The Tenacity of the Mind
A Personal Discovery
As some of you would know, I have been working towards the Firefighter Sky Tower Challenge. This challenge consists of walking up a gruelling 1103 steps with 25kgs of firefighting gear on. This will be the hardest thing that I have voluntarily committed myself to. I’ve been training intensely for this and have come to realise something about our minds when we physically push ourselves beyond our believed to be limits. I’ll call it, the tenacity of the mind. More on this later.
I’m fortunate enough to have a stair treadmill in my gym. This is my primary source of training. Along with being able to closely replicate what I will be doing on the day, it also shows me data of the training session - total duration, amount of steps I’ve taken, floors I’ve climbed, heart rate etc. The first time I got on the stair treadmill I said that this would be setting the standard for every future training session. It needed to be high. I needed to prove that I could push myself.
I started the machine up. I was going at a steady pace, I didn’t really know how fast I should be going as it was my first time on the stair treadmill and had nothing to compare it to. After 3 minutes I was already sweating. My legs were sore and I was hunched over using my arms to brace myself. This was much harder than I anticipated. My mind started telling me that it was okay to stop and this was a good first try. But I wanted to set the bar high so I ignored what my mind was saying and pushed on.
To keep myself going it was a case of constantly creating small goals that were just out of reach, the promise being that once I hit it, I could stop. A carrot on a stick, if you will. Just 50 more steps, I told myself. Just 30 more seconds. Just till the end of this song - then I can stop. But once I got to that goal, I saw that I still alive and still walking. It turns out that I had energy left over that I didn’t know about. So I played the game again, just 50 more steps, just 30 more seconds. And the cycle repeated. After a while I found that my mind was no longer fighting against me and trying to convince me to stop, I think at one point it basically said:
“He’s not quitting.”
And I didn’t stop. I kept going for 30 minutes. I only stopped because the machine changed mode and encouraged me to have a cooldown period. My “cooldown” consisted of me collapsing on the floor, dripping with sweat and hands shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t help but smile internally.
There was a certain point during my workout where my mind stopped being a tenacious force against me, and started working for me.
I found that there’s actually two parts to the tenacity of the mind. Once one is broken through, the other opens up for occupation. The first part is the mind fighting against you, it’s telling you that your body has had enough and can’t continue. It’s time to stop.
This is what the majority of people will only ever experience. They don’t realise that there’s another side to the coin. They probably believe they’re not the sort of person who can push themselves because they don’t have the mental fortitude, maybe this applies to you. But this other side is where infinite strength hides. Your mind doesn’t want you to get to this stage and will actively fight against you from achieving this state of mind. You will have to wrestle this first part and beat it into submission before the second one is revealed.
The second part is when your mind realises that you’re not stopping. Up until this point, it’s easy to throw in the towel. But once you pass this apex, it becomes harder to stop. This is when your tenacious mind starts working for you. This is when you find your surprising amount of will within, one that keeps you going for what feels like an impossible duration. I broke through the first part of the mind and unlocked something I didn’t know existed, this turned my 3 minute session into a 30 minute one. Something I only saw was possible in hindsight.
You have this power too.
Once you practice going past this first barrier in your mind, you realise that you’ve got the strength to do it any time you want. It becomes easier the next time you need to do it. When you’re on a walk, a run, or lifting weights and you hear your mind telling you that you can’t go any further - you should know this isn’t true. Until you physically collapse, it is not true.
Your mind will always downplay how much you are able to push yourself.
Once this spell is broken and you push through to the other side, you realise that you have close to infinite gas left in the tank. Your mind is wanting to conserve energy, so when it’s saying that your body can’t do any more, that’s your mind giving up, not your body. You’re not even close to being done when you hear that voice telling you that are. We’re so much more capable than what our minds tell us we are capable of.