Say you’re preparing to embark on a western hunt chasing elk or mule deer in the mountains. The physical demands will be immense, sure, but it’s also going to require a great deal of mental toughness. How do you prepare for that? I think I heard it best this past year when I was up in the mountains with my step-brother and our guide. The guide, Edwin, looked at my step-brother and said, “At some point you’ve just gotta embrace the suck.” What did he mean by that? Simple: The terrain and conditions might be brutal, but you can get through it—most of what’s holding you back is in your head. It’s a lot like a grueling workout: Your mind is going to try to convince you to quit even when your body can take you further than you imagined. Now, of course there are physical limitations we experience—reaching the absolute end of what your body can withstand—but you may find yourself surprised at how much it takes to reach that point. This is why I like to kick butt on some seriously challenging workouts year-round—it conditions you to become mentally tough. You learn to silence that little nagging voice inside your head that wants to quit as soon as the discomfort starts. You need to learn to tell that quitter voice to shut up and keep going.
This idea of mental toughness is a difficult one to fully describe because it’s largely intangible. It deals in no small part with self-motivation and your inner monologue. But in the simplest terms, it can be explored in the context of, for instance, a super hard leg workout that we know is just going to be terrible. When you reach that final set of heavy or high-rep squats, there will be a moment (that will likely feel like an eternity) where your mind begins screaming at you to stop and rest, to give your body the relief it craves. Again, the reality is you can push yourself past that point if you maintain the right state of mind, one committed to a state of mental toughness (side note: use the safety bars on your equipment, because the point where you physically can’t go on can sneak up on you quickly).
Sometimes you have to find that inner drive to overcome the pain you’re enduring to grow physically and mentally. The same can be applied to one of my favorite pieces of cardio equipment: the Concept 2 Rower. This cardio piece is brutal, especially when you’re doing endurance rows and trying to keep a pace faster than two minutes/500 meters. Say your workout goal is to reach 4,000 meters. I can guarantee you that before you even reach the halfway point it’s going to become a mental grind if you’re keeping your pace up. But you can do it. It’s just a matter of talking yourself into it or even coaching yourself through it.
Mental toughness absolutely can be increased through completing above-average workouts. That toughness will help you “embrace the suck” by familiarizing your mind to discomfort. Yes there’s something to be said about completing workouts to have the physical fitness to get up the mountain, but these workouts are working double time. Push yourself beyond the point of mild discomfort and don’t be scared to motivate yourself with that inner monologue. It may sound crazy, but it does help in the gym and on the mountain.