I open with this thought: "Warriors aren’t trained to go home."
This post is about creating strength…it’s never a question of why, but always question of when. Strength is always needed, including strength of the mind, body, and spirit.
The strongest person you know, both mentally and physically, likely has a disciplined and consistent approach to exercising strength. Think about the barrage of mental challenges working with terminal cancer patients might present. The bodybuilder in the gym who doesn’t miss one rep, one calorie, or one minute of sleep over months at a time. The single mother taking care of three children while working two jobs. The challenges vary, but the warrior mindset doesn’t.
What is the difference between those who are truly strong and those who are not? It is simply a willingness to do the hard work when you least feel like it. The resolve to succeed, by any means necessary.
Motivation is fleeting. Discipline is consistent.
Warriors train in the harshest of conditions, even when it “doesn’t matter”, so that when it comes time to perform they are ready. Rain or shine. Snow, sleet or hail. They’ve already succeeded (or beaten you) just by the way they prepare.
While seemingly extreme, these methods can be applied to anything in your life. Work, workouts, finances, family hardship, etc. This applies to something as simple as making your bed every morning. It’s the first “win” of the day, the first chance to check something off your to-do list, and to kick start your morning routine.
Everyone and everything can be stress tested, and it should be. But why?
For one, life is complicated and at times pretty difficult. Things may spiral out of control, the world may seem as if it is crashing down around you, but you are always in control of at least one thing - your reaction to it and your preparation for it.
Think of the last time you walked by a fast-food restaurant, or a donut shop, and you caved under pressure. Why did you make that decision? Let’s assume you are trying to avoid those foods for purposes of this discussion. It is very likely your discipline faltered due to a lack of preparation.
Your preparation involves an active decision to eat something else (i.e. you cooked food at home so you don’t need to purchase more food), but it also involves the willingness and ability to say “no” when you need to practice discipline.
This is what we’re getting at. The pre-planned ability to say no (or yes, potentially in the face of fear) to make decisions based upon a set of rules you already made for yourself. No excuses, no BS, no peer pressure.
Real Life Scenario: I just completed one month of paleo and intermittent-fasting. I said “no” a lot, even when it was very difficult. No grains, no dairy, no alcohol - even on dates, nights out with friends, and a seemingly insurmountable stream of peer pressure.
If you can’t say no during times of low stress what makes you think it’ll be easier when it gets worse? Don’t rely on motivation. Create discipline.
The second “stress test” of self-will involves the concept of "red teaming." The concept is used heavily in the tech and military sectors in which a group takes an “attacker” approach to hacking their own system to determine vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and assess security.
Writers “red team” all the time, though they don’t call it that. It’s just called “peer editing."
We can do the same thing to our own operating systems. And it involves editing your life for variety. Try new workouts, new foods, work on a creative project with a different person, or ask your own personal “board of advisers” (i.e. those people who’s opinion you seek most often) to try and poke holes in your behavior, decision making, and reactivity.
What are your weaknesses? Where are you vulnerable?
Growth happens at the edge of being a little bit uncomfortable. If you’re afraid of public speaking, and your number gets called in the next group meeting, will you be ready? Do you really want to wait to get in front of that important group of people to find out?
I regularly try to put myself in these types of situations to mitigate my weaknesses. Then I amplify my strengths. This is a great activity to do with a mentor - you’ll receive critical feedback, learn from someone smarter or stronger, and become stronger yourself in the process.
Real Life Scenario: My weakness with food has nothing to do with me buying something from the store, grocery, or restaurant, but everything to do with food being offered to me. Whether it’s sitting on a work desk, girlfriend brings home candy from the office, or the appetizers the group orders, it always catches my attention (and appetite). Could I have avoided bread and booze if I had locked myself in my apartment and not socialized for a full month? Definitely. But life isn’t fun that way, nor should your wellness goals get in the way of your life. Learn to actively say no with a purpose. Don’t get caught shrugging your shoulders because you “don’t have an excuse."
Worst Case Scenario Planning
You’ve assessed your weaknesses and developed a road map for dealing with a crisis. Now actually practice that crisis. This third stress test is “worst case scenario” planning. If everything goes to $*#&, can you handle your $*#&?
This goes hand in hand with red teaming. Create back-up systems for your health and for your work.
Just as you back-up your phone and computer for data, we can do the same for the body and mind. If you’ve properly hydrated all morning, you can handle a few hours without water (and without getting a headache) - try it.
If you’ve developed a meditation or mindfulness practice, there will inevitably be a period of high stress in your life. Use this back-up system in your brain to deal with that stress. When rational thought cannot reason your emotion out of feeling overwhelmed, fall back on that discipline.
Bring your own food with you in your carry-on. Pre-research food menus and restaurants when traveling. Try a pre and post flight stretch to relieve inevitable tightness, and continue to develop that practice in between travels.
You can even take this a step further. For instance, fasting is a great way to drop your reliance on food, specifically eating right away in the morning or at regular intervals. Try the same thing with your phone - “fast” by leaving it at home for a whole day (woah!).
What feeble technology do you absolutely rely on every day for success? Try going a day without it, just in case.
This is not doomsday preparation, just simply a way to stay on your game when your routine fails.
Be comfortable feeling a little uncomfortable. You’ll be one step ahead of yourself, and two steps ahead of everyone else.