Post No.: 0306
Different types of pain bring different or unique challenges. The pain of rejection is not qualitatively the same as the pain of getting cut, even if the signals in the brain may be comparable. But our mental resilience and physical resilience are nevertheless somewhat intertwined. Strengthening the body will therefore help strengthen the mind, and vice-versa. Being confident with your body and what it can do and withstand will help improve your confidence in other areas of your life too. And a more positive mental outlook can help you to recover from some illnesses faster.
We can improve our pain threshold, or at least improve the point when we start to feel any pain – chronically inactive and unfit young people with functioning legs may complain that a simple 1km jog is painful because they’re not used to physically exerting themselves, whereas people who regularly jog marathons will think that a 1km jog is easy and painless. (Unfit people may also think that they deserve a medal for completing a 1km jog, while fit people will think that it’s nothing worth noting at all i.e. the correlation between gloating and level of achievement hardly aligns! The same with the correlation between complaining about work and actually getting work done!)
When people push themselves with tough challenges and find out that they ultimately survive, and come out stronger too, and they repeat this time and time again – they find that their old perceptions of what situations are ‘tough’ are no longer justified. More things and situations feel easy the stronger we get. Woof!
This post is really echoing much of what was written in Post No.: 0092 but I feel that it needs to be repeated because I personally think it’s so important. Run up and down the stairs over 300 times in one go and it’ll make running up and down them 200 times seem easy. Don’t go up or down stairs much at all and it’ll make going up and down them just 100 times seem hard. And this feeling or state of mind will permeate to other parts of your life. That’s the irony or paradox of directly seeking an easy life – it only makes everything, including the most relatively simple things, seem relatively hard when it comes to the things we cannot make easy. (And life tends to like to unexpectedly throw things at us that aren’t easy.) And when even the simplest things seem hard, it cannot be good for your own self-confidence or self-esteem.
I of course don’t advocate going to unhealthy extremes, and it’s precisely not about body image but bodily and mental fitness. You don’t need a mirror – I don’t care how you look but how you perform. You can look (subjectively) good but actually be weak, or push too hard in the gym and end up weak – only when you’re genuinely healthy can you perform to your best so, as a better generality, use your level of performance as the measure of your health. If it dips for more than just a short while then reassess what you’re doing. (Although accept a gradual lowering of performances as you naturally age past your prime. One trick is to do new and different physical activities as you age – this allows you to still work towards and set personal bests in those activities because you’ve never done them before (setting personal bests in anything is always a great way to build confidence), as well as keeps things fresh and interesting.)
You could, say, starve yourself to directly train your mental toughness, but that’s not physically healthy. That’s why I think it’s better to use healthy practices that improve your physical performances to in turn train your mental toughness.
It’s not about torture. It’s about the controlled application of adversity – the type that you can choose when you want to switch it on or off. And this sums up physical exercise – you choose what days and times you exercise but you must do it and make it at least a little bit tough each time you do. It’s this healthy kind of acute and voluntary (rather than chronic or unexpected) stress and pain that helps effectively build toughness and strength, both physically and mentally, if we eat well and rest well too.
So if you don’t like pain overall in life then exercise! Just like if you find doing maths tough yet you won’t train to improve your maths ability then your stress when facing maths problems is going to persist throughout your life. Your stress or pain will be greater or more frequent because you won’t work on improvement. You can, arguably, avoid confronting anything but the most basic maths problems every day without missing out on too much (although this ignorance may mean that you’ll routinely get ripped off, live inefficiently and it’ll hold you back in your career and interests) – but you cannot avoid breathing or avoid moving without limiting your life substantially i.e. our physical health affects every aspect of our lives. And if we wish to grow old without a painful retirement that’s full of brittle bones and rapid mental decline then we’ve got to start looking after ourselves now to reap what we sow.
Regularly enter a temporary world of acute pain for several minutes per day or so to avoid or minimise a longer-lasting world of pain the rest of the time. Be strong or weak – it’s in what you choose to train for.
Your perception of ‘tough’ may not be that tough at all compared to a child who needs to walk for hours to fetch clean water for his/her family every single day, for instance. This is not to say that we should all live like this or we shouldn’t be helping people in the world so that they don’t need to walk for hours to fetch clean water every day. The voluntary challenges we endure will help keep us strong for the unexpected and involuntary challenges, whilst we should all live being able to comfortably afford and receive at least the basics for survival and safety.
By nature, anything that’s too easy and comfortable makes or keeps us weak. That’s why quality exercise is tough and challenging, and that’s how it makes us stronger – not just physically but also mentally. This is not true in all contexts but this is when the notion ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ applies. (It logically doesn’t apply for things like traumas or lasting injuries.) That’s why professional endurance athletes go altitude training – it’s tougher than sea-level training so it helps make them fitter; perhaps to the point that performing at sea level is considered easy. Possibly also, people who don’t frequently exercise or train hard with self-discipline aren’t used to experiencing or therefore controlling sudden spikes of testosterone or cortisol, and so they risk losing control far more easily when they feel angry or aggressive in other contexts. So regular, disciplined exercise, especially starting from young, isn’t just for developing oneself physically but for developing oneself mentally, such as one’s level of self-discipline and self-control. This is one way how martial arts training can reduce the chances of a person getting into a fight rather than increasing their chances. So tough and disciplined exercise may also help us to better control our aggression or frustrations in other contexts too.
When you set a tough exercise target, such as going for a personal or season’s best, and halfway in you feel like stopping or at least dropping your target, and you feel as if cramp is starting to set in and most of all your mind is feeling frazzled under the strain, the choice to push on – knowing that the end isn’t that far away, knowing that you’ve been here (many times) before with this kind of hurt and survived – could be one of the most important choices you make in life. This is because when you meet your target, or even breach it, it teaches you that you can always do much more than you initially thought, and that’s confidence boosting! (Now and again you may push too hard and get injured, but that’s normally temporary and should be relatively rare, and the more experience you get, the more you’ll understand the true signs of injury versus mere soreness.) Give up or don’t even try, and you arguably give up on yourself and finding out what you’re truly capable of.
Too much unchallenging comfort, especially if taken for granted and treated as if an entitlement, engenders weakness; and weakness engenders insecurity and unhappiness. A cosy situation might turn tough, or it might just be you being insufficiently trained to be able to adapt to it? So ironically, when some insecure people feel that they need more and more material comforts, and for things to be even easier and easier for them – they actually need to understand what less is and to try things the truly tough way, and that will improve their confidence, security and mental strength in the long run. If you’re able to do something the tough way, you’ll be able to do it the easy way – but if you do something the easy way, you may not be able to do it the tough way. It’s like if you’re able to light a fire from only found materials by using bushcraft skills, then even if you might never need to do so in a real survival situation, just knowing that you can if you ever needed to is a great source of self-assurance. You could always opt for the comfy and easy way if you don’t want to grow stronger, and hope that the world and your life stays comfy and easy for you forever, but it probably won’t unless you’re the luckiest person in the world.
Some people may be accused of being ‘hardcore’ – but they can equally accuse others for being ‘soft’ in mind, body and soul. It’s relative. There’s indeed no need to go nuts and things can go to unhealthy and unbalanced extremes, but everybody should be doing at least some regular physical exercise that personally tests them (so it doesn’t matter what level of intensity others are exercising to – ride that level of intensity that’s personally challenging but achievable for you). A gentle but long walk is still highly beneficial for one’s physical health but I think that higher intensities build our mental toughness better.
I don’t believe in forsaking the weak – I believe in raising everyone to be strong – for which we can all be as strong as we can each be if we work at it. Rather than taunt those who don’t ever exercise, I want to promote physical health and mental resilience in everyone. I’m obviously not the physically strongest creature and I don’t believe I’m the mentally strongest – this way I know I can always become stronger. It’s not a competition though and some people have health conditions they cannot ignore or avoid – so just be the best you can be. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to understand the importance of good health and the right for everyone to have good health. But it’s something that everyone must take some personal responsibility for rather than rely on doctors and hospitals, pills and surgery, often when it’s a bit late too. Prevention is better than (attempted) cure.
Woof! Life gives us chances – if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it, and this applies to the maximum potential of our bodies too. So do some regular exercise if you don’t already – it’ll make you more tough and strong mentally too, and therefore more readily happy, content and comfortable with whatever life may throw at you. Certain life events may still bring you down but you’d be even worse off if you didn’t look after your physical health.