Ever have moments where you feel like you’ve changed or outgrown your friends, place you live, or job? Maybe the clothes you wear no longer feel like a reflection of you and you’re beginning to wonder about making a fresh start. It’s possible you’re needing to reinvent your life. In this episode we discuss asking the right question to help you on that journey.
Those attributes are all great, but mental toughness is about endurance. Its about going the distance and lasting till the end. Its about dealing with adversity, and knowing who you are and being comfortable in your own skin. You can be the most loving person in the world but if you aren’t mentally tough you’ll most likely self destruct when the haters show up. And they always do.
I was not raised to be mentally tough. That’s no criticism of my parents its just that while most students were involved in sports (where mental toughness is more often a focus) I was drawing or playing music or working in my laboratory in the basement. There were never any discussions about ‘drop and give me another twenty pushups!’ Or ‘finish what you started’. It was, oh man, I’m all out of crimson red to finish the sky in my painting so I think I’ll go cry. Or, someone said something really critical of me and my codependency issues and wanting them to like me made me want to find a corner somewhere and cry. Starting to see a pattern here?
It wasn’t until recently when I discovered some great books and teaching on mental toughness. I can see now how so much pain in my life was caused by not being able to mentally handle tough things.
Being overly sensitive to criticism. Lack of discipline or follow through. Plagued with thoughts of fear. Lack of focus.
All of these issues arise from a lack of mental toughness. People who are strong mentally are able to handle the pressure, rejection, criticism, etc because they’ve conditioned their mind to handle it. Its not like things don’t impact them but they know how to stand when the fight comes at them.
Being in shape isn’t about lifting weights in the gym, its about lifting weights in the gym so you’re in shape when you leave. You have to put the work in so you’re ready when adversity and stress comes whether mentally or physically.
NOT MY FINEST HOUR
Years ago I was employed by a company where I asked tasked with leading someone who didn’t want to be led. She had been at the company for decades and I was just another new guy hired to oversee her. She had seen guys like me come and go so there was no interest on her part in doing things the way I needed her to do them. We clashed from almost day one. I tried everything but I was immature as a leader and unable to bridge the divide.
Eventually, we were both called into a leadership meeting with the board who wanted to help find a workable solution. About five minutes into the discussion I began to cry. Not ‘Gilmore Girls reunion movie’ tears, but like ‘death in the family’ tears. Everyone was stunned. They all gathered round and tried to calm me down.
I eventually left and went into my office to pull myself together and I sat under my desk and wept like a baby. The pressure of all that conflict between myself and this person had been building up over time and I finally let it out. In a very public way.
I lacked mental toughness. I also lacked emotional health and the ability to understand my inner dialogue, or lack thereof. I’ve since learned how to recognize the signs so that I don’t let things build up like that.
Mental toughness is key to managing complicated relationships. You have to know who you are, who the other person sees when they look at you, and not let their false impression become your identity.
Mental toughness is also key to success because it will help you embrace challenges and problems others would run to avoid.
HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL TOUGHNESS?
1) FOCUS ON IT
I’m a firm believer that unless you are intentional its hard to make anything a permanent habit or life change. There are countless books and videos that discuss the topic of mental toughness. There are great coaches and teachers discussing this issue all over the internet. Watch them. Every day. Make it a goal to listen to something about this topic several times a week for a year. You’ll be amazed at how, in a very short time, you view the world and handle conflict.
2) PRACTICE IT
Just like any muscle in your body, mental toughness takes deliberate daily work. You have to look back at situations you have been through and reevaluate them through this new lens you’ve acquired. How could you have handled things different? What situations are you in now where you feel anxiety and fear? How should you respond? Instead of worrying about where you are and how far you have to go take it a day at a time. Learn to rest in the daily decisions and choices you make and look for opportunities to practice your new skills.
3) SPEAK IT OUT: VERBALLY OR INTERNALLY
As silly as this sounds a huge part of implementing this into your life is to simply address situations with “I got this” or “I’m a little freaked out right now but I’m going to do it.” When a coworker says something that riles you up, telling yourself, “okay, no problem, I’ll work through this” has a dramatic impact on your life. I can’t explain how important it is. I think it must rewire the brain or something because when you actually talk to yourself and say things like “I’ll get through this” or “this isn’t that big of a deal, I can do it”, you start believing it. When you start believing it you start living it. There’s tremendous power in our words and when we talk to ourselves in this way we start to realize just what we are capable. Problems, tough relationships, difficult jobs, are no longer things we run from but challenges we know we can handle.
As you can see, being mentally tough takes practice and consistency. Its a muscle that needs worked on. Deliberate focused attention will reap incredible rewards as you find yourself running towards your problems instead of away from them and handling all the chaos that life has to offer.
If you are a manager or leader it’s inevitable that at some point, you’ll need to evaluate and assess people’s skills and talents. What is the best way to do that? Is it about aptitude? Is it about intelligence or resumes? In this episode Jennifer and I discuss one of the easiest ways to spot and identify a person’s talents so you can help them function in a place where they thrive.
I’m an introvert. Small talk and cocktail parties are not really my thing. In fact, for a long time just being in a crowd of people would be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I would usually want to finish up the conversation and then run into my office or a side room and hide out so I could recharge. I almost always felt guilty especially as someone who worked in ministry positions at churches or in politics because people have high expectations of leaders and how they spend their time with the crowds. I wanted to care about so and so’s story about the gout but I just couldn’t spend two hours listening to that over and over from so many people… you think I’m kidding, but this is church life.
The hardest part was when I was in a space where I was writing or thinking or working on something and someone would interrupt. When I’m in the flow of deep work there’s nothing more frustrating than being distracted. Coming out of that zen like meditative work flow is jarring to my system. Many times, unless you’re on fire, my interest level in your crisis is going to be minimal at best. If you’re on fire, don’t be surprised if I simply hand you a fire extinguisher and let you handle the problem yourself as I get back to my book.
All that being said, one of the things I noticed years ago was that after I went through a deep personal financial crisis (one of many in my life) when I came out of that and was running one of our businesses I had developed incredible sympathy for folks who were struggling financially themselves. I knew firsthand how painful it was and how debilitating it could feel as a parent and provider for your family. Sympathy is a pretty normal response for most of us after we’ve gone through a season of pain. Empathy though, the ability to appreciate someone’s situation even though we don’t have first hand experience with it, is something else entirely.
After one of my own self evaluation periods that I occasionally go through I realized I needed to work on my own ability to be more empathetic. To appreciate the journey other people are on. To ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ so to speak. As someone who could sympathize with your financial hurt it made it much easier for me to sit with people as they told me their stories. I didn’t find myself as exhausted as before and seemed to actually have more energy because I had an opportunity not necessarily to help but to give them an emotional shoulder to vent their hurts on. It was life changing. I realized if I could become more empathetic, not just sympathetic, it didn’t matter if someone was telling me the story of their gout flareup, my own reaction to it would be more life giving instead of life draining.
In order to do this I came up with my own exercise which was to Imagine Everyone I Met Was A Member of My Family. This sounds silly but it was actually really life changing. Even if you aren’t particularly close to your family we all love the idea of family and what it means. Seeing the cashier at Starbucks as my cousin, or the old lady on the side of the road as my grandma, or the grumpy mechanic at the shop as my crazy uncle Larry (you get the idea), was like a mind meld. I found myself looking at strangers completely different. I don’t have a particularly high ‘feeling’ side (on the MBTI scale) but by looking at people this way I found myself wanting to give hugs, to encourage, to throw an arm around someone’s shoulder and sit and listen to their stories for as long as they wanted. I mean, this was my aunt working behind the counter and I know how hard she works trying to put food on the table for her family. She messed up my order and is wasting my time? That’s okay. She’s family. I haven’t seen her in years. She’s a little crazy but… she’s family.
You get the idea.
Like I said earlier, regardless of how you feel towards your own family I challenge you to try this. When you’re at the store or walking down the street start looking at people and tell yourself, ‘that’s my mom, that’s my aunt, there’s my grandpa’ I promise it’ll change the way you see the world. Are there bad people out there? Yeah. And those bad people are someone’s son, daughter, brother etc. When you see strangers as family members it’ll make you more empathetic to the journey each of takes and cause you to have a new appreciation for the struggle of life. Empathy among strangers is one of the greatest skill sets human beings can develop. See the world as your family and you’ll begin to realize that one of our biggest challenges as a society is that we simply need more love from one another.
I’m still an introvert. That hasn’t changed. But what developing empathy has taught me is how to be an even better listener and to genuinely take an interest in the people around me. I’m fascinated by stories and struggle and life. As someone who spends a lot of time reading and writing stories the best skill I can have is empathy for my characters (whether good or bad) and the people around me in my day to day. This is why so many artists tend to fight for causes that a lot of other people find disturbing. Empathy teaches you there is no such thing as black and white. Empathy lives in the gray. Picking sides and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality is not empathy its narrow-mindedness. Good art forces us to be more empathetic.
Being more empathetic is being a good human being.
Should you make art even if no one looks at it? Yes!
Should you start a business if no one buys anything? Yes!
Should you write a book, a blog, an article even if no one reads it? Yes!
Should you sing a song even if no one dances? Yes!
Because the world needs your creativity. It needs your talents. It needs your voices.
The world needs your art. It needs your expression. It needs your taste and your choices.
You have to share it even if its mocked or ridiculed or ignored. There’s no point in living if your life has no point…
… of view.
Creative expression is at the heart of what makes us human beings. If God made us in His image, and he said everything he made was very good, then when we refuse to create or share because we think its not good enough, then we’re taking the place of God and thinking our taste is better than His.
Stop playing God.
Stop deciding ahead of time that something’s not good enough. Just make it and put it out in the world. It’s not narcissism to share your art. Art is made to be given away. Its the ultimate act of selflessness. It enriches and encourages and makes life that much fuller. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth – with your art – your offspring. If God can make a world full of ‘half starts’ and ‘works in progress’ and call it good then you can share your creativity too and know you’re in good company.
Being creative is a divine act. He made us out of His love. Let that love flow out of you.
Go for it.
We need your art.
We need you.
You have permission to fail. You are allowed to create art no one likes. You are allowed to build a business that goes bankrupt. You are allowed to fall in love and have your heart broken. If you spend your life running from potential failure you’ll never really be alive. Get out there and make a million mistakes. We’re all improvising and figuring this out as we go along so don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Stay away from people who have never tried and failed. They typically go by the name of ‘expert’. They are liars and frauds.