The Navy SEALs are notorious for administering one of the most all-around grueling testing procedures. Their standards require a great deal of physical capacity but even more so a superior mental strength; after all, the mind will often quit before the body. To test their abilities, candidates are pushed through roughly 5 months of physical, mental and emotional stress that could shatter the average person. The potential SEALs are required to train more than they sleep, be on guard at all times for the unexpected, deprived of basic necessities, left stranded and force to survive, face their fears and to always strive against being the weakest chain in the link. Of the approximately 1000 candidates each year, an elite 250 will join the ranks of other active SEALs; these are the men and women who proved themselves to be both physically and mentally stronger.
I’m by no means comparing myself to a SEAL. Although my physical capacity would have me fair ‘competitive’ and above on their physical screening tests for the most part, I know it takes a special breed to endure that kind of testing. What I do have in common with them is a relentless desire to become the strongest version of myself, from the inside out. If you too are interested in becoming mentally stronger, than rest assured that you do not need to suffer through SEAL training to do so! There are practices you can adopt from the comfort of your own lifestyle that will have a huge impact on your life. The following are 5 ways I personally condition my inner-strength:
1) Lift Heavy Weight
If you’ve ever attempted to lift a maximum amount of weight on any given exercise, you can likely recall that anxious feeling that came over you. Your heart rate elevates, breathing accelerates, energy increases, you may slightly tremble, sweat begins to collect in your palms, your inner-voice speaks louder with either caution or encouragement (depending on how you’re wired), and you may even feel slightly nauseous. Say hello to adrenaline! In this type of state, your body is “all systems go” and whether or not you are successful in completing the lift, as long as you try, you will have broken through a mental threshold having met the resistance with maximal effort. You triumphing the symptoms of this type of stress is what re-wires your brain from “I can’t” to “I will” to “I have”. Further more, there’s a direct correlation between the physical and psychological aspects of one’s self. The more confidence you have, the straighter you stand and thus the more efficient your body mechanics. On the other hand, the more attention you spend on your posture through weight training and self-care, the more it will carry over to more confidence and cultivate inner-strength. Stand at ease!
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical) involved in several functions and behaviours which include pleasure, reward, and addiction; a very real concern of this instant-gratification era. More than ever, depression is being diagnosed with contributors like the pressure of social media, the persuasion of advertising, and the easy access to recreational substances. Those living with depression tend to have low dopamine levels and can be more apt to reach for things that will increase it. The things that can make you feel good temporarily can increase dopamine, however too much of it can lead to the nerve cells losing sensitivity in a short term process referred to as habituation and it’s long term exposure counterpart desensitization and thus the vicious cycle of addictive behavior is born. In both of these processes, your brain has a difficult time producing that feel-good chemical and longs for anything that fulfills the lack. This is why it’s so challenging for people to take time away from their habits, but also why it’s so important! I really urge you to identify your habits and make a point of stepping away from them for a period of time. Eliminate things that interfere with dopamine production like sugar, alcohol, recreational drugs, caffeine, sex, and social media. Mental strength is hard to condition when something has a firm grasp around you. Replacing the addictive behavior with healthier options can help to stimulate self-sufficient dopamine production and prove to yourself that you are not dependent on anything external.
Here’s a short yet helpful video that will help to demonstrate this point:
You’ve likely heard food referred to as comforting. It’s been part of our lives from the day we were born and will continue to be to the end. For many, food is consumed emotionally meaning it is not seen as necessary fuel but more so therapeutic. This type of dynamic is similar to the dopamine effect in that it involves something external to soothe the internal, creating a dependency. I’m not suggesting that you should avoid food as it is obviously necessary, but some research claims that we do not need to consume as much as we do. Intermittent Fasting has become the latest trend yet it’s heavily based on the primitive experience of our ancestors where food was scarce and wild and wasn’t so convenient. Fasting can offer several cognitive and health benefits as well as help to lower overall body fat. In my experience with it, it also strengthens your will power and discipline in controlling your hunger to an allotted feasting window. Ultimately, besides the benefits it can offer, your relationship with food can alter from this practice.
Similar to the Navy SEALs but from a more spiritual approach, Shaolin Monks also have training that strengthens their mind and body, referred through their teachings as ‘Chan’ and ‘Quan’. At the root of all their exercise is a great demand on focus, which also happens to be the basis of meditation. So you can say that to train by any means with a great deal of focus is to actively meditate 🙂
Meditation allows you to connect with yourself on a deeper level; to come to understand and accept yourself for who you are and who you can become. To possess inner-strength, you must have a great deal of trust in yourself. You must have a sense of knowing that you can succeed any obstacle. This belief system can be refined through the practice of meditation. You can literally “train your brain to change’’, as the Harvard research team discovered in 2011, noting physical changes in it’s structure after only 8 weeks of focused mindfulness. If the weight room is where you would go to get physically stronger, than going inward with meditation is where to go for inner-strength.
5) Face Fear
What often holds us back in life is ourselves and our stories. We tend to want to stay in a comfortable, familiar and safe zone and avoid situations, places, people and things that make us feel uneasy. This uneasy place is where inner-strength can be found! To face fear is to have courage, an important characteristic of inner-strength. By addressing the things you tend to avoid, you break down the self-made barriers that have been constructed throughout your life; those limiting walls and paths that keep steering you on the same familiar trajectory. We humans are great storytellers. We contrive stories about the fears we have to justify our reasoning to avoid them. They are dramatic, overzealous renditions of false beliefs that if left unattended will steer you away from them all your life. These fears are capable of stirring up some deep wounding in each of us, which is one of the main reason we avoid them like the plague. Many of our fears were set in from childhood, therefore contributing to the stories we live today. By facing your fears, you can break down mental barriers, heal deeper parts of you, and gain the courage that is needed to increase inner-strength. For more information on this subject, I highly recommend you follow Billy Anderson’s Courage Crusade! Here is a link to his latest book that should be on your book shelf for 2017:
I’m a firm believer that true strength comes from the inside out. The external is governed by the internal so if you want to become the strongest version of yourself, be sure to work both perspectives.
In strength & vitality,