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Putting Your Perspective Into Perspective

There are posters you can purchase that depict photographs of languid sunsets dissolving into tropical beaches. They are captioned with such phrases as ”Don’t take life so seriously”, ”Learn to relax” or this urgent call to inaction; “Just breathe and know that everything will be amazing.”

It would be hard to imagine seeing posters like these on the wall of an employee breakroom at Sony or BMW. And this is the point, that different people opt to look at the world differently. How about you? What is your “world view”? And more importantly, as an athlete, is it working for you?

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Strong and Triumphant

I say a lot of strong, triumphant-sounding things. And I write and share a lot of strong, triumphant-sounding things. Many people ask me: “Mike, is all that for real?” By ‘real’, they mean is this some kind of act? Or do I actually think and feel strong & triumphant all the time?

Here’s the thing… I began seriously looking at the connection between the mind and body back in the early 90s when I began training a lot of law enforcement/military personnel. And the two big “truths” that I ultimately learned are these…

1.) “The Form Becomes its Function”


2.) “Your Physiology Reinforces Your Psychology”

Number one simply means that you become what you repeatedly do. (An idea dating back to Aristotle). The adage that “practice makes permanent” illustrates this point. So, if you build strong, triumphant ideas into your thinking, and this leads to consistently strong, triumphant decisions, and those decisions lead to strong, triumphant outcomes, then you can see how easy it is to become your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Number two is an idea I’ve shared for almost two decades. And it goes to the idea that “the mind is the body/the body is the mind”. Research consistently demonstrates the link between a positive/proactive attitude and a healthy, (read: strong) body. Stand tall and watch your mood change. Throw those shoulders back and stare into the future unafraid.

“But Mike, what if I am afraid?”

Great question. EVERYONE is afraid at one time or another. And it’s those times when you feel afraid that you stand even taller and put on your bravest face. This is how you use your physiology (your body) to influence your psychology (your thoughts).

And don’t forget to say strong & triumphant-sounding things. That’s where it all starts. That’s why I keep doing it too.

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When it’s just you in the room, who is it that you’re alone with? Okay, it is you, we’ve just established that. But what does “you” mean? How would you describe you? Or, to put it another way… “Just who do you think you are?”

Such a simple question with so many deep implications. We have a tendency to take this simple-seeming question and turn it into something complex. Perhaps it is the discomfort that we associate with the subject-matter.  People seem inherently ill-at-ease when talking or thinking about themselves. Does doing so mean you are self-centered? Narcissistic? Some people might think so.

But to do the things you dream of doing, you need to figure you out. Because the way you see yourself is foundational to each subsequent decision you will make on the path towards pursuing your dreams.

So, have you figured you out yet? Do you know what you want? And do you know why you want it? Because you need to know the why in order to know what you’re willing to do to get it. But before you answer all of those questions, there is another one which most people tend to ignore. And this question is the hub around which all the others spin…

— Are you someone who is “worthy” of your dreams?

If you don’t truly think so, then you can already guess how the story will turn out. A meaningful goal requires investment. And most of that investment doesn’t just come from you, it is you. Your time, your energy, your aspirations… your life. And if you have nagging doubts about your own worthiness, you will never follow through with the level of investment that excellence requires.

If you’re ready to get going, great. And if not, my suggestion is that you get going anyway. I say this over and over; don’t wait until you feel ready to do something, just do something. Get started. Doing things leads to progress. Progress leads to satisfaction. And satisfaction is an attribute of someone worthy of the pursuit of excellence.

So begin. Then continue. You are worthy.

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In Search of a Strong Mind

People like the idea of being ‘mentally tough’ or they say they’d like to possess ‘mental toughness’. But what is it exactly? We could describe the quality of mental toughness as someone possessing self-discipline. It’s the kind of quality that enables certain people to train relentlessly, without benefit of a formalized support structure like a coach, team, or training partner. Someone who consistently makes the ‘right’ choices for themselves in life could also be said to possess self-discipline.

When I was in the military, the term discipline was often used in association with doing things that you did not really want to do. These were generally things that caused fatigue, pain, fear or all of the above. And even though discipline is frequently attached to unpleasant or boring tasks, most people still say that they wished they had more self-discipline in their lives.

Here’s another example… in the late 90s I ran a commercial martial arts school where I taught traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu for kids. And during that time, I never had a single parent bring in their child specifically because they thought that their child should learn Jiu-Jitsu. Not once. What these parents would say their children needed, more than self-defense, confidence or self-esteem combined, is that their child needed to develop discipline.

So we’re back to that idea of mental toughness… self-discipline… guts, you get the idea. We all probably agree that we want to have ‘it’ but where does ‘it’ come from? How do we develop ‘it’? Let’s examine what some ‘experts’ say about this topic…

In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, a group of international-level athletes in a variety of sports were asked to develop a definition of mental toughness. They concluded that, within the diverse demands of competitive sport, mental toughness involves having the “psychological edge” that enables one to cope better than one’s opponents. Furthermore, mental toughness involves a consistent ability to remain determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

But the results of this study as identified in the preceding paragraph don’t really take us any further in terms of understanding the topic. These conclusions are really just a description of some of the characteristics of mental toughness.

So let’s get back to the idea of how to develop mental toughness. Like most things, it can actually be simpler and less ‘mystical’ than we sometimes make it out to be. Here’s an example. I have occasionally worked with female combat athletes who must compete in various weight divisions. The big challenge for these athletes is staying strong and healthy while maintaining, or, if necessary, losing weight. So in the course of these activities I am frequently asked, “Mike, what should I be eating?” Now these are smart, experienced women, so I would say “You already know what things to eat, just eat those things.” And how do they respond? Like this… “Mike, I know that I know what to eat, I just want you to tell me to eat those things.”

So what’s the missing ingredient here? Self-discipline. And like those athletes in the above example, we all generally know what to do. We know that we need to work hard to accomplish things of significance. But it is hard to do.

The truth of achieving mental toughness can be illustrated in this quote which is often attributed to self-disciplinarian extraordinaire Bruce Lee, but actually originated from 19th Century German writer Johann Goethe: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

This quote illustrates the paradox that just because something is simple, it does not mean that it is necessarily easy. And so it goes with mental toughness. Life is choices. And the “right” choices, the choices that can take you the furthest are often the hardest ones to execute. So, start small. Make time to work out tomorrow. Lay off the ice cream. Pick up the book you’ve been meaning to read. Turn off the TV and take your kids to the park. Just get started. Start executing. Make things happen.

The small steps lead to larger steps. Small victories lead to bigger victories. My wish for you is to define your own idea of success and then relentlessly hunt it down, one day at a time.

Here’s one more quote from Goethe to reflect on: “Live dangerously and you live right”. Now… stop reflecting and start doing.

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