When it comes to intentionally developing toughness, most people quit. Why? Well, it's all mental and becoming mentally tough is, well… tough. It requires you to consistently put yourself in uncomfortable situations and to push through the discomfort to completion of the task or experience.
Great ideas come to me easily from an armchair. Sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee and reading a motivational book, it is easy to think about how I am going to better myself. The good ideas and benefits of self-improvement get me all jazzed and excited. Realizing the steps to achieve the goal is a whole other game. When the growing pains set it, my brain begins to passively seek out an easier path.
Few people in America have no choice but to be tough. Most of us usually have the option to pick the easy route. Hence, when we are choosing to go through hardship, we suddenly have an impossible time remembering the benefits. We want to run back to comfort.
Let me provide a simple example. This month, I committed to a small mental toughness challenge: five minute cold showers every day for 30 days. By the way, one of my least favorite things on the planet is being in cold water. So why do it?
Well, as I sat on the couch contemplating the challenge the benefits seemed in clear abundance: increased mental toughness, increased energy, healthier skin and hair, better moods, better adaptation to cold weather, etc. I wanted to see if all the claims I read about were true. How hard could it be?
The first few days absolutely sucked. With my shower turned to the coldest setting, I jumped in. The icy water almost made me hyperventilate as I tried catching my breath for those five minutes. All the benefits of this challenge immediately washed down the drain. I battled with the temptation to say the hell with it and turn the water back to hot. I grappled with my mind to remember why I was doing this. I eventually grasped onto one of my original motivations and held on to it as the seconds ticked by.
It suddenly became crystal clear why mental toughness is so hard to achieve—when our brains are under stress, we forget our why. Why did you pursue the goal in the first place? What was the deeper meaning? What makes it worth it? This is why we are so often told to write our goals down.
Cold showers are a simple exercise in mental toughness, but the same concept applies to more serious life endeavors. When it gets hard, when you feel miserable, when you start missing your family, when you get cold and hungry, when you are exhausted—don't quit. Remember your goal. Pause for a minute and grasp with your mind the reasons you are there. If for nothing else, grasp the goal of making yourself a stronger person.
- Jess Patrick