" The first step on the journey toward a calloused mind is stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis" - David Goggins
Over the last 2 years, I have been attempting to complete the 48 four thousand foot summits of New Hampshire's White Mountains. What has been interesting about this journey is that each mountain climbed has been it's own completely unique experience. Whether is has been due to an unexpected storm or trail condition, distinct features of the trail, difficulty of the terrain, people that I have met on the way, or even getting completely lost without enough supplies... after 34 peaks collected, the lessons that I have learned have been plentiful. Yesterday's "spring" hike of Mount Zealand was so impactful on me that it gave me great inspiration to write this post. It was by far the most dangerous hike I have participated in my life.
"Our biggest successes are born out of discomfort, uncertainty, and risk." - Gary John Bishop
Discomfort was felt in an unexpectedly cold May climate with snowy terrain that featured very unstable footing. This was a big surprise as it was a day of 70+ degrees of calm, sunny weather just 120 miles south in Boston. This made for very extreme trail conditions. For a majority of the hike, we had a very narrow path of "stable", icy ground that at times was more narrow than the width of your foot. On either side of this strip of safety, was fragile snow that could only be differentiated by the numerous postholes marked by previous hikers. This made it feel like we were tightroping up and down the mountain. Underneath the top layer of snow and ice, there was no guessing how far below the ground sat. The only way to find out was when a misstep was made and your body slammed into the pile of snow, which sometimes left half of your body suspended from a height above ground that still could not be determined. What made this even more challenging were the rivers that intersected the trail. The rivers bustled from the snow run off, and the very wet spring that we have had to date. In the river bed there were very few rocks that could be seen. The ones that were visible had surfaces that were questionable whether they would provide enough traction to keep us from falling into the frigid strong current. In certain cases, leaping across was the only option. This led to a nerve racking experience.
This hike was dangerous. The severe risk for injury was more than apparent. Some of the challenges to safety included: post holing into a depth of snow that could not be determined, falling on slick rocks and downed trees, weaving in/out/around/over/under newly overgrown trails while maintaining balance in tandem on previously mentioned tight rope, leaping across rivers and waterfalls, and impaling yourself on trees that had branches snapped off into spikes on their trunk. All of the things on this list, I experienced along the way. With each post hole (at least 92 times): a new abrasion bloodied my shin/ankle, my heart skipped a beat as my leg awkwardly free falled into the unknown depth, and my muscles worked to lift my body up in a pistol squat back to upright on the ice that supported my opposite foot. I face planted on slick rock as I leapt across the river, only saving myself from a brain injury with my swollen, battered hands. I sent a thorn of a broken brach into my palm as I tried to steady myself from slipping off of the path and down the cliffside. And I was whipped by tree limbs as I avoided falling and losing an eye at the same time.
There were multiple times when uncertainty was experienced. Frustration of falling turned into doubt. Early on, we discussed the possibility of turning around. The trail conditions did all it could do to discourage us to continue on our adventure. However, we were able to overcome this doubt by strength of mind. Realizing our strength and our capabilities, problem solving, strategically planning each path, and a relentless force of encouragement got us up and down that mountain, successfully and safely.
The mountain brought us many challenges that most likely would not have been present on a calm Summer version of the same hike. However, I would not have had it any other way. The sense of accomplishment as we approached the waterfalls, hit the cliffside with spectacular views, reached the sign indicating the highest point, and successfully returning to the trailhead can not be described in words. It truly was a big success. The hike, which was was 11.5 miles and featured 3,445 feet took us just under 10 hours to complete. We had originally thought that it would take us 6 hours. Regardless, I am proud to say that we won that battle, not only the challenges presented by the mountain, but those presented by our minds. The unexpected factors that made this journey so difficult, also made this experience more rich. This is why I do what I do. This was the lesson of the day.
"To achieve a new goal, it helps to have practice in achieving other unpleasant goals. This provides confidence that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to - to convince you that you have grit." Joe De Sena
Habits are integral in self development (professional and personal). The right habits can significantly benefit one's ability to accomplish their goals. The wrong habits can hinder that ability. In order to create a new habit, it is important to first define the anatomy of one. According to James Clear, the habit loop looks like this:
The cue: what triggers your brain to start the behavior.
The craving: the driving force behind the habit.
The response: the actual behavior.
The reward: the prize for the response and what helps us remember why we want to continue doing that habit.
As you can see, it is a cycle. The cue (hunger) leads to the craving (fulfilling that hunger) which leads to the response (eating a burger) which leads to the reward (no longer feeling hungry...enjoying a delicious burger...mmmm I want a burger now... with a fried egg on it, of course). The more positive the reward at the end, the more it will reinforce the behavior/response the next time that cue comes back.
What's challenging in behavior modification is that most good habits do not give you the positive results (that lead to an enhanced craving) right away. They can require more work than bad habits, and can have a more negative response at first. Good habits do not necessarily have the immediate gratification that triggers the dopamine release to make it stick. For example, someone trying to improve their diet will have to sacrifice more time, more energy, and that delicious burger (if they do not have the skills required to make said delicious burger) compared to someone who purchases a delicious burger from their favorite restaurant. They know that they enjoy the burger from the restaurant and that it requires less effort than it would to make something similar. Even if the person is trying to cut expenses or inches around their waistline, the convenience and instant gratification may be too strong to keep focused on their long term goals.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear provides many practical ways to increase your compliance to achieving your long term goals and to reinforce good habit creation. One way that has really stuck with me is to add a desired response that gives you the immediate gratification (that is needed to enhance craving) that is lacking from the habit loop. I think of it as gamifying my new habits. Even though this is creating a short term dependence on an external drive, it can bridge the gap until an internal drive is formed. I have done this as a way to eliminate bad habits (through penalties), as well as to encourage good habits (through reward). At the start of every month, I write down general monthly goals and attach 3 ways to succeed at each goal. For example, one of my goals is to reduce the amount that I spend on food. Instead of living off of Ramen and peanut butter, I have decided that the best way to do this is to curb the amount that I spend on eating out. In order to give myself that immediate gratification, I pay $5 to my savings account for every day that I prepare all of my food/beverages, subtract $5 for every day that I eat dinner out (since it is the most expensive meal), or do not making any change to my savings account for any other infractions (I.e. coffee out). At the end of each day, I place the date in the appropriate column according to the effect that it will have on my savings account (add, subtract, null). This gives me feedback of whether or not I have been compliant and gives me a daily bonus at the end of the day to see how much money I have "earned" toward my savings. What's nice about using my savings account vs. buying something for myself...It's still my money and I am rewarding myself for my behavior. It's almost like I am working for myself, on commission. Curbing food expenses is not the only area that I have used this for. Other habits I have tied this system to include:
Being more productive:
add $0.10 for every page read
subtract $1 for every day of > 1 hour of "non-social" TV watching
add $2 for every TGP related task completed (...yes I am paying my savings account $2 for this post)
Being a good roommate:
add $3 for cleaning the whole kitchen
add $3 for cleaning the living room
subtract $5 for any infraction (leaving laundry in the machine > 24 hours)
At the end of the month, it get's addicting to see how well I faired in my game (as I add all of my bonus money from the month into my savings). Last month, I put $328.30 into my savings account on top of my automatic payment. Not only does this reflect how much work I have put toward my goals and my habit creation, but I am certain that the actual savings were even higher than the amount put into my savings by just avoiding the pricey Boston restaurants (even though a delicious burger sounds really good right now).
Eventually, the external drive placed on the habit (money into the savings account) should matter less as some of the internal drive develops (the gratification of the habit itself). For example, if you reduce the amount you go out to eat, not only will your finances improve but so will your health, you will become more efficient at meal prep, and hopefully a better cook. Once, the habit is pretty strong, you can leave it be, remove the external drive, or level up and build off of the newly created habit.
To learn more about habits, I strongly recommend the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Some very strong resources for habit creation and elimination.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”
― James Clear
Finding your why is a recommendation of many books, experts, mental health professionals, coaches, employers, leaders, etc. However, I believe, as well as many others, that you may not find your true why until you dig a little deeper. And this is where the exercise "7 Levels Deep" comes into play. I learned this exercise from an interview I heard with Dean Graziosi. By asking yourself a question about the previous answer 7 times, you truly are able to get into the core of what your true WHY is. Once you figure this out, you should use this WHY to come back to when faced with adversity, obstacles, or negative situations (even if it is to be a team member of the Avengers).
Below is my example for why I Spartan Race. (be advised that the deeper you go, the more emotional and vulnerable it gets). Especially when you are interviewed by someone.
Check out this site to perform a similar test on yourself. They use a different question system asking "why each level is important to you", which has a similar effect.
"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."
Today, I was listening to a podcast during my daily work commute that introduced me to a great approach to negativity in life (see also: Boston traffic). This was the 5 minute rule. This rule was highlighted during the Becoming Superhuman Podcast's interview of Hal Elrod. First off, if you have not listened to this podcast before, Jonathan Levi does an excellent job of interviewing leaders, entrepreneurs, and other outstanding individuals who share their insight on habits and techniques to be as effective and efficient as possible in achieving your personal and professional goals(or to become an absolute BAMF in whatever you want).
The 5 minute rule works like this...
When something negative happens in your life, you allow yourself to feel all of your emotions about it....but you only allow yourself 5 minutes. Set a timer on your phone and get it out of your system. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself be sad. Vent to another person. Do what you need to do in that designated time. But after 5 minutes, if you can not change the situation....then move on. This will allow you to focus your mental energy on maintaining productivity and to approach the situation more proactively. You will be able to allocate your resources to making a change if necessary or to accommodate for anything that you may not have control of. Once finished, you can continue to be proactive in goal setting and accomplishing what needs to be done. This is an effective way to deal with the normal emotions one may have in a tough situation, but will prevent you from getting trapped in that downward spiral which feeds even more negativity and decreases productivity. Hal mentions that the time seems to go very quickly at first, and that you will feel like you need more time to spend on your emotions. However, the more you practice the rule, the quicker you will find yourself getting over negative situations and ready to take the necessary steps to move on. This will also reinforce positive thinking.
This is going to be a nice addition to the way that I approach obstacles and other negative life events. I love the idea of allowing yourself to be mindful of your emotions, but not letting them consume your day or your thoughts. I personally will be putting this into action immediately.
I suggest that you listen to the interview with Hal and how he has used this to overcome significant physical impairments following a devastating motor vehicle accident with a drunk driver. The odds were against him in ever walking again, but with this trick he was able to dedicate his mental energy toward what was necessary to get him back on his feet.
“You are always exactly where you are supposed to be, experiencing what you need to experience, to learn what you must learn, in order to become the person you need to be to create the life you truly want. Always.” - Hal Elrod
Rob is currently a Spartan Race Social Media Influencer and recipient of multiple Trifectas, annually. He also is an amateur powerlifter and hockey player.