Framing Your Mind for Success in Adversity

Mind over matter. You’ve heard this, read this, and might have even said this to someone else at some point. In the military, we turn that into, “Embrace the suck,” which is to say that in the misery of the moment, learn to find something in it that you can cling to, and to maybe even enjoy. Maybe not in the moment, but later, when you can say, “That 6 mile road march was hell, but it felt really good to cross that finish line.”

Speaking of road marches, I found myself embracing the suck in October during a 3.1 mile road march with a 54 lbs pack on my back, carrying an 8 lbs M4 rifle, and wearing a helmet. It was around 5:45 a.m., and there I was, alternating between a light run and walking as fast as my little 28 inch legs would carry me. A person’s mind wanders all over the place during one of these road marches, but I try to keep my mind focused on the task at hand which was completing the event within the time required; in this case, 53 minutes.

In one of the moments between light runs, I started smiling, but not because the road march was particularly fun. To the contrary, road marches are tough endurance events, and I had packed my rucksack too heavy (I had made it harder on myself on purpose because subsequent road marches will require 48 lbs, and I wanted to make sure I could do it). I started smiling because I thought of all the people I know who are my age and with whom I served in the Marines. The vast majority of those Marines have told me that they wished that they could still serve, still get out there and do the hard work, still get out there and wear the uniform. And there I was, doing just that. It was hard. It was miserable. It was testing my endurance and willpower, but there I was: making it happen, and still in the military at my age.

I also smiled because I was succeeding. I kept track of the time, and I knew where I needed to be by the half-way point, and I was way ahead of schedule. I kept pushing on the second half, knowing that I had all day to rest after the event was done. The weather was actually perfect, and although I hadn’t slept well the night before, I had banked some sleep in the weeks prior to this road march, so I was feeling energetic and mentally sharp. Putting all these positives together overcame the discomfort of the heavy pack and my legs burning from exertion. All the preparation was paying off. This is why I run and lift; to make these events easy.

It’s easy to allow yourself to get overwhelmed with negativity while going through big changes. A new diet, adopting a new lifestyle, a new fitness plan; all of these bring about new challenges, difficulties, and discomfort. It’s how you handle them that differentiates you from those who only tried and failed. I’ve said before that the hardest part in taking on a new lifestyle or fitness plan is starting. It’s even harder to start a workout when you’re sore from the last one. It’s harder to start on meal prep when you have flu-like symptoms from cutting the sugar out of your diet. But it’s the push-through to actually get going that gets you to success. It’s pushing the discomfort or the challenge aside and making the conscious decision to keep at it anyway.

That’s where I am today. I wasn’t sore yesterday from the kayaking and mountain biking we did on Saturday, but I am today. I had planned on my daily Army preparation drill (I’m trying to learn them all because I need to lead PRT at my next WOCS drill) followed by my StrongLifts 5×5 weightlifting workout and then a 2 mile roard march with a rucksack filled with 48 lbs of weight. When I woke up, I thought to myself, “Maybe I need another day to rest these old muscles,” but then that other voice in my head said, “Nah. You aren’t having any injury pain, just exerted muscle pain. Push through, be safe, and continue on the path.” That second voice? That one isn’t nearly as loud as the first one, and it takes some practice to hear it, but that’s the one to listen to. That’s the voice of reason and logic, and it’s easy to miss in the cacophany of emotions and feelings.

In this case, it’s mind over matter, or embracing the suck. Do my muscles hurt? Absolutely, and they hurt all over. But I’m going to get out there and get it done anyway. The same will apply to Thanksgiving this week. Will there be food on the table that I know is delicious but not Paleo? Yes. But I will stick to my Paleo foods, I will stay on-track, and I will continue to fuel my body with the best foods possible to keep myself healthy. It’ll be a challenge, but this won’t be my first rodeo.

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