Mental Toughness: 4 words to survive anything

When you find yourself in a tough situation, say doing an intense workout and all you can think of is giving up, what do you tell yourself? Do you start cussing and swearing at everything in sight or do you think about rainbows, unicorns and start singing Frozen songs, “Let it go…let it go~”

Today I was doing my weekly Lactate Threshold workout which consists of an hour’s run on the treadmill at its steepest incline. The pace was set at 80-85% of my maximum heart rate so naturally, it was tough!

Within the first few minutes my thighs were screaming for me to give them a break. After 15mins,  I just wanted to stop and thoughts of slowing the pace or cutting down my workout time flooded my mind.

Then I remember 2 simple magic phrases from my past and focused on them. In no time at all, I was done! Somehow by changing my mentality and frame of reference, an arduous task became a breeze. Time also seemed to flow by much faster when I wasn’t focusing on how much I was suffering. Here are the two magic 4-word phrases:

1. “This too, shall pass.” 

I first stumbled upon this phrase from a philosophical story I read a while back. Back then I was chronically depressed because I had been injured for months on end and could not do what I love most – exercise! So I resorted to reading one feel-good philosophical story every morning.

This story goes like this:

A king called all of his wise men and counselors together for a meeting. He addressed them and said: “I want you to go and think, read, and research. Consult the wisest and most learned men in the land. Spare no expense. I want you to find the ONE statement that will get me through all situations in life. Whether I am on top of the world or in the pits, find that statement. I don’t want to learn long and complicated philosophies. I want one simple statement. Find it or write it; I don’t care, just bring me the statement.”

The men left and consulted for months. They finally returned and handed the King a scroll. The King unrolled the scroll. On it was written four words: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”

That was it. The wise men explained. When you are on top of the world, that is but a fleeting moment, things change, always remember, this too shall pass. When you are in the pits, all nights are followed by day, at your lowest moments remember also, this too shall pass. All external circumstances and material things change.

No matter what your circumstance, remember, THIS TOO SHALL PASS!

The wise men reminded the great King that this would get him through his earthly things but the truly wise knew there were things beyond this earth and life. Things that were eternal. True wisdom, they reminded the King was in the ability to recognize and differentiate the fleeting temporal things of the material world from the truly eternal things.

“O Great King”, they said, “Most of the things that you worry or gloat about are temporary and our four words apply.”


2. “It could be worse.” 

This second phrase is my personal favorite because it allows me to daydream about how much worser things could actually be.

For example, when looking at the amount of time left that was displayed on the treadmill’s dashboard, if it read 15mins, I would think to myself, “It could be worse. It read 50mins a while ago!” If I still didn’t feel better, I could stretch my imgaination further – “It could be worse. I could be out there running an even steeper hill, in the dark where it was cold and rain pouring down from the heavens and still have 50mins left!”

There is no limit to how much worse it could get and just dreaming about that easily passes time while making one feel a little more content with one’s ‘adverse’ situation.

So next time you find yourself somewhere you’d rather be elsewhere, just think, “It could be worse. This too, shall pass.” 😉

(Update: November 11, 2015)

3. “It’s not so bad…”

Another inspirational phrase from yet another tough workout. This one down-plays the amount of suffering you think you are experiencing. The truth of the matter is that the amount of sadness or pain or joy you think you are experiencing comes directly from how much you exaggerate it in your mind. Once you learn to let go of this tension and see it in a different light, things become much easier to bear and accept.

Example: I do a long workout every weekend and my first one was 3 hours long. Those 3 hours felt like an eternity! However, having been through a couple of Obstacle Races more than 4 hours long, I can now go out any day and crush a 4 hour workout without thinking twice. Those races changed my frame of reference and made me think: “4 hours? That’s not so bad…”

4. “I am in control.”

Too often, we subject ourselves to the mercy of our situation. We may attribute unfortunate events to divine punishment and the like when in reality, that’s just life. Good and bad things happen to us all the time. We lose our phones, and we find them. We celebrate new additions to the family and lose a loved ones. 99% of the time we are in good health but sometimes, we fall ill or contract diseases. Sometimes we miss buses and at other times, catch a bus just on time. Etc, etc.

What do you tell yourself in these situations?

This phrase teaches me to not become too absorbed in the moment. Instead, I distract my mind with thoughts of what I can do to alleviate my situation: “What can I do now, such that (fill in the blank) becomes easier?”

Thus, if we learn to look at things objectively  at see them “as it is” without placing any opinions or attachments to them, you may realize that “You are in control” and “Its not so bad” after all.

Have a great day!

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