stool talk” from men who have lived in gyms, rather than giving practical exercises and ideas for how to actually approach your own mental training.
Emma recommended this book and, while it’s not about sports or mental training, it does offer a lot for those of us who are natural introverts. Especially in sports, the overarching rhetoric is that we’re supposed to be bold and outgoing, talking ourselves and our teammates up and loving to be seen. That’s not the case for many of us and hearing that this is okay, and a strength in many regards, makes a world of difference to those of us who are very consistently led to believe otherwise.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
This is more or less the book on mental training. It’s old and a lot of what we read now is derived from what Dweck wrote in this book, so this is kind of a primary source. There are books that are easier or more pleasurable to read that will offer much of the same ideas, but this is the O.G. source. The key point is the introduction of “growth mindset,” which is worth reading even if you don’t take in the whole book.
Audio and Podcasts
Because I run so often I listen to a lot of podcasts. It’s better than music for me. These are some of the mental training podcasts and audio that I’ve benefited from.
Dr. Alan Goldberg “14 Steps to Mental Toughness” –
I’ve gotten the most out of these audio chapters, partly because they were my first real step into practical mental training, but also because I re-listen to them so often. These are expensive, but for some reason they really clicked. I love his voice and his weird Jersey accent. Maybe not for everyone but definitely has been a great help to me. They are my go to when I get in a mental slump.
I listened to something of Dr. Cohn’s as an audio file, not sure if it was a book or one of his audio CDs I found, but he’s got a lot of experience and has worked with Miriam Nakamoto, which just means he has some degree of familiarity with fighters. A lot of what you find on Sport Psychology or Mental Training will have to do with specific sports like Tennis or Golf, with some carryover into business for CEO’s and suits climbing the corporate ladder. The ideas carry over just fine between sports and business, so they carry over between sports as well. You just have to do some legwork translating the sport-specific examples into fighting.
Again, there’s not much of anything for fighters specifically. But wrestlers, man… they’re hardcore. My brother wrestled in high school and the mindset and fortitude required of wrestlers to get through their grueling training schedules is second to none. Even Joe Rogan, who loves to ask trainers about “overtraining,” always references wrestlers as being the most mentally tough dudes there are in the MMA game. This podcast isn’t high quality at all. It’s a guy on his computer, playing Eye of the Tiger through his shitty speakers to open every episode and there are long silences of dead-time when he’s inviting callers to ask questions. You just have to tolerate the informality of it. But the information and advice is solid, covering all range of topics from how to handle “off season”, training mentality versus competition mentality, how not to psych yourself out, how to handle the pressure of tournaments… there’s a lot here. The host also has a podcast on faith/spirituality for athletes (Christian), so if you’re into that you can check it out as well.
Sports Motivation Podcast by I’m Not You (Niyi Sobo)-
This is a really excellent podcast. Niyi Sobo was an NFL player who clearly benefited a lot and listened really well to his Sport Psychology training. He presents so much in each episode but, perhaps because he works with young athletes, the examples he gives are incredibly accessible. He has actual practical exercises as well as theoretical approaches. I recommend this podcast above all other resources on this list for immediate practicality, wealth of information, and direct approach to mental training.
Episode #921 with Dominick Cruz by Joe Rogan Experience
Joe Rogan is hit or miss but generally that depends on the guest. His podcasts are especially good for running because they’re crazy long (almost always more than 2 hours) and the conversations meander. So, if the guest is someone you don’t have interest in listening to, they suck; if it’s someone who is interesting, you wish they were 5 hours long. This episode with Dominick Cruz is the latter. I’ve always liked Cruz, but now I really like him. He talks a lot about his mental paths through his recent, really awful injuries in the last 3-4 years. Dealing with injury is something that most athletes will face at some point, hopefully not to the degree that Cruz did, but his notes on mentality are worthwhile for everybody. I really love this episode.
You read all my Mental Training Articles here
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As I’m always reading or listening on the subject feel free to recommend books and audio that you’ve found valuable from the perspective of a fighter.