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Mental Toughness: The Game Outside the Game

On resilience, self-control, and grinding ourselves to greatness by silencing that little nagging voice that whispers, "You can't."
Resilient and Adaptable

Mental toughness is, in my opinion, the foundation of everything great in life. Every great achievement and every great success starts with some amount of mental resilience. The larger the feat that was achieved, the larger the amount of mental toughness required.

I realize, as I am typing this, that I should clarify what I mean by “mental toughness.” What I’m really talking about is self-control.

How in control are you of yourself?

Do you get upset when things don’t go your way?

Are you able to delay gratification for long periods of time?

These factors go a long way in determining how far you will go to achieve your goals.

The Little Voice

A number of years ago, I stumbled onto a book called “Can’t Hurt Me,” by David Goggins. I can't recommend the audiobook highly enough, as it's recorded like a podcast. Long story short: he was overweight, weighting three hundred pounds, and working as a pest control fumigator when he saw a commercial on TV about becoming a Navy Seal – which set him down a path that saw him become not only a Navy Seal, but also an elite athlete and one of the badassest men on the planet (Goggins is the only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force tactical air controller). The "Make no excuses, throw yourself at your problems'' attitude that it preached really rubbed off on me.

I started running early in the mornings. Not because I was training for a race or because I had a specific physical goal in mind – I did it mostly because it sucked and I didn’t want to do it.

On those runs, the voice in my head kept nagging me to walk instead of run, or to quit altogether. It would tell me that no one was watching me, and that it didn’t matter if I stopped. It would tell me that I couldn’t go any farther, that my feet or knees or lungs couldn’t take any more.

But the truth was that I could keep running.

It was only a fight with my inner voice to press on, in spite of the discomfort and pain that I was feeling. Slowly but surely that voice got quieter and quieter, to the point that it didn’t bother to show up on most of my runs. And then it even started to turn in the other direction – when my allotted five kilometres were finished, the voice would now sneak in and suggest, “Perhaps two kilometres more?”

“Why not do even more than you said you would?”

To say life started “going my way” after I made some of these changes would be putting it mildly. I’ll spare you the boring (yet very beneficial financial and relationship changes) and cut straight to the good stuff.

Here’s an Instagram post I made back at that time, on December 28th;

“6 am. Been sick for two weeks. Still up and running in the morning. How badly do you want to achieve your goals? #driven

Some of my friends had a laugh about it when I rolled into the 1,000 player MTG Grand Prix later that day. I found out that some of them were even laughing at me behind my back. I don’t mention this for some sympathy from you, gentle reader; I instead wanted to point out that, as you change your life and as you reach for new goals, the people who can’t accomplish the things you set out to do will project their own inabilities onto you. Embrace this too, as it’s just a part of life.

Although I should also mention that more than a few people were inspired after the Grand Prix…

And here's the next photo, from two days later, on December 30th.

I won my first Grand Prix.

Mastering Myself

Now I am onto Season Two of my story with mastering myself. For, you see… I only stayed like this for about eight months.

I moved to a new place and was sidetracked with work, and then the pandemic hit, and I became very busy streaming and eventually starting the Mastering Runeterra website. But let’s not kid ourselves – these are all bullshit excuses.

That fucking little voice in my head had got me while I was sleeping.

I let it come crawling back into my mind with all of its excuses and platitudes.

But I am back at it again now.

I rolled off the couch and started trying to do one hundred push-ups and run ten kilometers on most days. I run under the rain, and I run under the snow. I run on uneven ground where there are no sidewalks. I often miss my push-up target and end up somewhere between fifty and one hundred, although I can tell I am getting stronger already after only a few weeks.

But the thing I love the most is that, when I don’t meet my goals, it bothers me.

Like, it really bothers me.

This is what we should strive for: to refuse accepting anything less than our best.

To be unable to sit with ourselves knowing that we had more to give. To have the fire inside of us that wants to perform at our best at all times, no matter what the task or the context.

I was also suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression, and those have subsided drastically. I am much calmer now – able to better be present in the moment and think less about the past or the future. Whenever I am starting to feel upset in any way, it probably means that I haven’t worked out in a while. This of course is not the end-all-be-all to mental health, but it sure has helped a lot compared to sitting at my desk all day.

Here are a few parting tips that have really helped me in my journey.

#1 Silence the Noise

This goes back to not thinking too much about the past or the future, and concentrating on the task in front of you.

Focus on what you are doing right now to improve, rather than worrying about what others are doing better. This can be something as simple as peeling vegetables, or paying full attention to whoever you are listening to. Life is a race against yourself, not against others – the more you can focus on your own progress, the better. Small improvements today can lead to massive changes down the road.

#2 Grind Yourself to Greatness

You will always face adversity, and sometimes you may not have a clear path. The only way forward is to take things one step at a time – even if it’s in the wrong direction, at least you’re learning what not to do.

Keep pushing and grinding, and you’ll eventually reach your goal. One of my favorite sayings from another book is, “Nobody cares, work harder.”

It works all the time, in all circumstances.

Did you just win a huge tournament?

“Nobody cares, work harder.”

Did you just mess up and embarrass yourself?

“Nobody cares, work harder.”

#3 Find Out Who You Really Are

Strip away the façade and get to the foundation of who you truly are.

It’s scary to stare at your past traumas in the eye, but if you can look at the deepest part of yourself, you can start building a strong foundation and become the person you want to be.

This is something I am still working on myself, but the one thing that I have found that really helps is to be honest about my past.

Have you ever had someone share something about themselves or their past that you thought, “Yikes, I can’t believe you said that,” and maybe you even thought that they were weird for it? Well… guess what: that person wasn’t ashamed of their past and was learning to own it and that’s exactly what you need to do.

You aren’t your past actions or thoughts, and you don’t need to let them haunt you.

Don’t live in fear of others' judgment, or of losing anyone by being honest. Trust me: if they don’t accept you for who you are, you didn’t want them in your life to begin with.

#4 Be Patient

This is probably something I struggle with more than most people. But this age-old cliché could not be more true.

Success takes time and effort, and usually some pain and setbacks as well. Nobody wins a championship on the day they compete – it’s the thousands of hours of practice and study that get them to the point of success.

Enjoy the journey, because it’s through your trials and tribulations that you truly succeed.

You’ve probably heard this a million times, but when you get to your goal you are there only a brief period of time… and then it fades, and life moves on and onto the next goal that will most likely take you some time to achieve. So what ends up happening is that we look back fondly on all the trials and tribulations that we had to overcome and get to our goal. Learning to love the process of learning and growing is not only a much healthier outlook  – it will also help you to achieve your goals faster!

#5 Stop Being Normal

Take the untraveled path!

No one is better than anyone else, and the only limitations that exist are the ones you place on yourself. Don’t be afraid to be extraordinary and take control of your life. Remember that unique people are interesting and fun to be around – you just need to find your people…

… which reminds me of one of my favorite paragraphs by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

You are not inadequate.

Don't be afraid to shine bright.

Resilient and Adaptable