Growing Mental Toughness
The other day, I went with another Care & Mercy Foundation volunteer to meet a new charity group. We believe they would be a wonderful addition to the charities that Care & Mercy Foundation supports.
That charity works mostly with “wounded warriors,” often the most severely disabled. What I saw were the mentally toughest people I’ve ever met. They were doing rehab and athletic training with weights, ropes, and other equipment that boggled my mind. It was truly Mind over Matter.
How do you get your mind this tough? How do you train your brain and your will power to overcome the weaknesses in your body? I stumbled onto a blog about magician David Blaine. He is one of the mentally toughest people on earth.
Magician David Blaine
Here are a few examples of the death-defying feats he’s pulled off over the years:
- Holding his breath for 17 minutes and 4 seconds.
- Consuming nothing but water for 44 days.
- Catching a .22 caliber bullet with a small metal cup in his mouth.
…and, my personal favorite, Blaine standing atop a 100-foot high column for 35 hours with no sleep.
On multiple occasions, David was closer to dying than surviving, much like our soldiers in harm’s way. His strength to endure these situations is unfathomable to me. More so, he has the courage to seek them out repeatedly, all because they fuel his ultimate goal: bring magic to the people. As you read about this celebrity, think about how our soldiers exhibit similar mental toughness, on the battlefield and as wounded warriors. Here’s what you and I can learn from David Blaine:
1. Be curious about eternal things. When his mother fought cancer without complaint, David saw there’s more to hardship than suffering. You can learn from hardship, but you have to wonder what’s on the other side of this life.
2. Hold on to creativity for dear life. David went to NY Central Booking (the Manhattan municipal jail) for jumping a turnstile once. To avoid getting his butt kicked by the four buffest guys in the cell, he used the only thing he had left: his creativity. Eventually, he won the whole jail block over with his magic and got out. Hold on to your creativity as if your life depended on it. Someday it might.
3. Have nothing earthly to lose. David’s mother died in his arms. It almost broke him, but it left him with nothing earthly to lose and everything eternal to gain. We all have things we’re afraid will be taken away some day. The only way to not let that stop you is to let go first. Isn’t that a song in a Disney movie? “Let it Go, Let it Go.”
4. Fast. One of David’s favorite books is Siddartha by Hermann Hesse. When Siddartha practices living in poverty, a merchant asks him what he can give if he has no possessions. To that, Siddartha says: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do.” Hunger is the most elementary test of human existence and a faith journey rewarded by God. Take it.
5. Train to remain calm in extreme situations. Navy SEALs are made comfortable with blacking out under water by having to walk across the bottom of a pool while strapped to 45 pound plates. David practiced holding his breath while hanging around sharks so he would know what it feels like to perform under stress. Don’t just practice hard; practice under the hardest conditions.
6. Expose yourself to your worst fears. Extreme doesn’t always mean dangerous. Blaine was afraid of cockroaches. Yes, bugs. One night, he slept in a little tent in Botswana, which was circled by one and a half ton hippos. Suddenly, the bugs became his friends. When your brain gets close to the breaking point, it’ll throw your worst fears at you. You have to know they’re not real when the time comes.
7. Learn to override your brain. Not succumbing to your brain’s irrational thoughts is just half of winning the battle. Once you do, you’ll still have to get it to follow you in the right direction. David likes to trick his mind with numbers. On his 44-day fast, he created a rationale that once he’d get to 22 days, he’d be fine. After getting half, he focused on the next 11 days, and so on. Whether setting firm goals or pretending that arbitrary milestones mean everything, one day, you’ll master your brain.
8. When you know you’re going to fail, go on. At the halfway mark during his second world record breath holding attempt, David said he was “100% certain that I was not gonna be able to make this.” But he figured since Oprah had dedicated an hour to the live TV special, he’d be better off fighting until he blacks out. After 10 minutes, the blood started rushing away from his extremities to protect his vital organs. At 12 minutes, his left arm went numb, and he started panicking about having a heart attack. At 15 minutes, he went into heart ischemia, with his pulse jumping from 150 to 40 and back. 16 minutes in, David is just waiting to have a heart attack. He floats to the top of the bubble, waiting. Seconds float by, feeling like years. When the doctors pull him out of the water at 17 minutes and 4 seconds, David Blaine has held his breath longer than any human in history. All because when he had already failed, he kept going anyway.
Most of us don’t have to risk dying to push ourselves forward. But it’s the kind of mental toughness worth emulating. “We are all capable of infinitely more than we believe.” – David Blaine
Richard E. Scott
Board of Directors
Care and Mercy Foundation