“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” -Norman Schwarzkopf
What is mental toughness and why do you need it?
I personally feel that some people view mental toughness as this strange elusive cloud that comes and goes as it pleases. Gathering grit, building character, or becoming mentally strong are all achievable for anyone, you just have to know how to push physically when your brain doesn’t.
My background in a nutshell, I’ll keep this as concise as I can, but I feel the need to explain some of my highlighted progressions in gathering mental toughness through the years so you can relate my story to yourself. Everyone has accrued mental toughness during various stressful times in your life, some more intense than others, but nonetheless you have it.
Before my parents divorced when I was 10 years old, I grew up on a ranch in Cave Creek, Arizona. I was fortunate enough to grow up with horses to ride, cows that would eat barbwire and die, chickens that
would be eaten by the surrounding wild coyote, and massive pot belly pigs that would trot 100 meters from the barn to the house just to eat holes in the exterior drywall of the house. It was a good ten years to just be a kid and enjoy living next to massive animals that I would ride and show in local rodeos.
Before high school, when playing soccer and basketball I was always the smallest and weakest one on my team. I was the least coordinated, had minimal confidence, and I was the worst communicator. Looking back, I now realize the problem was I didn’t understand the fundamentals of training although I was building my ability to be resilient in quitting. I NEVER quit early and always gave 100% of my efforts even though the entire team hated when the coaches would play me out of guilt.
One week before I played my first season in tackle football, I broke my arm at the local skatepark. I got my arm casted and reset by the doctor. I didn’t want to drop out of football so I wrapped my arm in bubble wrap for every practice and every game for 12 weeks until I got my cast off. I remember thinking to myself at that time, “If I let this broken arm get in my way of trying to play then I would be disappointed in myself.” Every practice, being the smallest and the weakest, I absorbed massive tackles by the other kids on my team and from opposing teams. Every single tackle that I took I had whiplash in my neck and I can still feel the back of my helmet getting drilled into the ground. The other kids loved to tackle me hard because I was an easy target.
Every single play, practice, and game I had the feeling of wanting to quit. I NEVER quit once and I forced myself to participate the best I could in every practice and game through the whole season, just so I wouldn’t let my team down. I was the worst player on the worst team in our entire league which made me arguably the toughest player mentally in the league. I was awarded a trophy at the end of our last game for never quitting and giving up. That still is the best award I have received to date.
During the end of high school, all of college and after I dedicated myself to becoming a professional chef. I graduated with an accredited Bachelor’s degree from Le Cordon Bleu in two years while cooking for some of the most decorated 5 star/michelin chefs I could find through restaurants, massive catering events, private dinner parties, live cooking shows and volunteer opportunities.
Most people have this perception of the culinary industry mimicking the food network. This false persona of smiling people who can’t
wait to teach you how to chop an onion
is a lie. In reality, the top echelon of the
culinary industry is a brutal, hot, stressful, and painful environment lead by chefs who demand consistent perfection every second. The second
you come into work until the second you leave, you are burdened with incredible stress from the never ending list of small components you need to prepare for service. You’re already tired from working 15 hours straight yesterday in a 105 degree kitchen with another 4 or 5 days to go before a day off. If you burn something once or god-for-bid twice, you get screamed at by the sous chef or executive chef for ruining the entire day and sent off the line to go peel fruits and veg with a reduction in pay. Ill get into more about the chef life at a later time. What I need you to understand now is daily cooking in a kitchen is a grind, similar to the toughest workout you have ever participated in, over and over again.
After years of cooking, I got burned out from not having any life balance. My uncle has been a firefighter for 25+ years in Southern California, he lives at the beach, has never complained about work, has a ton of friends, and has always been super fit. I took a good hard look at what he has and decided to work towards becoming a firefighter early in my twenties. Again, Ill get more into the emergency field at another time, but I want you to realize the emergency
occupation is anything but sitting around waiting for something to do. Being young and working years on years to get your first shot with a major department is brutal
(I’ve got 5ish
years in and I’m still not there yet.) Being under the watchful eye of every firefighter, engineer, captain, and chief feels like a 24 hour workout of reading intense literature, communicating with every client you have on the worst day of their life, being constantly quizzed by your boss, lifting heavy things, while being surrounded by everything that can kill you all at the same time, all day long, with minimal rest. In my opinion, it is the best job in the world but It is mentally taxing.
Now that you have read a tiny bit about parts of my life, I can elaborate quickly on what I personally think about during my workouts to keep me mentally stable when my body is ready to give up. Most of the time I am counting reps and setting small incremental goals. “One more rep, one more isn’t going to hurt much worse than I feel now, ok, I am at 5 reps now, 2 more ill be at 7 then I’m almost at 10.” I think about technique, I try to que myself on proper form while remembering what the coaches always say to do when going over technique. “I think about the worst days I ever had cooking, brutal days working in the emergency field, I think a lot about not wanting to disappoint myself or my friends. I have this expectation of myself that people assume I am going to put forth 100% of my efforts into each workout and If I don’t, then ill let them down. Two of my biggest fears are first, letting my friends down, and second letting myself down. I have always cared more about others and how they feel before myself, (realizing as I am writing this why I love the emergency field so much.) During a heavy lift or a heavy workout, I think about myself being in certain life and death situations that come with the emergency occupation. Certain experiences rely on your ability to stay calm under immense pressure, fatigue, while having to problem solve and communicate
clearly. If you fail, you die, If you succeed, you live. Attempting to replicate that physical and emotional exhaustion in workouts better prepares me for the real deal.
I want to train with massive intention everyday to prepare myself for whatever the worst day of my life will be.“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. -Norman Schwarzkopf”
You have mental toughness already, you have suffered through horrible days, terrible workouts, and stressful times. Just remember, the next time you want to quit during a workout remind yourself that you have endured worse in the past.
In my next addition, I will talk about the crucial importance of having intention.