Posts Tagged ‘mental toughness’

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“PRINCIPLES OF ENDURANCE – Small Tasks” – Jan 4

January 4, 2014

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.   Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Matthew 6:34

Tri-Bike TrainerThe mental weakness that has been exposed by my indoor cycling trainer has gotten me to thinking about endurance and some of the common principles between physical and spiritual endurance.  However, I came up with six principles that help me practice mental toughness in times of endurance both physical and spiritual.

1.      Control Your Emotions.

2.      Small Tasks

Physical:

How do you eat an elephant?… One mouthful at a time.

Endurance requires that we do not waste energy on those things outside of our control.

long_road-ahead

When running, I have found that it is not good to think about what mile 10 is going to feel like when mile 3 is not feeling so good.  I can usually make it to the next intersection or up the next rise or around the coming corner.  I don’t have control of much of what is down the road.  It might be pretty ugly but then again it might not.  I never really know.  Therefore, I try to run the road immediately in front of me.  I have confidence in my hydration and fueling strategy.  I know what heart rate will keep me in an aerobic zone.  All I have to do it keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually the finish line will appear.

Endurance is much easier to bear when you have companions working with you.

tour2

Riding 100 miles on a bicycle is daunting.  However, it is not too bad when all you have to do is stick to the wheel of the rider right in front of you.  I have been amazed at the difference between riding in a group and going solo.  There are clear drafting advantages that make riding in a group easier but I think the mental assistance is just as important.  The preoccupation of the brain with the dynamics of a group ride makes the miles slip by largely unnoticed in comparison to the mental battle of a solo ride.

Always count your own laps. Counting might seem trivial but keeping track of where you are and where you are going is critical for endurance.

20131001-235329My stomach always turns when I think about swimming over 40 laps.  I have tried counting down; I have tried counting up; neither has worked very well for me.  Therefore, I count laps in groups of five; I can’t count much beyond that anyways but my brain accepts 8 sets easier than it does 40 laps.  However, I always know how far I have to go.  I have a counter that straps to my index finger.  Although I play games with counting to keep my mind occupied, there is always the sure lap count on my index finger.  I am reminded of a swim story that I read:

At one California high school meet where there were no lap counters, nearly an entire heat of the girls’ 500 freestyle lost track of how many laps they had raced. Everyone in the heat except for the girl in last place assumed the girl in first place was keeping the right count. While everyone else was hanging on the wall thinking they were done with the race, the girl in last place—who knew exactly how many lengths of the pool she still needed to race—flip-turned. By the time the others in the heat figured out what was going on, the girl who had been in last place was nearly 25-yards ahead of everyone else. She finished the race in first place.  How to Count Swimming Laps

Spiritual:

Why do we worry about tomorrow?  Anxiety and worry makes spiritual endurance so much harder – it makes me want to give up.

For me, the sinful tendency of my worrying heart overflows during those sleepless, semi-conscious, nights with insomnia.  Just the other night, I overcame the temptation of anxiety by following the principles of endurance.  I awoke, a quick glance at the clock on my night stand told my brain that it should be asleep yet the cogs of worry had already started to turn.

1:30 AM and I worried about work – how to retain clients, why didn’t we get that last job, will we get the next one and how, how will a lawsuit play out, how should we respond, how do we respond to all the changes in our market, how can we keep everyone working, …what if , what if,…I have got to go to sleep.

2:30 AM and I worried about my kids – an upcoming NCFCA tournament, will my son be ready, will he make friends, what about my daughter’s friends, what about their hearts, do they love Jesus, are they saved, how to pay for college, will they have a happy life,…what if, what if,…I have got to go to sleep.

3:00 AM and I worried about my family – declining health, the lifestyle of extended family, their salvation, what about my retirement, where will we live if the wheels fall off, can I take care of all my responsibilities, how will I provide for my wife and kids, what will people say, surely they will gloat over my failures,… what if, what if,… I have got to go to sleep.

3:30 AM and I bemoaned my existence – the hours of fretting and worrying had successfully found the combination to a dark and brooding mental file that contains all the necessary supporting evidence of my failures and defeats.  The full force of a pessimistic mind had turned in on itself and shattered my will to endure in those dark hours before the sun rose.

By 3:45 AM, my anxious mind had swirled my desire to endure around a drain of defeat; whispering the glories of a hermit and a retreat to a protected life in a secluded warehouse,… I had had enough.  I roused myself from its semi-conscious state that was allowing my sinful heart of worrying to prey upon my undefended mind.

I prayed to regain the control of my mind.

I prayed the promises of God –He is in control of the future; I recalled how He took David from a cave to the throne; He was the one who blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He is the one who brings rain and drought.  He knows what I need.  He is my Father and He knows how to give good gifts.  I am so much more valuable to Him than the birds of the air.  My fretting about all that is beyond me showed me how little faith I have.  I cried out into the dark, “Lord, help me in my unbelief.  Take my worries and concerns.  I trust you with them.”

I prayed God’s presence.  I thanked Him for never leaving me or forsaking me.  He is my constant companion.  He is in me and I in Him.  I recalled that all that He calls me to do is to take up my cross and follow Him.  Even when I feel friendless, I am never alone.  I just have to set my mind on the things of His Spirit.  The joy of the Lord is the wheel set before me.  I just need to set my eyes upon it and follow.  I can do that.  He has promised to give me the strength to do that.  I know if I do that then these times of worry are going to slip by largely unnoticed if I will trust in Him alone.

I prayed my Ebenezer’s (1 Samuel 7:12).  I contentiously went to that gloriously bright mental file of all the victories that the Lord has given me.  I counted them and recalled how God has been faithful to me particularly in my defeats and failures.  I considered how far he has taken me.  His grace has carried me through so many laps.  His grace has always been sufficient.  I praised Him for is love and mercy.  I praised Him for how He has used me in all my weakness and unfaithfulness.  While Istill long for heaven, I thanked Him for the work that He has given be to yet accomplish through the power of His Spirit; I thanked Him that my hope is not in this world; I praised Him for the life in His presence that He has promised.  I run this race to that finish line and I am not done yet.

…and sometime during those prayers of praise… I slept, my will to endure restored through the power of the Spirit.

(I hope to post the other 3 principles in the coming days.)

PRAYER: O Lord, come, my fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing the praises of your grace and mercy; Father, I raise my Ebenezer; here by your great help I’ve come; and I hope, by your good pleasure to safely to arrive at home.  I am constrained daily as a debtor to your grace.  Let your goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.   Hear my praise O Lord (Come Thou Fount)   I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Resources:
Extravagant Grace, Barbara R. Duguid
6 Navy SEAL Tips to Achieve Mental Strength

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“PRINCIPLES OF ENDURANCE – Control Your Emotions” – Jan 1

January 1, 2014

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Tri-Bike TrainerRiding an indoor trainer is hard.  The physical endurance required for a trainer is no harder than riding along a rolling countryside road.  My legs cannot tell the difference between an interval in my basement or one on a road separating vast crops of mint and sugar beets.

However, my brain can tell the difference.

My brain is the nemesis that often defeats me.  My legs rarely demand that I dismount the trainer.  Physically, I know that I could go longer but it is my will that cracks when I am laboring.  I hate that.  I hate it when my brain quits while my body still has more left in the tank.  My mental weakness is fully exposed on the trainer.

Mental toughness in physical activities naturally leads me to contemplate mental toughness in spiritual realms.  Perseverance is the Christian word for those who are spiritually tough.  I have yielded to temptations when I knew that I did not need to.  I have seen some yokes of the Lord and cringed at the anticipated burden.  I felt heavily laden and sought out my rest.  I know that all my failures and weaknesses come from a sinful heart that exposes itself through mental weakness.

BonkI hate that my brain quits while the Spirit has unfathomable strength to offer.  I do not want to be the guy who does not endure well.  I want to be the one who perseveres to the end.  I have found that mental toughness does not just happen.  It has to be practiced.

Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.
~ Lynn Jennings

I realize that analogy between physical and spiritual mental toughness is not perfect.  It falls apart because we have an all-sufficient God who supports our faith.  However, I came up with six principles that help me practice mental toughness in times of endurance both physical and spiritual.

1.     Control Your Emotions

Physical (Negative Thoughts):
There is nothing that will get me to quit quicker than negative thoughts.  I fight negative thoughts.  I keep speaking the positive to myself – “You’ve got this”, “easy-peasy”, “Shut-up legs; you will obey me”, “I can go for miles”, “this is too much fun”.  I try to grimace with a smile.  I try to keep good posture and form; my emotions follow my posture.

Spiritual (Negative Thoughts):
Doug Wilson wrote “Sins are like grapes; they come in bunches.”  The truth of that statement resides in the negative thoughts that we wallow in after a spiritual failure. I try to fight those negative thoughts by practicing the following: (1) Immediately repent; (2) Acknowledge that I am weak and sinful; (3) Preach the wonder of the gospel to myself; (4) Praise God for my redemption through Christ Jesus; (5) Allow my weakness to drive me in greater joy in Christ rather than self-deprecation.

We must fight to keep the negative thoughts of defeat from stealing our joy. We are weak and sinful. Our joy does not come from our own strength and self-discipline. It comes from the fact that we are forgiven. Our perseverance comes from learning to quickly run head long into the arms of our forgiving Father when we stumble and fall. It is always bad for our souls when we linger in the negative thoughts away from the presence of our Lord.

Physical (Racing Someone Else’s Race):
Nothing gets me to implode quicker than racing someone else’s race.  I have to fight the over exuberance of chasing after other competitors.  It is easy to start chasing someone else beyond your ability and find yourself exhausted along the edge of the road.  When someone passes me, I work to trust my strategy.  I control the discouraging emotions of being passed and look for encouragement of being in the same race as that exceptional person.

Spiritual (Living Someone Else’s Faith):
The other area where I have imploded spiritually is through an unhealthy desire for the faith of others.  I have chased after the faith of others and wondered why I was unable to do what they had done.  I have ladened myself with the latest spiritual self-help methods.  I have thought that if I just followed prescribed spiritual disciplines than I would be able to live a life of personal holiness. It is easy to allow a healthy appreciation of the faith that God has blessed other brothers and sister in Christ with to transform into an unhealthy concept that our sanctification is wholly based upon our efforts.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We need to trust that our faith is in the capable hands of its founder and perfecter – Jesus Christ.  We are to be encouraged by fellow followers of our age and those who have gone before us.  Their examples are given as an encouragement for us to strive with endurance in our own personal journeys of faith – setting aside the weight and sin that clings to us.  However, our personal paths are not found by chasing others.

Jesus is perfecting our faith uniquely in each of us.  He has us exactly where He wants us for His glory.  We should be encouraged by fellow followers of Christ, but still trust the one who created the new life within us.  We will do what we love to do – we were created that way.  We need to follow the joy that has been set before us.  New desires come with the new life that we have in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, follow the bread crumbs of joy that the Spirit has laid before you.

The Spirit has taken us on a wonderfully rewarding journey of endurance to the very end.  We need to trust Him and not make our sanctification a slave to someone else’s faith.

(In my not so successful attempt at keeping my posts shorter, I will post the other 5 principles in the coming days.)

PRAYER: O Lord, thank you for being the founder and perfecter of my faith.  Thank you for giving me a joy unspeakable.  Father, help be to focus on You in all that I do.  Help me to look to You as my example; make me gentle and lowly in heart.  Show me the rest that I can find only in You.  Teach me to endure.  Train me so that I will learn to rely upon you in everything and thereby become mentally tough in you.    I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Resources:
Extravagant Grace, Barbara R. Duguid
6 Navy SEAL Tips to Achieve Mental Strength

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