How to Become Mentally Strong & Why We Should Seek Out Pain

Are you growing mentally weak and don’t realize it? 

 If you’re a millennial and were lucky to enter the workforce after 2010, you’ve lived through one of the longest bull-markets in history.

Despite what the news tells you each day, we’re in a period of historically low violence and the lowest percentage of the world living in poverty. Ever.

For a lot of people, the last 10 years were great for the pocketbook and quality of the life. But it leads us to question what this affluence has done to our mental strength.

2009 to 2020 was one of the longest bull-markets since WWII

During times of abundance and ever-increasing technological advances, we slowly lose our resolve and forget what it’s like to go through hard times.

Our outlook for the future becomes consistently optimistic. We dismiss large risks as outliers and say “that’ll never happen to [me, my family, the U.S., my generation].”

From our phones, we can summon the complete knowledge of the world, have gourmet food delivered to our doors, hail a ride from a stranger, move finances around with ease, find romantic partners, and video chat with friends and family. Life has become extremely painless for the privileged.

We over-index on pleasure-seeking and convenience while we take extra precautions to avoid pain.

Like a muscle that atrophies from lack of hard work, our ability to properly deal with negative realities grows weak.

We need to strengthen our resolve.

Why Is It Important to Strengthen Your Resolve? 

Resolve is our North Star that keeps us from going off-course of our most important goals. It makes us get up in the morning. It fights excuses we give ourselves. It silences that inner skeptic and keeps us from the debilitating demons of our nature.

If you don’t strengthen your resolve, you’re just wandering aimlessly through life without a rudder. 

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent– no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” – Seneca 

Ambition, goals, and initiative are useless and derailed if you’re not able to weather setbacks and hardship during the times.

Seneca wrote, “No one is crushed by Fortune, unless they are first deceived by her…those who aren’t pompous in good times, don’t have their bubbles burst with change.”

Black Swan events, like the Coronavirus pandemic, are a Mike Tyson body-blow to the kidney. If you’re not ready to weather some storms, if you’re mentally weak, or if you’re not conditioning your resolve during the good times, these reality checks are debilitating during the bad.

When Was the Last Time You Were Truly Tested? 

Have you ever met someone hardened by the Great Depression Era?

Maybe you disliked their rigidness in some areas, but you damn sure admire their ability to take crappy situations head-on and pick themselves up by their bootstraps.

The “Great Generation” lived through famine, war, and never took progress or leisure for granted. 

What about our generation?

Older millennials felt a minor tinge from the dot-com bust, sharply remember 9/11, and inherited the brunt force of a historic financial crisis upon entering the workforce.

Yeah, we may have figurative “calloused hands” but we are relatively unscathed compared to generations past. We are the “The Pampered Generation”.

How do we make sure this lifestyle doesn’t crush us during times of hardship?

It’s simple: pain exposure.

Bestselling author, Ryan Holiday, who is single-handedly bringing a new generation to appreciate the wisdom of the Stoics, writes in The Daily Stoic the following about Cato the Younger

“Cato the Younger had enough money to dress in fine clothing. Yet he often walked around Rome barefoot, indifferent to assumptions people made about him as he passed. He could have indulged in the finest food. He chose instead to eat simple fare. Whether it was raining or intensely hot, he went bareheaded by choice. Why not indulge in some easy relief? Because Cato was training his soul to be strong and resilient.”

The answer is to start by reducing pleasure and seeking pain. Not in a masochistic sense, but in a practical way that allows us to balance the scales.

It’s not easy. And our brains have evolved to fight it.

The lizard brain (our limbic system) is programmed to consistently tell us: “Pain bad! Pain good come from pain!” But our monkey brain (neocortex) knows that there lie strength and growth in pain. 

Navy SEAL, ultra-marathoner, author, and certified ultra-badass, David Goggins lectures on this often, “To grow in life, you have to be willing to suffer.” In his best-selling book, Can’t Hurt Me, he writes:

“Train for life, both physically and mentally, you have to be ready for the worst moments that will inevitably come” – David Goggins

His advice on embracing suffering every day is also a must-watch:

Here are some practical questions you can ask yourself to begin to strengthen your resolve by seeking pain:

Do I complain when everything is my environment is not perfect? (“I can’t work out today because it’s cold outside.”)

What are the weak excuses I give myself daily? (“My internet is too slow. I can’t work like this!”) 

What scenarios have I let my brain tell me that I’m the victim? (“I can’t believe that person would say that! I’m insulted!”)

What are the uncomfortable situations that are getting worse because I’m avoiding confrontation? (“I’m going to ignore it and let it blow over.”)

How often do I complain about slight pain? (“The bed in my hotel is not memory foam and my back is killing me. Massage time!” )

What are the pain reducers I cling to? (“Ugh, massive hangover from last night. I need some Tylenol stat.” 

Take Your Performance to a Surprising Level

Our inclination to want to avoid pain and maximize pleasure also keeps us from realizing our true potential.

work through the pain
Hayley Carruthers crawling across the finish line of the London Marathon

Eight-time Olympic speed-skating medalist, Apolo Ohno, said this about pain in his interview over at Farnam Street:

“I think pain is something that I have derived and at times sought willingly throughout my life and career. The physical pain was something that I became very accustomed to. So to me, it wasn’t a workout until I could really feel the lactic acid in my gums, in my teeth I derived a lot of pleasure watching the person next to me on the mountain do skating jumps, start to crack under the hot summer heat while I’m wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants and a beanie. Somehow that drove me to want to dig deeper, to show that there’s this inner monster inside of us that still had more to give. “

The late, great Kobe Bryant was prolific in his sport. He was a five-time champion, top three scorer, MVP, and multi-record holder. Yet (arguably) his highest fame was that he was respected across the world for his pure tenacity to overcome pain and adversity.

He once ruptured his Achilles tendon and wouldn’t let his trainer take him out of the game until he finished taking his two free-throws. Talk about Mamba mentality.

Even if you weren’t a Kobe fan, part of the pain we felt in losing him was we admired his resolve — not only in sports but all aspects of his life.

kobe bryant pain quotes

What can we take away from wise philosophers and people that have reached the pinnacle of success? Pain is good. Pain is a teacher. It prepares us for hardships and makes us find a level of self we didn’t think existed.

Ask yourself:

When was the last time I gave up at the first sign of pain?

What excuse do I give myself not reaching my destination?

Do I ever “move the goal posts” because reaching them is too hard?

When did I settle for good enough and should have pushed further?

Today, start by checking yourself. Ask the tough questions you’ve avoided. Grow. Delay pleasure. Embrace pain. Strengthen your resolve. You’ll be better prepared for rainy days ahead.

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