Growing up as a little boy, I was scrawny, weak, and prone to illness (I even had to be in one of those bubbles in the hospital they make movies about). I was always the smallest in my class, doomed to be little and last picked my entire life... Until one day in the Second Grade, my dad took me camping.
In the Mountains of Wyoming on some free-stay campsite in the middle of nowhere I learned that I could be tough, scrappy, and could do anything I wanted to do. It all started when we went exploring - we walked for a little while until we found a river. I looked up at my dad and said “Lets cross it”. Looking back I dont think I realized how cold and wide this “little river” actually was. My dad looked at me and said “I need your shoes.” I remember thinking it was weird, but as any 2nd grader would do, I gave them over. With my shoes in hand, my dad quickly tied the laces together and threw my freaking shoes over onto the other side of the riverbank. He then paused for a second, bent over, took his shoes off and proceeded to throw them over as well. He then looked down at me and said “Well, now we have to cross”.
The trip had just began and we were also so poor growing up, that was my only pair of shoes I had at the time. So, I gave myself a little peptalk, and made my legs take one step, then another, then another, until I was waste deep in a freezing river. Slowly but surely I crossed the river, all 60lbs of me, barefoot, I crossed the river and got my shoes.
It was in that moment when I got back across that I learned quite a bit about myself, it was an experience that changed who I was at a core level – I developed a stubborn willingness to push myself harder than anyone else, to charge headlong into the rough and un-certain terrain. I learned that I had the power to ignore the cold, sharp rocks, my own personal discomfort to accomplish my goals. I learned in that moment, that those are the qualities that could set me apart, regardless of my size.
I would never be the biggest, or the strongest, or the fastest… BUT, I could be the TOUGHEST.
Since that time I began competing in numerous sports, including wrestling, boxing, and Rugby. I played rugby for over 12 years, eventually earning MVP and Collegiate All-American status in 2007. I have since retired, but through my experience I am living proof that toughness counts.
I remember growing up learning values such as family first, and hard work ethic being engrained in me from a very young age. I remember lessons such as men always sleep closest to the door, earn your keep, work hard for what you want, and never give up. My dad engrained these lessons in me intentionally.
People who didn’t lean these lessons are always extremely obvious to me; for instance huge meathead dudes with tons of muscles that wince at the idea of a cold shower. These are the guys that insist on wearing gloves when they lift. Its the same feeling I get when people who call themselves entrepreneurs call in sick with a tummy ache. These type of people are amazingly strong within their personal comfort zone bubble, but as soon as they are forced out of it, their attitude, performance, and value drops drastically.
Simply put - They lack toughness.
Toughness is the ability to get the job done regardless of circumstances. That might mean showing up when you are sick or injured. That might mean you pull all nighters to hit a deadline. That might mean you still get your morning run in, even when its snowing. That might mean you have two jobs that work you to the bone to make sure you provide for your family. It means you perform well athletically even when your workout consists of trees and axes, instead of pullup bars and comfortable room temperatures. Toughness means you find a way to get it done – end of story.
Toughness can be learned
It is a myth that you’re either born tough or you’re not. The truth is, toughness, both mental and physical, should be trained and tested just like any other skill. There are self-discipline routines that can train and cultivate personal will power, patience, and the ability to stay positive, focused, and determined no matter how bad things look.
Mental toughness boils down to willpower. When everyone else has decided they are too tired, you decide to keep going.
So, how can you cultivate mental toughness?
Self - Discipline
One of the best ways to develop mental toughness is to accept small discomforts on a regular basis. I began taking Cold Showers about 2 years ago. I also began to limit and test my bodies limits on sleep deprivation to maximize daily output, and I try to do a 24-hour fast at least once a month to keep me grounded. These sound crazy, but you would be amazingly surprised at the amount of pressure your body can take and still perform at optimum levels when tested.
There’s a lot to be said for doing things you hate doing - and learning to do them with a smile on your face. Life isn’t about happiness and comfort – Life is about the wild moments in between and how you react to them. Begin to test yourself in these areas and simply start a weekly cold shower diet. If that’s too much for you, maybe just start off with one a week. Something as simple as that daily exercise can literally transform your outlook on life and situations.
My challenge to you this week is to allow (or seek out) small inconveniences and discomforts in your everyday life. Learn to tolerate them. Learn to enjoy them.
Lets be the men and women that we were created to be. "No one gets remembered for being comfortable"
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