The first mile of any hike is always the easiest. You start out full of energy and excitement to reach your destination, and the path ahead seems pretty straight forward. "In order to get where I want to go," you think to yourself, "all I have to do is stay on the path." But as most of us know, that's a lot easier said than done. After the first mile, we start running into huge rocks, steep inclines, and endless switchbacks that make us wonder if we've even made a dent in the journey ahead. And after several miles of these difficult obstacles, we might start to question if the destination is worth the journey. For the rest of the hike, you will have to choose moment after moment whether to turn back, or to keep pushing forward with the hopes of a gorgeous view being closer than you think. If you want to push through the pain and keep going, mental toughness will be essential to your success.
Over the last few months, a few of our students have taken to helping each other build that skill. In a weekly workout, not so affectionately known as "Demon," a small group of our students spend 30 minutes pumping out as many burpees as they can. In those 30 minutes, each one of them have to face their demons head on. They face the voice inside their heads telling them they've already done enough, or they're going to be sick or get hurt. In that moment, they have to choose for themselves whether to give up or push through, whether to maintain their previous record or to beat their personal best.
It's not an easy decision. The natural inclination is to keep yourself safe and drop out. It's easier, safer, and you can escape the pain and exhaustion of the workout. But giving up means you didn't give it your all, and it leaves you with a sense of guilt and regret. But in making the decision to push through, you walk away with an incredible sense of pride in yourself, and the knowledge that you were capable of more than you thought you were. By repeating this process every week, they begin to push themselves harder and harder, building mental toughness in the process.
Without that level of discipline and determination, trying to accomplish a goal or some kind of challenge becomes sufficiently more challenging than it already is. But just like our students, we can build the right skill set by making regular, in the moment difficult choices. By pushing ourselves a little bit harder every time, we slowly condition ourselves to make the right choices and keep pushing ourselves. And it doesn't take long before you realize that making those decisions is a little bit easier than it used to be. After all, the only way to reach the top of that mountain is one step at a time.