100% Mental

We all have an inner voice. And while we wish it was always lifting us up and propelling us forward, it is usually the other way around. Often, our inner voices are our biggest naysayers. It is loudest when we are uncomfortable. It tries to soothe us into complacency. And when we attempt great things, it will use logic and reason to back us off the edge.

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Generations of just trying to survive has made this voice a powerful ally. It tells us to stay indoors because a lion may be outside (Proverbs 22:13). It tells us we need more rest because we will need all that energy to hunt our next meal. And it will tell us to take a few more bites of food because we don’t know when we will be able to eat again.

Yet, for most of us, we left that hunter/gatherer lifestyle long ago. No longer is our day-to-day survival dependent on this ally that begs us to proceed with caution. Our lifestyles may have changed over the ages, but did our inner voice? If so, then why does it still suggest staying inside where it is safe, choosing relaxation over productivity, and eating an over-abundance of calories?


It is winter. The temperatures plummet and the water coming up from the well is frigid. Thank God for a water heater! As I enjoy the warmth of a hot shower, I look at the dial. I take a few deep breaths and turn it all the way to the coldest setting. The water hit like tiny needles. Soon, my skin turns pink. And then, no longer able to contemplate the past or the future, I find myself fully locked into the moment. As I feel every droplet of water on my skin, my mind awakens. I am alive! Is it uncomfortable? Of course. Am I suffering? Not a chance!

The hardest part is not enduring the cold. Instead, the hardest part is the decision to make it cold. It is a choice that flies in the face of everything the inner voice cautions against. My ancestors did everything in their power to protect themselves from the cold. And now here I am, choosing the opposite. My family thinks I am crazy. Well, all but one. My little boy used to find it amusing. But then, I started noticing that the dial was left on cold after some of his showers.

Your fitness is 100% Mental, your body won’t go where your mind doesn’t push it.

Wim Hof

How many times have I stopped a training session short because I allowed my mind to talk me out of continuing? Too many times to count. My inner voice, my mind, may be one of the greatest adversaries in my fitness quest. It is the voice that tells me to sleep in, take it easy, and eat or drink whatever I want. And though it behooves me to listen to the angel, it is the little devil that attacks when I am at my weakest. And it is all 100% mental. The body listens to the mind. And if the mind is weak and won’t push the body, the body will be weak as well.

It Never Happened

Photo by Luiz Rogério Nunes on Unsplash

The conversation was inevitable. Tensions were high and coming to a head. The current path was no longer conducive for both of us to walk.

As with most everything else I do in my life, I visualize the way I think it will go down. Will I be able to keep my emotions in check? Can I stay calm? And if it comes to blows… Okay, maybe that is a little far, but one must be prepared, right?

Visualization turns to obsession. Obsession becomes neuroticism. Blood pressure rises in anticipation. Anticipation results in a loss of productivity, and then later, in a loss of sleep. And like many conversations I have imagined in the past, this one never happened.

I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

Mark Twain

The fantasy I have created in my mind results in a reality of needless suffering. Anxiety for an unknown future is silly. Just like the good times, I have found a way to survive the bad times. Usually, I came out fine, maybe even a little stronger. Did I need to suffer in advance? Did the suffering change the event looming on the horizon? Did the event even happen? The answer is obvious and yet, I continue the same preposterous ritual of premature suffering.

The future has not arrived. I can prepare for the future by building my anxiety, running through countless possible scenarios, and then exacerbating the threat by giving it more attention than it deserves. Or I can prepare by doing the work required of me in the present moment. The activities of today demand my attention. The victories in the here and now are the stepping-stones that will see me through tomorrow. I cannot cross the bridge of the unknown until I arrive at the threshold.

He suffers more than is necessary, who suffers before it is necessary.

Seneca, Letter #98: On the Fickleness of Fortune

Twain and Seneca provide the proof that I am not the only one anxious about future events. There may even be a chance that we are in the same predicament. If so, then I implore you to turn to the present and let the events of tomorrow rest until they become the events of today. Prepare for tomorrow by attending to the work required of you today.

Fox or Hedgehog

I.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” -Archilocus

The fox is crafty and intelligent. He can create elaborate strategies to gain a hunting advantage over the hedgehog.

The hedgehog on the other hand is simple. He knows how to do one thing. When danger is on the horizon, he will roll into a prickly ball.

II.

Ask me a few months ago which I would rather be, a hedgehog or a fox, I would have said a fox. Why not? A fox can do so much. Not being a one-trick pony, he can use the full array of his skills to plan, strategize, and execute. Why be simple when you can be complex? Complex is alluring, even sexy, whereas simple is just that, it is simple, maybe even a bit boring.

I have lived my life as a fox. And now I wonder, where has it gotten me? I can perform a multitude of odds and ends but not well enough to make it a profession. I can spout off a ton of random knowledge, yet who would be willing to hire me as a consultant? Even worse, I can dabble here and there on a plethora of projects. How many of these get finished? Not enough! As much as I try to be a fox, I have never successfully hunted a hedgehog.

III.

Oh, that I was a hedgehog! What would it be like to know one thing perfectly? How excellent would it be to execute, without flaw, one single task? The foxes may scoff, but they will never be able to compete with a hedgehog. A handyman may be able to perform a wide array of activities, but will they be able to compete with a master carpenter?

As I look to a new business, the allure is to do a little of everything. But touching upon a little of a lot will prevent the mastery of one. Do I want to be an amateur dabbler, or do I want to find mastery in the one big thing that will take my little upstart from mediocrity to excellence?

IV.

Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.

Jim Collins

In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes about businesses that employ the Hedgehog Concept. These companies made a transition from being average to leading their respective industries. To do so, they found the intersection of three circles based on the following three questions:

What can you be the best in the world at?

What drives your economic engine?

What are you deeply passionate about?

Understanding and finding the intersection between these three questions, one can determine where to put the focus. This is the essential business of the hedgehog. Everything else should be ignored.

Day by Day

Each day is another link in the chain. Chains are no good if the links are weak. We can’t go back and fix our chain, but we can strengthen the newest links as we go along. We can build our links to handle a greater load, to be more resilient against outside forces, and to bolster us in times of need. We can create our chains of destiny to serve us and others when the need is the greatest. Everyday we forge a new link which means everyday counts. Throwing in a bad link every once in a while will do us no good. How can we build this chain?

Choice

What are our options? They are too numerous to count. But every choice matters; every decision counts.

The choices you make today will be your biography tomorrow.

James Altucher

One day, David decided to stay home. This was a choice. His country was at war. As the king, he should have been the one leading his men out to battle. In those days, that was his job. Instead, he made a self-serving choice that cascaded into a chain of subsequent bad choices. Laziness led to adultery which then led to murder. What started with one choice ended with a decree from God that the sword would never leave his house (2 Samuel 11-12).

Hopefully, the choices we make will not be as catastrophic as David’s. Yet,  they can quickly spiral downward if we do not remain vigilant.

Thought

Maybe, it is too simple to believe it is true. But here it is: We become what we think about (Emerson). If our minds are focused on violence all day, then in time we will become desensitized to it. We will begin to justify it in the behaviors of others. Eventually, we will even be able to justify it in our own behaviors. The same could be said for all the vices–slothfulness, drunkenness, gluttony, lust. Thankfully, this also holds true for the virtues—wisdom, discipline, justice, courage, love.

So, when we think about adding quality to our lives or subtracting undesirable traits, it begins with our thoughts.

Persist in visualizing the ideal man you are determined to be, and always think of yourself as you are ambitious to become. This mental attitude will help you to match your dream with its reality.

Orison Swett Marden

Action

Thoughts will set into our minds the types of people we wish to become. But at the end of the day, they must harmonize with our actions. Action is the testimony by which the world will view us. The houses we build in heaven are constructed by the works we do on earth. This is the Karma we set into motion while dwelling in our bodies. Every action has a reaction. Jung said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” Not our words and thoughts, but what we actually do. This is the mark by which we will be known.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Thomas Jefferson

We cannot control the outside forces that fate imposes upon us. Weather, fortune, and the deeds of others are often fickle and inconsiderate. Despite this, we can determine to be champions in this life, not victims.

Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.

Heraclitus

Don’t Fool Yourself

I look in the mirror. Whether good or bad, I only see what I want to see. My eyes only see what they have been trained to see. Everything else mysteriously gets dismissed. I find it amazing that a still image rarely matches what I saw in the mirror.

I take another bite. Today, the food looks good. It is pleasant to the senses and delights the palate. Sadly, it is not the best choice of food from a nutritional standpoint. Therefore, I will tell myself to only eat a little. Tomorrow, I am going to have a different opinion. Tomorrow, I am going to look back and wonder what I was thinking. Why did I pick that and why did I eat so much of it?

It is Sunday afternoon. I am feeling a little tired and decide to take a short nap (probably from all the food I ate). I set the timer for twenty minutes and get up two hours later. What happened?

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman

It is easy for me to look around and mentally note everybody else’s flaws. Why is that person so self-delusional? Don’t they know how foolish they look? Why do they eat such garbage and so much of it? Why aren’t they more active? Instead, they are just wasting away the time God has given them.

How is it that I am not so quick to notice my own flaws? In the moment, I acquiesce and give in to my base desires. These are the same desires that I am quick to notice and question in others. Yet, I have fooled myself to such an extent that I can no longer see these same behaviors in myself. The first principle is to not fool myself. Unfortunately, I have broken this principle too many times to count.

How do I improve knowing that I am so easily fooled?

  1. Have a plan. Without one, I am lost.
  2. Have a partner. I need someone to hold me accountable. Even more important, I must listen when someone calls me out.
  3. Check my ego. My ego says I can get away without consequences. It wants me to compare myself to others in a way that only points to my perceived goodness and to their inherent flaws.

To not fool myself is no easy task. Yet, it can be done. It requires vigilance and an honest appraisal of my actions.

A Straight Pathway to Achievement

A Tuesday night soccer game. Before the game, I was a little worried how our team would play. We were missing three players and would take the field with one less player than our opponent. At game time, I realized neither team would have any substitutes. It would be eight versus nine with the winner standing at the top of the league standings.

After 5 minutes of play, we went down 1-0. The star player on the other team scored the first goal. Oh no! This could get ugly fast. Yet, our team didn’t surrender. They never gave up and continued to run and play hard. Our defense collected themselves and became relentless in their pursuit of the ball. And in the proudest of dad moments…

My son, Alec, began to shine. He coached his teammates on what to do and where to go. He took over on offense with multiple break-a-ways. He  employed a few tricks that left the defenders watching him as he passed them by. After the dust settled, Alec had four goals on the tally sheet. We won 4-1.

Sometimes, a player gets lucky. Other times, a player just has a little more natural talent. But this performance wasn’t luck. It wasn’t natural talent. So, what was it? What separated him from the rest of the pack?

Having conceived of his purpose, a man should mentally mark out a straight pathway to its achievement, looking neither to the right or the left.

James Allen

Last season, Alec was good. He was one of the four best players on the best team in the league. He finished the season with one or maybe even two goals. He was happy to win and happy to provide key passes to the goal scorers. But he wanted more. He wanted to capitalize on the “oh so many close” shots. Last season was when he started to really get hungry.

During the offseason when he wasn’t in school or wrestling, Alec was outside kicking the ball until the sun went down. He would bring his iPad outside with him, watch a video, and then practice what he saw over and over until he learned the skill. If the weather kept him indoors, he was watching more videos, watching games, or playing soccer on his Nintendo Switch. Soccer was his focus, and it was laser sharp.

Of course, I love to see his work bear fruit. But what impresses me the most is seeing his work ethic. He found something he is passionate about. And to become the best version of himself, he never looked to the right or the left. He marked out his pathway and began the journey only the most dedicated are willing to take.

I spend so much of my time teaching and working with him. But watching him practice, I realized he was really teaching me. At his age, I never worked as hard as he did. And as an adult, I tend to waver from one pursuit to the next. I am a middling Jack-of-a-bunch-of-stuff, but a master of nothing. Alec, on the other hand, is on a path to mastery that I can only hope to be on one day. He is becoming my inspiration to be better, to try harder. Maybe, there will come a time that I can be like him.

One Link at a Time

I dream of the future. If unchecked, my dreams can take many twists and turns. The dreams are part of who I am. The ones that I find suitable, I chase like a hunter in pursuit of its prey. Unfortunately, I am not a master of hunting. I tend to get distracted. Rather than pursue the one big target, I find myself chasing multiple targets. All this chasing and nothing to show for it. Tired and hungry.

It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

Winston Churchill

One link in the chain at a time. One target that is a link on my chain and not a link on a different chain. What are the requirements? Focus and Presence. Too many irons in the fire wastes too much material and leaves too many unfinished works. And whatever work does get done will most likely not be of the highest quality. In my chain of destiny, this is not what I want. I want a link that is solid and will stand the test of time. One link at a time. Oh yes, one link at a time.

The Work

I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.

Michael Jordan

When I was younger, I didn’t always do the work. Consequently, the outcomes I was hoping for rarely came. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I needed to do more work. This became my faith:

Do the work. The results will come.

How often is my faith tested? Am I only entitled to the work but not to the fruits? I try not to compare myself to others. But when I pick my head up from the work, I only seem to see the results others are getting. Where are my results? Where is the payoff from these years of struggle?

Do the work. The results will come.

I know I made mistakes. The track I am on is not the fast track. Heck, it is not even the medium track. However, this is the bed I made. I must sleep in it until I can produce a better bed. This is my race no matter how slow I go.

Do the work. The results will come.

I want to believe the results will come. Doing the work is all I have. I know for a fact that I won’t get the results I desire if I don’t do the work. Therefore, all I have is the work. if the amount of work I am doing is not getting the results, then I must do more work. The work must be smarter. It must be relentless.

Do the work. The results will come.

I pray for the strength to be able to do it. I pray that I may continue to fight this good fight. My mind and my hands were built to work. I have no other choice but to do that which I was called to do: the work.

A Revelation in Defeat

The Merchant.

Somewhere in the late 4th Century B.C., the ship casted off with all the merchant’s wealth invested in the purple dye contained within in the holds. This was the big score. Once traded, he would be at the top of the game. His family and business would be secure well into his retirement. There was only one problem. The ship never made it to its destination. His fortunes, hopes, and dreams lay at the bottom of the sea.

The Baller.

After 2 NBA championships, the sky was the limit for this 11x all-star. He was at the top of his game with many years still left to play. The preparation he put into his craft both on and off the court was paying off in spades. In February 2016, He was gearing up for another championship run with his team when things turned bad. A blood clot put him on the sidelines. At first, it was a setback. Then, it became a career-ender.

The Boxer.

He was a petty thief sent to a reform school at the age of ten. At fourteen, he learned to box and won a gold medal in the Olympics three years later. At twenty-one, he was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. But like most fighters, he eventually lost the belt.

It is easy to do anything in victory. It is in defeat that a man reveals himself.

Floyd Patterson

Life was good for the merchant Zeno. But what happened to his life after he lost it all? Zeno turned inward. Not in a depressing, moping kind of way. He didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol, binge watch the local circus, or engage in idle amusements to while away the time before his death. Nope! Instead, he got to work. He realized the tragedy he faced was not the end of the world. He started a school and created a philosophy that still is practiced by many today. Now, he is known as the father of Stoicism.

Players give their lives to their sports. At an early age, they trade their childhood and teenage years for the game. When the other kids are sleeping in, playing around (or goofing off), they are in the weight room, on the track, or at the practice facility going through their drills. The fraction of the percent of the players who become professionals had to rely on more than talent and the gifts their Creator endowed them with. It was their discipline, persistence, and tenacity that pushed them onto the big stage.

And what happens when it is all over? What’s next when their bodies can no longer handle the rigors of playing at an elite level? Many ride off into the sunset and into obscurity. Others become regular people working regular jobs. And then there are some, like Chris Bosh, who after being forced into retirement from a blood clot, became an author, community leader, and inspiration for the next generation. It is people like him that see meaning beyond the game. They see that winning is more than numbers on a stat sheet. It is the tally at the end of one’s life of bringing value to the world.

It is a fact that fighters get hit. They will get knocked down, and they will lose. The mark of a champion, however, is that they get back up. They don’t stay down. When Floyd Patterson lost his championship belt, he could have said he had enough. Instead, he became the first two-time heavyweight champion of the world. And though he never recaptured the belt a third time, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It wasn’t in the easy times that he became a champion. It was in the struggle where his true self was revealed.

We have all suffered setbacks and losses in our lives. We have all been knocked down. This is nothing new. Losing doesn’t make us special. Not everybody will get back up. But the ones that do, they are the true champions of life. The true strength of a person is revealed in the struggle. It is in getting back up.

From the Beginning to the End

There is something beautiful about beginning a new adventure. The muse comes down and inspires the young hero to go on a quest. The way is unknown and holds great peril to the unsuccessful. But to the victor comes all the rewards: love, riches, and reputation. To the hero, it is a journey that is both noble and romantic. The only choice is to go forth and rescue the maiden, slay the dragon, and save the world. Therefore, the hero takes the first step.

The following steps are not so easy as the first one. Our hero encounters villains that have nothing to do with the quest but to cause mischief, doubters and naysayers that ridicule and scorn, and temptations that lure the young hero into complacency. The first step was exciting and full of hope. Every step after that was tedious and required an incredible amount of work just to take the next step.

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We all have had our hero’s journey. Some of us might even be in one now. The journey could be losing ten pounds, quitting smoking, and finishing school. Whether big or small, it is important to us. It was great that we made the decision. Taking the first step was commendable. Unfortunately, there is no glory in only beginning the journey. Hope will wane as the trials begin. But we should not be faint of heart. The trials will make us stronger. It will make the prize at the end of the road even more precious. Great was the beginning, but greater still is the crossing of the finish line.