Do Difficult Things Every Day.
This is going to be a short post, mostly because the concept can be summed up in those five words. At a round table Q&A at our recent conference there was a question which was asked related to breaking through mental barriers – how do you do it. The truth is I wish I had a better answer for the inquirer than I did at the time, but it did give me something to think about the entire next day. What is it about some people who seem to “smash it” every day? Those guys and girls at your gym or at the bar who have battle scars and wicked-awesome stories about experiences they’ve had in life and surpassing difficult moments. Meanwhile, we’re relegated to telling the story about the one time we bought the two-ply instead of the three-ply toilet paper, and how our spouse was really unhappy with the outcome. What is the difference between these individuals and ourselves? Assuming that the person at the bar or the gym isn’t a bald-faced liar, the truth is that they have learned two things in life which many of us fail to.
The first thing which has been learned by these individuals is that hard work and difficult tasks have a semi-transferable nature. It can be summarized by the expression “nothing succeeds like success.” These individuals have come to the realization that for each of us, we cannot expect to do simple, mundane, and pedestrian things in our lives and expect the gym or our diet to be any different. We have this expectation that we can go in, do the base minimum at the 8-5 job, put in minimal effort at being a parent or spouse, and take our friendships for granted…and then go gonzo in the gym. Life doesn’t seem to work like that. When we set limitations around our safety and fear of failure at one aspect of our lives, we eventually do two things:
- We experience dissatisfaction and failure in that one aspect.
- We run the risk of that transferable nature leaking into mediocrity in all facets of our lives.
The second thing that these individuals have learned is that there is a success to be found in failing at great and difficult tasks. We are a very interesting culture. We celebrate the victor and lampoon the loser in a great many areas. We denigrate the outcome rather than celebrate the performance. The truth is that in competition there must be a winner and loser. That’s a statement of fact. However, we have taken the same sort of approach to our work performance, our relationships, and our hobbies…areas in which shades of grey exist. We live in safety – avoiding challenging projects, tough assignments, or difficult topics. We then celebrate what was an assured victory with absurd levels of aplomb. We sing “We are the Champions” and we have a celebratory meal. Meanwhile, at no time was the outcome ever in doubt. The reason we do so is because our ego is too fragile to accept the possibility of failure, so we have recast certain victory in the lens of “certain victory…because I am involved” (and thereby inflate our self-worth) and when we run up against something which challenges that preconception, we shrink away.
These celebrated individuals have learned that failure can be a victory. Knowing your limits requires testing your limits. It requires learning that much more than any other person around you, the boundaries of what you could do today become the scaffolding upon which the challenges of tomorrow will be girded. You have built a framework that isn’t supported by a fragile ego and cupcake opponents, but is instead based upon the culmination of wins, losses, and learning experiences which have created in you a force. A force…a constancy…a power – determined to test every self-imposed limitation in your life until you determine and discover what truly is possible.
So to answer the question a bit more directly – how do I break through mental barriers at the gym? Break through mental barriers at home, at the office, in relationships. Leverage laundry, the dishes, that tough project, or an uncomfortable conversation to showcase to yourself just how strong you are today when under the barbell. Let today’s strength be the underpinning of tomorrow’s challenges.