Mental toughness in athletics was something that I selectively choose to use. In a game, I would play through a knee injury, broken finger, and whatever muscle strain or sprain was taped in some form or fashion. At game time, I was ready to go. I remember one basketball game where the taping around my still-healing knee injury was so restrictive it was tanking my defense. So coach called a timeout and handed me scissors. By the end of those 20-seconds, my teammates and I had eviscerated the trainer’s tape-job, thrown on my less restrictive knee brace, and I was back out on the court.
Mental toughness through pain has never really been an issue for me. When I fell down stairs and broke my ankle, I used the time waiting for the paramedics to call and reschedule the meetings I would miss that afternoon. Game day has never been a problem. Mental toughness in the critical moment comes easily. Ignoring pain to get through to the other side seems to be ingrained in my being.
I hit a mental toughness wall in physical therapy yesterday. My body started screaming at the strengthening exercises and my mind battled the fear of what today would feel like. Would I be sore? Would the deep joint pain return? Would I have to go back on pain medication? Mental toughness was out the window.
When I have control over the amount of pain I may feel, mental toughness no longer becomes so easy and ingrained. It requires focus and work for me. And in PT yesterday, the fear of the unknown stood in the way of accomplishing more than I did.
And then I woke up this morning without a stitch of muscle fiber screaming. I stretched and found no area actually sore. Firm, yes. Sore? Nothing. I wonder how much stronger I would be today if mental toughness would have been as engaged as the physical exercise.
For though my body screamed at the strain, my mind wimped out. Though my body struggled to keep up and my lungs burned at the exertion, my mind checked out in fear of what the day after would feel like.
And I wonder how many times I have wimped out in spiritual training simply because I could not see the direct result of the direct action. I wonder how many times I have closed the Word, not wanting to learn any more for fear of what I would find in the morning. And in waking, finding a far different picture than I thought.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” –1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NKJV
Image by Robert Aichinger