Post No.: 0092
Facing tough challenges, not stopping, and still surviving, is what makes us stronger and builds our confidence. It can be a long road but it’s a worthwhile road – it’s worth it because once you build the experience, it gets easier, or at least you’ll know you’ll survive these future events because you’ve beaten them before and you’ll beat them again (and again and again). The reward comes later. The payback is in the longer-term, which is at odds with a ‘quick-fix, I want it now’ culture that still leaves people unhappy and unconfident.
Constructive pain (pain that hurts but serves a greater benefit, rather than pain that is merely destructive) exists on the journey to becoming strong, but relatively few people like such pain, and that’s why I personally believe that one should choose when and where to face it – to get stronger on one’s own terms. And that means partaking in tough but voluntary physical exercise.
For an unfit person, (metaphorically or literally) running up and down a flight of stairs 120 times within an hour may feel like hell, but to a person who runs up and down a flight of stairs regularly – 300 times within an hour will feel quite standard and there’ll be no severe after-effects either i.e. when you face challenges regularly and build up your fitness then life feels generally and relatively easier. But if you avoid them then life feels generally and relatively harder.
Once you’ve voluntarily faced hell, anything less in or around the same area will seem relatively trivial. Staying in your comfort zones all the time just makes you become mentally weaker and potentially more superficial too (as you look for external forms of ‘body armour’ to mask your weaknesses). So (metaphorically or literally) run 30 marathons within 30 days and it’ll make running 6 marathons within 6 weeks feel like a stroll in the park. And if you’ve never even ran a single marathon before then running just 1 mile may feel like torture for you. Succumb to an easy, cosseted, unchallenging life and even the most simplest things will seem hard and stressful.
So pain is on the path to becoming strong, but once we’re strong, our strength makes us feel less pain for a similar activity or less – therefore it’s arguably the quitters or non-starters who feel the most total pain in life for being untrained and weak, so maybe they’re ironically the masochists?! The solution to reducing much of life’s pains is to therefore actually face some pain, but on your own terms, which is one of the many reasons why regular exercise, of the type that challenges, gives people so much self-confidence. It’s painful, but it’s not e.g. war, death or famine, which are undesirable types of pains for anyone. The pain from physical exercise is a pain that trains us to cope better with whatever the rest of our lives may throw at us.
If someone can do something the harder way (e.g. by using fewer fancy resources) then they can logically do it an easier way (e.g. with more resources available), but the opposite may not be true. Many people may believe they could cope with tough conditions if they had to, and maybe most people could for a day or two – but could they do it regularly or even permanently without insecurity or overwhelming stress? The only way to know is to prove to yourself that you can – to challenge yourself, push your comfort zones, and do so as part of your regular life routine. A quality exercise plan with realistic targets that gradually increase is a perfect way to do so. Woof!
Having a narrow comfort zone is like fussy eaters who have a narrower chance of being happy with the food they eat compared to people who are less fussy and have a far broader range of comfort and probability of contentment during mealtimes. We arguably would be better off being proud of the breadth of our comfort zones than any other trait. This is the measure of our confidence and abilities away from any ‘body armour’ (e.g. expensive material goods) to hide behind.
Being comfortable in a wide range of situations influences our general confidence e.g. being comfortable walking or cycling to work and not just driving, cooking for a dozen people and not just for two, if served offal when there’s little else around to eat (or you’d otherwise eat the other parts of an animal) and not just eating chips, if ever stranded on top of a mountain and not just in your home town, or anything, anywhere, at any time. If you can lift over 100kg then you can lift 50kg too. If you can run over 26 miles then you can run 13 miles too. If you’re comfortable in camping tents as well as in 5-star hotels then you’re going to more likely encounter situations in your life where you’re going to feel content and less stressed than a person who’s only comfortable in 5-star hotels. Different people have different comfort zones e.g. some people would rather be at work than looking after a young child at home, or some people are comfortable on stage in front of thousands yet feel awkward in one-on-one situations, and no one is expected to be comfortable in all imaginable situations – but it’s good to be comfortable in as many different situations as one can. And facing our fears and rising to challenges is the best way to expand our comfort zones.
Surmounting physical challenges (e.g. setting a personal best) is often more a mental than physical test and achievement too. (Fatigue is also primarily mental.) Partway into a challenge, you may feel like stopping or slowing down, but if you carry on then you’ll likely find that your body can give and take so much more than your mind may be telling you. And it’s only when you look back after your fluffy triumphs (and feel great for having not given up) that you’ll know the difference between your body telling you that you are about to be injured and your body just saying that you are working hard (good mechanical form must always be maintained though). Injuries can indeed happen, and we should maybe accept that they will likely happen now and again, but experience will eventually let you personally know the difference between what’s tough but possible, and what’s a precursor to injury, for your own body. People inexperienced in doing challenging physical activities will often give up way before their body will give up on them because they haven’t yet found the difference between what’s merely tough and what’s really injurious.
Many athletes say that they barely have a day during a training season when not at least one part of their body is sore in recovery, but you don’t have to go that far. Athletes who train in tougher conditions than competition conditions tend to fare better during competitions too (hence e.g. hypoxic (low oxygen) training). And that’s the benefit of regular physical exercise, that’s periodically challenging, in general for anybody – the exercise is frequently hard so that one’s normal daily life feels relatively easier.
So you do have to truly challenge yourself a bit when you exercise, in my opinion – not necessarily during every single session but in general. Set some mid and long-term targets. It’s like if you practise your 10x table all the time, it won’t make you any smarter (or better able to cope with the ‘143x table’ that suddenly arises during a moment that could induce a heart attack. And this is why lifting a beer glass a hundred times a night is not exercise!) You practice what you wish to be good at, or what you hope to be able to cope with, so only going lightly won’t make you great at going hard. In a similar fashion, working your biceps won’t make your legs stronger, just mainly your biceps. Turned the other way though – just because someone is rubbish at one thing, it doesn’t mean they’ll be rubbish at everything. So if you’re put off by one sport or activity then don’t feel disheartened – just try something else. There are a lot of different types of physical activities to try, for all levels of abilities (e.g. look at Paralympians).
And if you’re not an athlete then it’s not about comparing yourself with others – just push to what is hard for you, then push a little bit harder each next time, as you get fitter. So do not concern yourself with what others are doing too much – it’s about whatever level challenges you but is achievable. If you keep doing this then you will be strong in anybody’s book. Of course watch your nutrition and amount of rest and recovery too. Say no to drugs for enhancing performance – these will not make you mentally stronger by virtue of them making challenges less tough. Cheating doesn’t improve your mental strength in the face of trying to conquer challenges – they could in fact become a crutch that you feel you cannot perform without. Any kind of unnecessary aid can become a mental crutch.
I know I’ve not been so cuddly today but I really want everyone to be strong and confident people (not cocky people overcompensating for their insecurities and taking risks that are too great, or overly apprehensive people who don’t seize opportunities when they come because they are too unsure of themselves). It is oversimplistic to say ‘no pain, no gain’ or ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but this puppy practises what is preached!
(Regular physical exercise and challenges set on my terms has most probably kept me alive. I was lucky that I enjoyed physically activities right from when as young as I can remember, and so kept this habit up throughout my adult years so far and despite the toughest times for my mental health. I believe that if I didn’t regularly exercise and set myself personal challenges, my mental health would’ve been far worse and I might not still be here. So this is a personally positive post that I hope inspires you to exercise too if you’re not doing so already. This doesn’t need to be in a gym or doing a sport – just get more physically active. My gym (well garage) is like my sanctuary. I’ve been physically injured many times for pushing too hard but I don’t regret that, because every time I have been injured I’ve eventually come back physically and mentally stronger.)