Callusing the mind

I’ve been listening to David Goggins' memoir Can’t Hurt Me. Part a retelling of his life from early childhood to his adulthood covering the difficulties he faced at every juncture, and part self-help ooh-rah manual, the book is an intense read, and the audiobook is a very well-done adaptation.

While I’d recommend that you read it if you haven’t, this article focusses on a couple of techniques he lays out that will allow any person to boost their performance across a wide variety of activities. If that sounds too goo to be true, it isn’t, as neither technique is really easy.

The first is to callus your mind. What does that mean?

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”

― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

This separation of sensation from judgement or reaction has found its way in different forms into several classic texts of philosophy and religion - from the stoics to Buddhism to more modern works such as Viktor Frankl’s man’s search for meaning.

In Goggins' interpretation, one does not merely anticipate, ignore or handle pain, but greet it with open arms, even seek it. Every exposure to pain, physical or otherwise, gives us a chance to innure the mind from its effects. While I would not advocate anyone follow his examples of attempting extreme physical feats with minimal training(a great recipe to end up with a serious injury, I feel there is a significant truth in what he says. Like the martial artist who calluses their hands, repeatedly pushing oneself beyond the normal boundaries of discomfort stretches the mind to broader possibilities. Runners can attest to it, so can people practicing intermittent fasting.

The second is having a personal cookie jar of victories to dip into.

Here, he talks about us adding memories into this mind palace whenever we overcome a significant hardship or obstacle.

“That’s why we seize the moment, try to freeze it and own it - Squeeze it and hold it, ‘cause we consider these minutes golden"”

― Eminem, from Sing for the Moment

Every time we’re faced with doubt or despair, we dip our hand into this jar, pick out a cookie or two, and let it fire and fuel us past that obstacle.

I like this technique because it provides a good way for us to step back from the current obstacle and mood, reframe it, and adjust our reaction to it. CBT offers structured ways of doing so, but this is a more visceral technique.

Aptly enough, I listen to his audiobook when I’m running. I like the book enough that treating it as a reward for temptation bundling is a win-win.

Funnily enough, the last time I did so, I pushed myself so hard running around a lake that the soreness lasted more than a week.

Image Courtesy Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash