Essential Ingredients: Toughness

Some elements of real safety are talked about so much that people get tired of hearing about it. I remember losing several subscribers after publishing an article on awareness. Nevermind that if you don’t know what’s going on around you, you have zero chance of defending yourself against it.

But there are other elements, essential ingredients to any plans for personal safety. Today I will be looking at one of these. Our topic is toughness. Without toughness, you are sunk once things turn physical. If you have never experienced a punch in the nose, the moment you first experience it will be a true test. You can train in a safe environment, and you can read and develop the ability to regurgitate cool sounding lines from leaders in the field. But if you have not ever had to keep going when your brain wanted you to stop, or your body is begging you to lay down, then you do not know where your limits are or if you have the ability to move ahead after such a shock.

I was raised hard, and I am thankful for that now. When I was still in elementary school, I had to spend evenings putting equipment on the truck, or taking it off, sometimes both. I did not get weekends off or summer vacations off from the time I was eight years old. I was put to work with my Father on construction sites. If there was no school, I was at work. We worked half-days on Thanksgiving, full days on Christmas Eve. I grew up in central Texas. The work was outside. Central Texas has about nine months out of the year with temperatures around 90° F. It also has about a month with temps over 100° F. I baked all summer, every summer. As a kid, there were times when my brain could not see the reason for being there and working as hard as we did. When I was a teen, I saw it as just normal life. My friends didn’t live that way, and I was often the subject of ridicule, but even that was not a big deal. The physical labor had toughened my body, to be sure, but going through it even when I didn’t think I could, that had toughened my mind.

Add to this mix the fact that my generation was not raised by parents who wanted everything to be easy for us. We were a lot who learned from defeat and loss. No helicopter parents, no being told that we were special like a snowflake. We were told “Are you bleeding? No? Then suck it up.” and “Walk it off” and “I’ll give you something to cry about!” and the unthinkable in modern time “If you had worked harder, maybe you would have won“.

Without toughness, you are going to fold when things get scary or physical. Toughness is developed by adversity. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you can always learn. Our younger generation would do well to experience defeat because it can show you that it is not the end of the world.

Now, toughness is divided into two categories: mental and physical.

Mental Toughness

When you are mentally tough, you have a few qualities that set you apart.

For one, motivation. People who are mentally tough do not need to be inspired by others, they do the task at hand because it needs to be done. The reward is found in completing the task, whatever it may be. It does not even have to be glorious. Block masons who need to hit the 500 unit per day quota in order to keep their job do not view the 500 as anything special, it is something that has to be done. There is no special reward for the quota, other than reporting to work tomorrow to do the same thing again.

Another factor is focus. The mentally tough are able to switch to a singular focus when there is something that needs to be done. Whether the task is outmaneuvering a rival, or fighting a bear, or completing paperwork on time, they will focus on the task without giving in to outside distractions.

The next time an assignment comes up at work that nobody wants, take it. Do things that you do not like doing and you will be gaining new skills, as well as mental toughness. Learn to focus on things that have to be done and get them done right.

Physical Toughness

Where mental toughness is about determination, physical toughness is about responding to adversity. And what better way to find adversity than to get out of your comfort-zone.

When you work out, change things up from time to time. Instead of a run on a treadmill, run in a park. Instead of a simple trip out of town to a hotel, try camping. Hiking through the woods, setting up a tent, chopping firewood, starting a fire, cooking fish you caught, these are great experiences and the physical challenges provide you with new skills and a certain toughness.

I remember when a Church group did a volunteer weekend of work with Habitat for Humanity. I went with them, even though at the time I was a construction worker, and as such, it was just like working without getting paid, but I didn’t complain because we were helping people. I marveled at my friends and the way that they were so excited and proud of such little (to me) things as hammering in a nail without bending it or getting a wall set upright and plumb. At the end of the day, we all went back to somebody’s house (I cannot remember whose house), and they ordered pizza delivered and sat and shared stories about how good it felt to build something, to work with their now blistered hands, and how much they now appreciated the people who did this every day. They were exhausted, and I was enjoying their tales of the day.

They learned about toughness that day. They stepped out of their comfort zone and did some demanding physical work, and as people, they grew.

None of this is to say that you can pick up a hammer for a day and suddenly become able to have the skills and toughness needed to fight off a home invasion. But I am saying that by taking some small steps every day you can progress toward becoming tougher. You have to stay focused on the goal, and you have to expend energy and time doing things that are not necessarily fun. Our ancestors were incredibly tough people. I think it is still locked in the DNA of everyone.

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