Years ago, I woke up with a pain in my stomach. But I don’t get sick, I thought to myself. Ever since I had begun my self-mastery journey, I hadn’t been getting sick or having any pains. I may have had some muscle pain from pushing myself while running or lifting, but I didn’t get sick, and my body was healthier than ever. This was strange, unexpected and surprising.
My Mind Was Saying No
I work out each day, staggering my running days and my lifting days. I’m blessed to have a gym in my basement, so after my morning routine of meditation, journaling, reading or listening to a life or business audiobook, I normally head down to my basement. That day was a run day, and I was not looking forward to running. My mind looked for reasons and justifications not to run. Excuses. First, the thoughts I observed were about lifting instead of running. My thoughts were trying to convince me that lifting was the right activity because of the pain. Before I knew it, I was considering taking the entire day off from working out.
For a while, I bought in and began softening my exercise plan. I switched between walking or running slowly on the treadmill, to a light lift, to no exercise at all. The mental chaos in my mind was noticeable and full of excuses. This was an all-too-familiar feeling for me. Just a few years before, I had been a 300-pound suicidal alcoholic and my mind gave me really great excuses for why the next beer was OK, exercise was optional, and another cheeseburger was acceptable. I’ve since learned to simply observe the excuses, and I have worked hard to overcome them.
F*ck The Excuses
As I sat at the kitchen table with my wife Angie, I began making fun of my “tummy ache.” I told her how it was causing me to rethink my plan and schedule, and I wasn’t going to allow this pain to stop me. I stood up and went down to the basement. On the way down the stairs, I still observed my mind as the thoughts started again to convince me to walk or get a quick, easy lift. Today wasn’t the day to push me. I wouldn’t give in to my tummy ache.
I stretched and stepped up onto the treadmill, and keyed in my normal time. Each day I run three miles, and whenever I feel that I’ve mastered a speed, I increase the difficulty. When I began my treadmill session I noticed my mind continually try to convince me that it was ok to walk or even take the day off. I set the speed to my normal speed as a “F*ck you” to my mind. I’ve seen it too many times. The treadmill started and got up to speed, and I felt my stomach pain increase and intensify to a point where it became hard to even move my legs. I kept moving. My runs are only 20 minutes, so I was going to finish.
At the .4 mile marker, the pain vanished. The pain literally disappeared. I had made it from mile 0 to mile .4 at my normal speed while enduring intense stomach pain, so I increased the speed. If I could go at my normal speed in pain, why couldn’t I go faster when feeling OK? I did an inventory: my lungs felt good, my legs felt good, and my stomach was back to normal. It was time to get into cruise mode.
Fighting Through The Comfort
At the 1.3 mile marker, the pain came back even more powerfully than when it left. I was now running beyond my normal speed, and the stomach pain was excruciating. My mind immediately sought permission and justification to stop or slow down. I observed as my mind went into overtime trying to get me to shift into comfort. I watched the mental struggle, and I called on an old memory to counter it.
In 1992 I was in the United States Marine Corps boot camp, and I was running a qualifying run. I was running my ass off, had nearly finished, and my side was splitting. This was probably the fastest I had ever run. I recall my Drill Instructor looking right at me and he saw me doubled over in pain. He barked out in his gruff Drill Instructor voice, “When you’re in pain, run faster. You’ll be in pain for a shorter amount of time.” This line has never left me.
When I felt my ache intensify at the 1.3-mile point, I increased the speed again. Whenever my mind tried to convince me to stop, I sped up to punish my thoughts. I was going to finish this run, and I was going to finish it powerfully and on my terms. The next 1.7 miles were extremely painful, and this run presented an opportunity for me to gain another level of ownership and accountability over my mind and body.
That’s exactly what I did. In fact, when I hit the 3-mile point, I kept going for another minute to make sure I proved to my mind and body that I was the one calling the shots, and would not give in to the excuses, victimization, and desire for comfort that the body and mind crave most of all. I finished that run in pain and logged the fastest 3-mile run in the past 25 years. I demonstrated to myself – again – that the mind will try to stop me well before my physical capabilities have been fully spent. There’s always plenty more left. So when your muscles are spent from physical activity, go faster. When you’re uncomfortable, go faster. When you desire to grow and to choose growth over comfort, go faster.
Push Yourself and Try This
To prove how the mind seeks comfort instead of growth, try this. Get nice and comfortable in a really hot shower. When you have fully finished your shower, turn off the hot water and immerse your body in cold, 55-degree water. This water temperature is not dangerous in any way, but your mind and body will go into overdrive trying to get you to shut the water off, or to turn the hot water back on.
The mind desires comfort. A cold shower will help you discipline your mind and body to choose growth over comfort. By forcing yourself to remain in the cold water for that period regardless of the state of the mind and body, you’ll begin to demonstrate to yourself and your mind that discomfort is safe. You’ll demonstrate to yourself that you can continue to choose discomfort even in the midst of mental chaos. Then when life begins to get uncomfortable, you’ll have a disciplined mind that is capable of weathering even the most chaotic of conditions. But you must be intentional about this process so you are prepared. As we used to say in the USMC, a gallon of sweat in peacetime is better than a gallon of blood in war. The time to start? Now. Is it too late if you haven’t already? Absolutely not. Prepare yourself on your terms, and I bet you’ll handle challenges even more powerfully. You’ll begin to learn to master yourself. Even pain won’t stop you.
Your Thoughts Are Not Kind
If you’re like most, your mind is not always your friend. It might seem like there’s a battle raging in your mind and in your thoughts. You might desire more from life: more money, more health, and more love. But you might just not be able to break out of your routines, or when you do something different, your mind and thoughts find a way to pull you right back into your comfortable, yet stuck patterns.
If you’re like most people, you might live in your head and your mind. Distraction, procrastination, and excuses might be your normal rhythms of life. Maybe you feel the intense, internal burn for achievement and more powerful outcomes, but your mind is constantly working against you.
If you’re like most, your thoughts are not kind.
It doesn’t need to be like this. There are plenty of tools, techniques, and methods that will help you discipline your mind and your thoughts, and help you move forward into new, powerful outcomes.
Growth or comfort? Choose one, because you can’t have both.