Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth”.
As we reel from this “punch” to our lives and businesses, we’re trying to figure out how to move forward and keep fighting. And Rocky said, “It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” We’re all figuring out what that looks like for us.
Discipline is doing what we need to do, when we need to do it, even when we don’t feel like it. It requires pushing through struggle and discomfort. Our tribal warrior traditions toughened the body and disciplined the mind; chipping away ice to swim, fasting, exposure to the elements, the rigors of stickball, ceremonies, etc. Discipline is critical in life and business, but sometimes events cannot be “outworked”. What happens when we face a loss, radical change or the emotions from setbacks and disappointments? Perhaps the toughest challenge of this pandemic has been facing ambiguity and uncertainty. Though discipline helps keep our structure and schedule intact, it doesn’t address the emotional pain so many are suffering. This is the turf of mental toughness.
Discipline hardens us to endure but mental toughness strengthens us to succeed. The Japanese understood this concept in crafting the famous katana, the sword of samurai warriors, incorporating both hardness (ability to stay rigid and resist impact) and toughness (ability to flex and absorb impact) and is one of the finest edged blades ever created by human hands.
I grew up learning in my family, athletics, school, military career, business etc. that discipline was the key to success – but it has limits. So much of discipline is what we “do”, often times by rote, but mental toughness requires us to develop emotional capacity to deal with how we “feel”. Mental toughness allows to endure those difficult moments that happen to all of us by fully engaging our emotional side. It requires humility, honesty and vulnerability. Here’s a few quick to-dos:
Acknowledge the moment and “feel the feelings”. I know from experience that this can be a tough ask, but critical. If we don’t do this, we’re tempted to outrun, outwork our feelings. Like running away from our shadow, the best thing we can do is stop running and shed light on it. We can ask “where is this emotion coming from?” “are these thoughts useful?” “what story am I telling myself right now?” “Is that really true or just fear showing up?” This allows us to assess what’s really going on. Our emotions left unchecked can wreak havoc. When things get internally chaotic, use this flipped over call to action: Don’t just do something, sit there.
Take care of yourself. Self-care is more important than ever with the stressors we face. How can you serve anyone if you’re falling apart physically or emotionally? Make the time, just like a business appointment, to do the things that are good for you: sleep, eat, exercise, meditate, read, watch funny movies, pray, do art, cook, or a million other things. The key is to know your “stay well” ingredients and use them daily so we can recharge, just as a boxer does between rounds. This keeps us a warrior in the fight and prevents us from descending into a “worrier”?
Foster joy – yep, I just wrote that. I see joy not as bubbly happiness, which is fleeting, but something much deeper and lasting. I like Merriam Webster’s definition: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. It is a feeling of hope, optimism, gratitude for what we have and what’s to come, and requires self-care (see above) to generate. We create joy within us and only we can allow it to emanate out. Or not. It’s not dependent on anything or anyone else or the situation. Joy builds our capacity to deal with the inevitable setbacks, loss and emotional pain that come with them. Rod McKuen, one of my favorite poets, wrote: “You have to make the good times yourself, take the little times and make them into big times and save the times that are all right for the ones that aren’t so good.”
Everyone is being tested, enduring their own ceremony of transformation. Some may be fatigued, heartbroken and may even be tempted to curl up or throw in the towel. But you’ve been through tough times before and made it. You’re stronger than you know. Mental toughness keeps us in the fight and committed to our purpose – especially when it’s hard or feels impossible – and doesn’t require working faster or doing more. Sometimes it means letting go for a moment to dig deep into your emotions and summon that warrior spirit, opening the flood gate of intense positive energy that fills you up as you draw strength from your ancestors, the universe itself, and you growl a war cry, “I am a warrior and I will not quit, I will find a way forward!” And even if there are tears in your eyes as you say it…you are.