Obstacle course races are full of uncertainty, just like life. Weather, terrain, course layout, obstacle design…there are so many unknown variables that athletes encounter on race day. We conquer treacherous landscapes, engage in physically demanding tasks, and we face doubt and fear as we navigate our arduous surroundings; racers trudge through mud, climb hills, exert ourselves on complex obstacles, and we carry heavy weight for miles.
Obstacle course racers do not train and prepare for ideal, predictable situations; we train to be prepared to endure imperfect and uncertain conditions on course. To succeed against the mental and physical demands of a race, we approach obstacles with the mindset that they can be accomplished, rather than focus on any thoughts that they may be impossible. Obstacle course racers simply choose to accept the difficult circumstance, silence their excuses, and find a way through the obstacle. When the sandbag is heavy, we use our shoulders and necks; if the trails are muddy, we take deeper and more deliberate steps; when the monkey bars are wet and slick, we adapt by tightening our grasp around the bars, by using our elbows and arms. Through obstacle course racing I have learned to not give up just because I approach something unexpected or challenging. Instead, when a race courses give me something heavy or difficult, I simply choose to accept the situation, tighten my grip, and move forward.
Face it, life is heavy sometimes…and it can be really hard. Our lives are full of heartbreak and uncertainty that is entirely out of our control. We lose loved ones, fail at our goals, become injured, make mistakes…you name it. While we cannot always control the weight of our circumstances and the heaviness of life, we can control how we choose to carry it and how we allow it impede our forward progress. Just like learning to overcome uncertainty on a race course, we build our tolerance and ability to overcome the unexpected obstacles in our daily lives. We can develop our mental muscle (our “mental grip”) to be better prepared for handling life’s difficulties. Our mental grip is the way that we approach, interpret, and experience situations; essentially, it is our “handle” on the reality around us. When we use our mental grip, we are not stopped in our tracks by hardships or obstacles; we simply adapt, tighten our grasp, and find more effective and efficient methods for carrying our heavy burdens. Tightening your mental grip means approaching life with a positive mindset, resilience, and mental fortitude…regardless of the circumstances.
Just as we train our bodies to flip tires, carry sandbags, and maintain a tight grip on monkey bars, we can train our mental grip to more proficiently manage the heaviness and obstacles that life throws at us. Like the physical training for races to enhance endurance, agility, and speed, we can train our minds to adapt and become stronger against adversity and uncertainty. Building mental grip comes from confronting old demons from the past, forgiving others that have wronged you, learning to let go of failures, and having realistic accountability conversation with yourself. This also means liberating ourselves from self-sabotaging habits, healing from addictions, or leaving relationships that no longer serve us. To be successful, we must approach our situations rationally and honestly, as well as consider alternate perspectives and solutions to our problems. Just because the rain came down to dampen our surroundings does not mean that our situations are impossible, it means that we simply need to grip tighter, try another way, or learn to endure through the difficulty with more tolerance.
Mental muscle is built when you intentionally do the work underneath the surface to examine your current method for carrying stress, take accountability for your own negative mindset, and examine ways to improve your capacity to carry life’s heaviness. Training your mental grip is just like the physical training component of obstacle racing; to develop this “muscle,” your focus and energy must be deliberate, consistent, and continuous. Self-improvement and growth is a never-ending process that is full of honest self-evaluation, pro-active change, and forward momentum. You must be willing to take action and make purposeful changes in your daily life to form new habits; these habits will be the foundation in which you build and improve your mental grip strength.
Obstacle course racing has taught me that I cannot expect to control or avoid all of the uncertain and inevitable circumstances of my life, but I can choose to approach, experience, and overcome these obstacles more effectively and more peacefully. Life is going to drop heaviness on me at times, obstacles will present themselves…and they will likely be slick from the mud of life. There will be situations that may push me to my breaking point and may threaten my foundation of thoughts about myself and reality. My journey will lead me on a rocky, muddy, and difficult paths – trails that lead me through failure, doubt, loneliness, and fear. But by re-adjusting my mental grip on the situations, by choosing to focus on positive, forward movement, I can overcome any obstacle or heaviness life presents to me…and there is no finish line that I cannot conquer.