Your Mind is the Master of Your Body
This past weekend I had the honor and privilege of participating in the TEAMWORK event sponsored by Kill Cliff and hosted by my friends at CrossFit Southie here in Boston. Some of you may have heard me mention this event, or you may have seen me describe it on social media. In short, it was a crucible designed to raise money for the Navy SEAL Foundation; it consisted of 24 Hero workouts (named after fallen SEALs) to be completed in 24 hours — one every hour. These workouts were to be tackled in teams of 3 or more, with the idea being that participants would complete a handful of workouts at various intervals throughout the event.
The goal for me was simple: complete all 24 workouts with my teammates to test my mental limits while raising money for a great cause. I have always been interested in pursuing feats that were far more mental than physical. When asked if I would ever run a marathon, I responded that I would much sooner run an ultra-marathon than a marathon. The ability of the mind to endure what the body at first cannot has become an obsession of mine. What began as an interest has evolved into a thought that pervades my consciousness. It wasn’t until the middle of the night on Saturday, with more than 12 hours of work behind me, that I truly witnessed the capabilities of the human mind.
Workout 13 was when I realized what the human body is capable of when the mind has decided to endure. I moved through the workout “Blake” at 12am as if I was fresh, rested and properly caffeinated. My body felt great, I felt energized, I was moving quickly and efficiently. Had I watched a video of my performance I would assume it was from a solid training day likely following a day of good rest, hydration and recovery. Hour 18 showed similar standouts; this was at 5 in the morning after working out for 17 hours and being awake for 21. How is this possible? How could my body be performing these feats when I was surely exhausted beyond comprehension?
The mind is the master of the body. Thought controls action, but it requires you to believe that thought and to be focused on the present moment. When I stopped thinking about how many hours were left, when I stopped thinking about what we had already completed, when I stopped worrying about how sore or how tired I was and focused simply on the task at hand — that is when the magic happened. I had convinced myself I would never quit, I had already made up my mind that I would complete every workout in full, and so all that was left to do was execute. When my body realized that my brain was in control, and that I had already decided what the outcome would be, it began to run on autopilot. It did what I asked it to do because I believed, with every fiber of my being, that there was no alternative.
So if this type of superhuman effort is possible, what prevents most people from experiencing it, from achieving this “flow state” as it is often called? We are hardwired to shy away at the first sign of physical discomfort. Our bodies are designed to preserve us, to maintain homeostasis at all costs. Pain and discomfort send signals to our brain that we must stop doing what we are doing in order to survive. Once you realize that discomfort is just that, a signal, then you can overcome it. You can use the mind to tell your body, “today, we are ignoring this signal. Today we are going a bit further.” From here a world of possibilities opens up to you.
It is important to understand that pain and discomfort is not just physical in nature. This same approach works for emotional pain and may, in fact, be even more effective in this realm. Emotional pain is a product of the mind entirely and thus can be rewired and reprogrammed. One must understand, most importantly, that this is a learned behavior and does not come naturally to our species. In order to grow, in order to take control of your body and the signals it transmits, you must challenge yourself regularly.
Every time you confront discomfort and make a choice to push past it, you increase your capacity to endure. Much like running builds the lungs and allows for the accumulation of miles, so too does the battle with discomfort increase the capacity to combat further discomfort. There is so much more potential to be found if you can simply make a conscious decision to push past the initial reaction that often accompanies change. If you can decide to ignore that signal, that reflexive action of your subconscious, then what you can achieve is truly limitless.
Until next time.