09/03/2013 10:12 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2013

Diana Nyad's Lessons in Mental Toughness

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad enters the record books, becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage, completing the 110 mile historic swim in about 53 hours. Impeccable physical condition is a must for a feat of this magnitude, but more so is the mental toughness it took to make this happen. Let's elaborate on the three lessons that Nyad shared with the world once she reached the beach of Key West.

Never give up
The masses will persist until they become uncomfortable. A smaller group of the population will persist until it becomes painful. Champions never say die. They are comfortable being uncomfortable, because they have grown so accustomed to risk that feelings of vulnerability almost seem natural. Champions don't even begin to pay attention until they feel pain, which they expect to feel on a regular basis. Cyclist Lance Armstrong used to say that racing doesn't become interesting until it becomes what he called a "suffer-fest." And even while many good performers have a deep desire to win, they can't compete with champions on the level of Diana Nyad quite simply because they are lacking the commitment that she has. The distinction between the two thought processes is substantial. Failure to manifest the vision in not an option; champions will do it or die trying. The mantra they love to espouse is, "Whatever it takes." The great ones are masters of self-denial, suffering and sacrifice. They do it all to live their vision. If you're going to go up against the great ones like Diana Nyad, you better pack a lunch because it's going to be a long afternoon.

Never too old
Diana Nyad proves once again that we are never too old to go after your dreams. At age 64, she completed the 110 mile swim. And she drives home the message again that age isn't a factor when going after what you really want. Jack Nicklaus won The Masters at age 46. Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura, 80, is the oldest person to have scaled Mount Everest. Sister Madonna Buder, age 83, holds the record for being the oldest person to finish an Ironman triathlon. Ernestine Shepherd is the oldest competitive female bodybuilder in the world, born in 1936. The point is that most people seem to be governed by beliefs which keep them bound to a life of quiet desperation. Because most of us inherited and learned our beliefs from well-intentioned amateurs, it makes sense that the majority of us are convinced we can only go so far in life. Champions know this to be a colossal myth that has held millions of people in a mental prison. The great ones know their possibilities and potentials are almost limitless. This was Diana Nyad's fifth attempt at the swim between Cuba and Key West, and she was obviously much younger when she first tried 35 years ago. Age really is just a number.

It takes a team
World-class performers learn to see their greatest achievements as a team effort. They realize grand achievements demand more than any one person can deliver. They enlist others to join the team, and often give most of the credit for their achievements to these talented team members. They have graduated from the ego-driven stage of the self-made man/woman theory, realizing that there is no such thing. They love the admiration for their achievements, yet are more than happy to share the kudos with their teammates. This shared/work credit philosophy allows champions to take on big projects with bold visions. When they approach an opportunity, they think of the talent they will have to assemble to be successful, with little or no thought of who will get the credit for their success. Their world view of achievement seems to be, "It takes a village." In some cases, champions are the team leaders, yet they are willing to be subordinates if it serves the best interests of the project and/or makes the most sense strategically. In the minds of champions, hard work and achievement are the building blocks of a successful and happy life. With just two miles left in her swim, Diana Nyad stopped to thank her supporters and volunteers and said, "This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very, very glad to be with you."

In addition to Diana Nyad's three lessons to us all, she exhibits plenty of other great characteristics of mental toughness: she's determined to win; she's a bold and daring visionary; she has tremendous faith; she handles fear like a snake charmer; she possesses supreme confidence; she developed bravery in the battle for her dreams; she has a plan in place to overcome obstacles; and of course she's not afraid to suffer.

Imagine what you are capable of accomplishing if you take a few lessons from a champion like Diana Nyad. Next time you tell yourself something is impossible, follow the mantra of Diana Nyad: Find a way.