“Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”
Here @Showmestrength, we dedicate a bunch of our time to sharing information about our training, the training of others, and the proper ways to approach training, mostly when it deals with the sport of baseball. An area we feel may get ignored and often under trained however, is an athlete’s approach to the training of his or her mind.
Everyone knows the athlete who has a boatload of talent but seems mentally soft or weak when it comes time to attack goals, perform under pressure, or pick themselves up when times are tough.
Everyone knows the athlete who gives up when they aren’t feeling their best, when they are tired, beat down, and things aren’t going their way.
Everyone knows the athlete who talks “tough,” but doesn’t day in and day out display the “mental fortitude” to achieve the “very best” that they so often talk about.
What do I believe mental toughness is? I’ve heard many people describe their idea of what it means, but rarely am I sold on their take. Being a mentally tough son of a b**** is very appealing to people, including myself. It’s sexy, macho, and downright cool to see people who seem to lock in with extreme focus under extreme pressure or circumstances. Why are we so drawn to these people? Because. If it were easy, everyone would be like that. Simple. That leads me to my definition, part of which I took from Richard Mackowicz who is a former Navy Seal, author/speaker, founder of NDCQ, and ultimate badass.
” What makes a person mentally tough is how they show up when the chips are down, when they are fatigued and when the odds aren’t in their favor. If that person is consistently focused on the goal or target, giving every ounce of energy to achieve that goal, and showing up with the same intensity when the odds are against them and when people depend on him or her the most, then that individual is mentally tough”
Richard “Mack” Mackowicz talks to the Oakland Raiders at length on the topic here -
As an athlete, its easy to see why videos like this fire me up. Matt Kramer sent me this video earlier this summer right after I was released by the Atlanta Braves. It got my juices flowing for sure. I wanted to prove people wrong, get back to Cressey Performance and bust my ass in the gym, and get back to throwing like I know how.
These though, were just emotions. What I needed was ACTION. I knew that I would train hard. I love to train hard. The question though was if I was willing to give more mentally. Was I willing to do things that would push my mind to my self-imposed limits? Was I willing to practice having the chips not in my favor and the conditions against me? I knew that physically I would be training with the best strength coach in the world, Eric Cressey. It was going to be up to me, though, if I wanted to train my mind as hard as my body.
I decided, along with close friend and Stanford baseball player, Sahil Bloom, that I would dedicate myself to exercising my mental strength as much as I would my physical strength. Here are a few of the ways we trained and continue to train.
The idea to try ice baths came from the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. It was described in the book as a way to supercharge your metabolism leading to an increase in fat loss. I found the book absolutely fascinating, and recommend it to people looking to recompose their body, but Sahil and I thought it would be a good way to challenge ourselves mentally. We decided that we would each take cold baths, working up to 15 bags of ice, every weeknight of the summer.
Seems reasonable right? Ha. I remember the first minute of my first ice bath very clearly. It was a minute that I learned a ton from because in that moment I let my negative thoughts get the best of me. I thought of ways I could make it easier, ways I could convince Sahil to cut it short and find a less cold way to complete the drill. The Navy Seals talk about this sort of reaction as a panic button that gets switched on in the brain. If left untrained, in their case, you’re dead. The Seals train extensively to suppress the “panic button” in their brain to keep laser like focus in the presence of chaos. (Learn more on how the seals train the brain’s reaction to fear here). From that minute of panic, I learned #1) I had a long way to go if I wanted to suppress my “panic button.” #2) This was something I could train. #3) Being freezing cold for an extended period of time would force me to focus on something simple, yet so difficult to master, my breath.
By the end of the summer, Sahil and I had worked up to 15 bags of ice filled alongside cold water in a normal sized tub. One of us would go in for a 2 minute interval while the other cheered and encouraged from the side or re-focused for the next rotation. This lasted upwards of 18 minutes some nights. 15 bags and 18 minutes would have been hard to fathom when just starting out, but we learned that just like our body, we could exercise and train our minds to overcome the most challenging of circumstances.
4 A.M. Mountain Runs-
Carrying each other on our shoulders, battling the fatigue of early morning, and enduring through the times when our bodies were telling us to quit were some of the ways Sahil and I decided we would use the mountain next to his house for mental training. Once I learned that this awesome hill existed, he and I both knew that it would become a staple for both our physical and mental training over the course of the summer.
Another lesson learned from Richard Mackowicz made alot of sense to me. It cut through to a very basic principle that I could apply to all areas of my life.
“A man can only be beaten in 2 ways. If he gives up or he dies.”
I vowed that I would keep this in the back of head when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as carrying Sahil on my back up the mountain or waking up at 4 a.m. when I was tired and cold. Giving up simply wasn’t an option anymore. Once that was clear in my skull, it freed up so much more room to grow in regards to mental strength.
Here is a cool video from Will Smith that will help reinforce the concept :
My favorite comment from Will is:
“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different from me and everyone else is that I am willing to die on a treadmill. You may have more talent that me. You may be smarter or stronger than me, but either you’re getting off first, or I’m gonna die.”
By no means are we in favor of treadmills till death here at Showmestrength, but that statement just shows the level of commitment toward success one can have, and therefore train.
This was another idea pulled from the 4-hour body. As part of the slow-carb diet, which essentially is 6 days a week eating meats, veggies, legumes, beans, and nuts followed by one day of an all out splurge on as much and whatever food your heart desires, Tim Ferriss goes into further detail on how if scheduled correctly, cheat days can actually be beneficial for those people looking to redesign their physique in a positive way. After reading this book, I knew that I really didn’t even need to change my eating habits too much. I tweaked a bit here and there, but scheduling this day of insane eating ended up teaching me a couple of things.
1.) Scheduling rewards for a job well done plays a huge role in remaining on the track of consistency. It’s easy to drift astray of goals sometimes, but I found that whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds, move around more weight in the gym, or become better at your craft, rewarding yourself on a scheduled basis can keep you locked into what you’re trying to achieve. Cheat days happen to be my scheduled weekly reward for eating amazingly all week.
2.) When planned correctly, cheat days have no negative affect on performance or physique. I learned this through two reliable professionals in the field of human performance, one of them being Tim Ferriss. The other is John Romaniello. Roman is well read in various areas of fitness and health, and is one of the most successful strength coaches in the world. Click on their names above to read about them further. You’d be doing yourself a favor!
The biggest item that I wanted to share here is the importance of training your mind. I think all of us are guilty in some degree to taking the power of our minds for granted. If you truly are looking for an edge in performance, dedicated to ACTING on your goals, and willing to do whatever it takes to become better at what you do, you owe it to your body AND your noggin to train accordingly…Now, one last quote from the dragon himself, Bruce Lee.
“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”