A part of mental toughness that is often overlooked, especially in fitness, is understanding.
Major barriers to mental toughness are fear, usually from lack of understanding, not practicing mental toughness and lack of awareness. If you understand the basic principles of what your body is going through during any type of stress you will be more equipped to deal with it and realize how to control and live with any stressor. In our case, the stressors induced by exercise.
Our bodies, and brains, are inherently lazy - as we discussed about our brains yesterday. But how about our bodies?
Now, you might not be lazy, but your body wants to be. Your body is constantly in a battle to reach homeostasis. Anything that disrupts your body's journey to homeostasis causes "stress", not the type of stress you get from work, but stress on the biological system. Immediately, when you disrupt your body's natural process, it is in its own process of fighting you, trying to get back to its homeostasis quest.
Good news is, every time you drag your body through this process of homeostasis disruption, your body then super-compensates or adapts, according to the general adaption principle. This is what creates the amazing results from exercise.
All I have basically told you in a semi-fancy way is, working out...works...what does this have to do with mental toughness??
I am going to tell you to ignore your brain when it is giving you the most primal and instinctual feelings and ideas. For you to ignore these "gut feelings" and "instincts", you have to understand that in this case it is ok to tell your brain to take a hike. Because all you are really doing is getting your body to super-compensate and become awesome.
Let's break down what your body and brain are doing during exercise, this will help you mentally to combat these feeling of "mental weakness". More specifically I want to talk about the alarm-phase your body operates in, at the beginning of a workout.
The Alarm Phase
In the first 1-3 minutes of intense exercise your body is in the alarm phase. This is when your body hates exercise the most, thus your brain is immediately telling you "you're going too fast", "this hurts", "what a bad idea this is". You are finding every reason not to do something. Blood flow starts to increase, appetite is suppressed, you begin to sweat, your body is reacting to what you are doing, and it is not necessarily happy about it. Your brain realizes the body is unhappy and then it becomes the little devil on your shoulder telling you to quit or ease up.
Well, you can consider the Better Human Challenge the little angel on your shoulder telling you...press on!!
I am not telling you to not pace a workout, or to go all out every second of a workout. I am telling you your brain is against you and cannot be trusted for the first few minutes of exercise.
Some people are so motivated to start a workout (hyped up from music, pre-workout supplements, etc.), they feel the first minute(s) are the easiest. If you find this to be the case, what is basically happening is your brain is running on "shallow" motivation created by music or ideas, and then it starts to react to the alarm phase a little bit later, but everyone will suffer through the alarm phase.
The challenge, the mental toughness and fortitude comes from shutting off these "instinct" and "voices".
Literally, and I mean ACTUALLY do this, when you find yourself in the alarm phase, tell yourself it's not true, it's not that bad, and you can press harder. This is not positive-self talk, so do not confuse it with our previous lesson.
This is arousal control.
Positive self-talk comes in handy when you are about to hit the wall, it will keep you going. Arousal control is calming yourself.
It goes back to breathing and that dang amygdala.
Once the amygdala is triggered by fear it does what it needs to do to survive, or so it thinks...You body is then flooded with cortisol and some adrenaline. It truly is a mild state of panic. This will happen if you start a workout extremely fast and intense.
We learned to attack the amygdala by flooding it with positive thought to mitigate its natural response. The next tactic is breathing, not just controlling your breathing, but big deliberate breathing. This will help with arousal control and help calm the physical symptoms of a panic response. Don't get me wrong, this panic-response is great if you are running from a bear, but it isn't that helpful when you are simply lifting a barbell quickly.
If you find yourself in this situation, concentrate and focus and realize (and tell yourself) it is not that bad, then inhale deeply and slowly. Hold that breath for a second or two then exhale slowly. Do this two to three times. This will help you reset yourself, lower your blood pressure and give your brain a nice flood of oxygen to help you think more clearly.
Now, I have some good news and some bad news.
The good news, I am not going to make you do a workout so intense that you go into a state of panic.
The bad news, I am going to ask you to brave to cold waters again. But I'll give you two options. You can take a three minute cold shower, or you can take a three minute ice bath.
As you already know, cold water can throw you into a mild state of panic, so be sure to use the safety tips from day one. If you decide to take an ice bath, simply run cold water then fill the bath with ice. Also, remember from day one, we are not trying to use freezing water so be sure to check the temperature. And if you have never done an ice bath, it is OK to get in with a sweatshirt, sweatpants and an beanie. Submersion is different than an open-air shower.
What you are to practice during the cold water is arousal control. You didn't have these tips during the first week and you also had not made it as far as you have in the program now. I bet cold water is not as big of a deal, mentally, as it was just a short week ago.
Take a 3 minute cold shower or ice bath
Feel free to use all that we have learned!
Primary focus is arousal control breathing.