Mental fortitude: this is the mental and emotional strength when we’re facing a difficult or adverse situation. It’s a strength of mind that allows a person to encounter danger or bear pain with courage.
Gaining and maintaining mental fortitude is just as important as physical fortitude. For the majority of people, life will require more non-voluntary mental fortitude than it will physical. Most of us are not placed in a dangerous situation that demands us to physically rise to a courageous level.
But I think you could argue just the opposite for mental/emotional situations. In life all of us will deal with experiences where mental fortitude is needed. The death of a loved one, a person teases us and makes us upset, our commute to and from work. These are just some examples.
Just like we gain physical fortitude with exericse, we can develop our mental fortitude the same way.
Mental fortitude and working out
There are certain workouts (not your typical bro-sesh) that push you to a different realm. This realm isn’t so much a physical place as it is a mental one. It’s known a few different ways: the pain cave, happy place, or sometimes referenced with the comment embrace the suck.
If you have ever been on an athletic team or had to go through military or first responder training then there is a good chance you have entered this world.
This happy place is a requirement for these types of people. They are expected to do more than the average human. So, they must be pushed into the pain cave to find out just how strong they are. This is one reason why some people from these careers and lifestyles are so inspirational. It’s as though nothing rattles their cage. That’s a trait we all want.
But did you know that going through an intense workout does the exact same thing for all of us normal people too? Going to that pain cave and forcing yourself to push past those limits you are uncomfortable with helps to build your mental fortitude.
How does it help me – the average person?
For that question let’s use one of my favorite benchmark WODs: Karen. For those who don’t know, Karen is 150 wall balls for time.
This means that 150 times, you take a medicine ball that weighs between 14 and 20 pounds, hold it in front of you, squat down and up. As you come up, you throw it to a 9 or 10 foot target. The goal is to catch it on the way back down. This feeds you into your next rep.
If you have never done it, just looking at it on paper is enough to make you sweat. But after you do it you realize, sure, it was awful – but you survived. The more you do it, the faster your times get and the easier it becomes. So let’s break that down.
You gain a successful view of yourself
You go from thinking wow, that’s a lot of reps, I don’t know if I can finish to wow that’s a lot of reps, I can’t believe I finished that. Eventually, you get to ok 150, here is my game plan for doing that. You start to see that you are successful at completing it and that starts to build a positive self image.
You start setting goals
Maybe you do it on purpose, or maybe you don’t even notice. The first time I did Karen my goal was just be able to finish. After that it was to get a faster time than I did last time. My next goal was to take as few breaks as possible. I was shooting for a break after 50 unbroken reps. Then it was to try to get 75 unbroken reps. Now I try to get 100 unbroken reps. I’m still trying to get there.
Maybe your goals are less formal. They might be more on the spot while you are mid rep. You might decide to do 5 more before taking a break or to go for another 30 seconds. But, you are mentally setting goals for you to achieve which is great.
When you do a wall ball, you have to visually picture where you want that ball to go before releasing it. You are visualizing the perfect rep before you even do it. This technique is used by everyone from life coaches, military, CEOs, Olympic athletes and more. They visualize the outcome they want, over and over.
This makes them believe what they want is possible, and then it allows them to reinforce themselves that they can do it. It sounds cheesy but being able to see your target, even if it doesn’t exist yet, allows you to know what direction you need to take your shot. This massively increases your chances of success.
Practice and simulations
Visualizing what you want is awesome because you can do it any time and any place. But eventually you have to put the rubber to the road.
If you want to get better at a sport you don’t just go scrimmage, you practice specific drills. You use a simulated drill to act out a situation that may come up during the real life thing to help you practice what the proper reaction is.
A good coach won’t allow Karen to be the first wall ball WOD you do. They will give you smaller rep counts and allow you to practice and build up to 150 reps as fast as you can. Maybe your first time you are scaled to 75 reps instead of 150, but a good coach knows this will be enough and it simulates the real deal. It helps prepare you for when you do 100, or 150. And it does so in a way without crushing you, it builds you up, it doesn’t break you down.
We want to know what your pain cave workout is! And tell us how you mentally decide you are going to push through a tough workout.