Phil Mickelson recently became the oldest golfer to win one of the four major professional golf championships, by taking it one mental stroke at a time.

Confidence and the physical part of golf have never been issues for Mickelson, but he recently talked about his mind and the mental lapses that were costing him. He hadn't won a tournament on the PGA Tour in two years or a major championship in eight years until he won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in May.

Mickelson said: "I'm trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it, because as I've gotten older, it's been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.

"Physically I feel like I'm able to perform and hit the shots that I've hit throughout my career, and I feel like I can do it every bit as well as I have. But I've got to have that clear picture and focus," Mickelson added.

And that's exactly what he did. He didn't hit a shot until he had a clear picture in his mind of what the shot was supposed to look like.

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Another golfing great, Arnold Palmer, said: "My father always said to me, 'Remember, whatever game you play, 90% of success is from the shoulders up.'"

Famed NFL football coach Vince Lombardi said: "Mental toughness is essential to success. You've got to be mentally tough. ... Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It's a state of mind – you could call it character in action."

"Champions aren't made in the gyms," according to boxing great Muhammad Ali. "Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."

Being mentally tough can apply to anyone in any profession, not just elite athletes. Mental toughness is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart.

Mental toughness grows in the moments when you think you can't go on, but you keep going anyway. Anyone can give up. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart – that's true mental toughness.

Mental toughness comes into play when the going gets tough. Achievements are more rewarding when you work hard for something.

Fortunately, mental toughness can be cultivated and developed. Start by making a commitment to succeed. Focus only on what you can control. Be confident and thrive on adversity. Learn from your failures, but don't dwell on them. The past is valuable training – nothing more.

Don't complain or show emotions. Train your mind to be stronger than your emotions, or else you'll lose yourself every time. In sports, you don't want to show your opponent that you are hurting or tired.

Be well conditioned. Physical strength will get you to the starting line, but mental strength will get you to the finish line.

Ten-time NCAA basketball championship coach John Wooden said: "I always stress condition with my basketball players. I don't mean physical condition only. You cannot attain and maintain physical condition unless you are morally and mentally conditioned."

Solicit feedback. Listening to advice or criticism is not easy for most people. In today's business environment, where the landscape is changing rapidly, learning how to accept feedback is a key skill for advancing. Everyone can improve performance.

History has shown us that the most celebrated winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats. They have grit and resilience.

Mackay's Moral: Mental toughness is what separates champions from near champions.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.