How often do you practice getting tougher?

Today is February 12 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you practice getting tougher?” Those that navigate the chaos understand the value of practicing to be mentally and physically tough. According to research conducted by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier we become mentally and physically stronger with practice.

He developed his “toughness model” first published in 1989 in the journal Psychological Review. Gathering evidence from a wide range of human and animal studies, he demonstrated that exposure to intermittent stressors, such as cold temperatures and aerobic exercise, made individuals physiologically “tougher.” They became less overwhelmed by subsequent difficulties, and by their own fight-or-flight arousal.

As Meg Jay wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “this makes a difference because when a stressor seems manageable, we perceive it as a challenge, and adrenaline—which boosts energy, focus and coping—is released. When a stressor seems unmanageable, however, we perceive it as a threat and our cortisol levels rise too, suppressing our immune system and making us more vulnerable to disease.” Interestingly, Dienstbier noted that toughened individuals increasingly seek out experiences that stimulate them and provide opportunities for more mastery and success.

One such person who practices getting tougher is Navy SEAL veteran David Goggins. Goggins wrote “It’s easy to win when life’s your best friend but when it’s choking you out is when you truly grow. Sometimes there is no light at the end of the tunnel but you still have to go in! Start conditioning your mind to walk in the darkness. Trust me, the more you walk in it the better your eyes will adjust to it.” In his Embrace the Suck video speech Goggins shares how he overcame so many debilitating obstacles to later achieve incredible military and personal honors, and the mentality that kept him going and made him push beyond his limits.

As Goggins said “Growing is a lifestyle. We need friction to grow. I put a bunch of friction in my life and I grew. You want to get tough; it’s a lifestyle. You need to callous your mind. If you say you’re going to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and run, then do it. Do something that sucks every day of your life. That’s how you grow.” In his 2018 autobiography Can't Hurt Me Goggins shares his astonishing life story and reveals that most of us tap into only 40% of our capabilities. Goggins calls this The 40% Rule, and his story illuminates a path that anyone can follow to push past pain, demolish fear, and reach their full potential. The only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, he went on to set records in numerous endurance events, inspiring Outside magazine to name him The Fittest (Real) Man in America.

Goggins 40% rule is similar to a response boxer Muhammad Ali once gave to a question. A reporter once asked Ali, ranked the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, “How many sit-ups do you do?” Ali responded “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts." In a 2019 speech Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled that story and said “Now think about it. He doesn’t start counting. That is working hard. And so you can’t get around the hard work. It doesn’t matter who it is.”

Professional basketball player Damian Lillard believes this is true and wrote “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.” After being selected by the Portland Trailblazers with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Lillard was unanimously voted Rookie of the Year and became one of four players in Trail Blazers franchise history to become a four-time All-Star. Lillard also maintains a high-level of self-awareness and noted “I know what I am as a basketball player and as a person. I don’t see myself as above, elevated, or, like, more important than other people. I view myself with people; I don’t view myself as a superstar.”

Goggins, Ali, Schwarzenegger and Lillard all practiced getting tougher. How often do you?