Mental toughness on the dairy farm

Following a recent visit to a large scale equity partnership in the South Island, I had the opportunity to talk to the man who runs it, an outstanding dairy entrepreneur.

It was interesting talking to him about mental toughness. He talked about calving being like running a marathon: you need to have done all the preparation both physically and mentally. You need to be alert at the start, and then pace yourself throughout the process. Pacing yourself means staying focused, realising that there will be pain, and looking out to the end of the season when it all finished. Also, he is a big guy, and expects to lose 6-7 kg's of weight during the season. Breakfast and Lunch are often combined at 1:00 pm.

One of the key points to note here is that we can do all sorts of things when we are young, but further down the track, the mind may be willing but the energy is not quite there.

He also talked about mental toughness necessary for when things start going wrong, that is not if things go wrong, but when. It is how you handle those processes when things do fly to bits that make the difference. Panicking, raising your voice and blood pressure, do not solve a thing. Yelling at tired staff is not a solution either.

If you know there will be problems, and there will be, then take a big breath when it happens, pause, and then start to unravel the problem to solve the issues at hand. Some people only see problems, whereas other people see opportunities to solve problems, and help make things go better.

To be successful, discipline is really important. Not only the discipline to get the job done, but the mental discipline to know that you can and will get through it. We need to drive that "stinking thinking" out of our minds. Feelings of failure, and wanting to give up must be controlled. For example, when you get up, you need to fill your mind with positive thoughts, and not a whole lot of negative ones.

Would you get up in the morning, and throw a handful of sand in the crank case of your new tractor? No way! And it is the same with your own mind. Get rid of the energy sapping negative "stinking thinking", and replace it with positive thoughts.

Music is a very good opportunity to improve your mind patterns.

Optimistic people seem to have the following:
    Better health
    More energy
    Less stress and worry
    Improved immune system
    Better team relationships
    Better productivity
In life, we often do what we feel like doing, rather than what is important. This is particularly relevant to farming. A short term solution may not be best for the long term results. As my dad would say, "do it properly the first time, and you won't have to go back to it". How often have we given a task insufficient energy and time, only to have it come back and cause you problems later.

Instant gratification is creeping steadily into society, and into our lives. Achievers and mentally tough people are looking further out all the time, to build better businesses and a better life, rather than going for short term solutions, and instant gratification.

Research in the US done by a Dr Seligman shows the following:
    Attitude is more important than aptitude
    Optimists outsell pessimists by 57%
    Optimists stay employed longer
    Optimists are healthier
    Optimists have more exercise.


Farming is a tough business. Mental toughness is crucial for survival these days, particularly with the important decisions that need to be made on the farm, on a minute by minute basis.

We need to think about where we are going, and what we are doing, but most importantly, keep control of our minds, and watch out for all those negative thought patterns.

Mental toughness and a better attitude can actually be learned, but it takes time and energy.


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