While becoming mentally tough is certainly challenging, the idea behind it is really quite simple. Being someone who has struggled with ADD since adolescence, there has been no shortage of screw-ups by my own undoing. I was the kid in class who spoke up inappropriately that either received hearty laughs or WTF looks. You remember the one….the guy with no filter. Now as an adult I’m either called “refreshing” because of my honesty or a “loose cannon.” I know I’m an intelligent guy, it’s just sometimes the cause and effect gets lost in translation. Regardless, I live with my mistakes, and more importantly, I learn not to give up and keep fighting.
What does any of this have to do with mental toughness?
I will admit there were times when I took a nihilistic view of the world and just threw my hands up and thought what’s the use, everything is going to fall apart anyway because that’s what keeps happening. However, using the Philosophy of Stoicism and one of the techniques based on Marcus Aurelius’ writings of View from Above, which I will outline later, can make bad experiences not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
Something I have done since I was a teenager when things were turning upside down was to exercise. I was the typical adolescent, who was occasionally in trouble for doing something that seemed like a great (or at least fun) idea at the time. I was small for my age, but scrappy. Growing up undersized tends to do that to you. You either get picked on or come out swinging. I did the latter after being challenged one too many times.
Lifting weights and eventually, heavy weights, will build a lot of confidence in a short amount of time. It’s something anyone can do provided you’re healthy and put in the work. Exercise has a way of releasing anxiety, depression, anger, etc., in a healthy way. I noticed something interesting while working out. The more I exercised, the less things bothered me. I was able to think more clearly and solve the problem at hand. This created tenacity and confidence. Plus, I was becoming more disciplined.
Speaking of discipline, training in martial arts will make you physically tough, but more importantly, it will do so mentally. While the physical aspect is demanding, the mental training is significantly harder. When choosing a particular martial art, do so based on your body type, age, health, etc. Be sure to select a reputable school/gym that has good and experienced instructors. It’s also important the school isn’t there just to earn a quick buck and teach you how to beat the crap out of each other. While vigorous sparring is beneficial and there is no substitute for it, there is more to martial arts than fighting. A reputable school will emphasize the mental training needed to keep a calm mind under duress. You must respect the skills you’re learning, and be secure enough not to become a bully. If misused, trouble awaits you.
So, what has worked for me to become mentally tough? Embrace your sh**torms. Anticipate these challenges, live through them, learn from them, and more importantly look at the world from above. You think you have it bad? Whenever that thought comes up and you think you’re being singled out in life, try the following:
Envision throughout history, the violence, famines, wars, and natural disasters where villages and towns were destroyed and thousands perished. Think of people today who are suffering because of a terminal illness, someone’s life that ended way too soon and the families left behind, a young person struggling to survive in the hospital, etc. By viewing things this way, it keeps your challenges in perspective.
Imagine looking at yourself from above your bedroom. Then zoom out and look from above your city. Keep looking further out until you reach the moon and then the solar system. When you view yourself from this vantage point in relation to the setbacks and negative thoughts you’re having, and how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things, your problems will pale in comparison. I have used this exercise many times to help me realize, “this too shall pass.”
Another exercise to build your intestinal fortitude is the idea of voluntary discomfort. Do something uncomfortable every day. I started the daily habit of taking cold showers two months ago. After the ninth or tenth time, you discover it’s not that bad and in fact, you begin to enjoy how refreshing the cold water is. Also, you start to think you’re cheating yourself if you miss a day. You’re facing a fear, and by doing that, you’re building courage.
This is true with any habit, regardless of whether it’s taking cold showers, fasting or eating only one meal a day, getting by with only a few hours of sleep, exercising in very hot or cold conditions, or anything that will stretch your comfort zone. Doing this helps build mental strength like you wouldn’t believe. Plus, these exercises keep you humble and that’s very important. In short, doing anything that seems unpleasant and doing it on a daily basis so it becomes a habit, will reap huge rewards long term.
Use these tips when difficulties in your life punch you in the gut and you’re down on the canvas trying to get back up. I can assure you if you do these regularly, the obstacles in your life will be much easier to overcome.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”