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-Or being a pilgrim when pilgrims aren’t cool
On the clock tower in Hereford, in memorial to fallen Special Air Service personnel, an excerpt of a James Elroy Flecker play reads:
I’ve always loved the sentiment of these words. We are the pilgrims. Not the buckle shoes and odd black hats type of pilgrims who befriended then massacred the natives, but in the definition of ‘one who journeys to a sacred place’.
That includes all of us who are on the path to our Sky Anchor, and who are willing to go always a little further to reach the goals we have set for ourselves.
I take a broad view of the sacred. We will get into that in the near future, but for now, we are still on the Line of Effort-2. Today’s topic is a primer on mental toughness.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Mental toughness is like a muscle. It is limited in strength but can be developed through use.
Each time we overcome an obstacle of mind we strengthen our mental toughness. Each time we choose fight over flight, we build stamina and resiliency, and it becomes easier to fight through the next ambush.
In the military, before setting out on a recon patrol we plan, rehearse, and war-game. We know that even though he isn’t invited, Murphy will be along for the ride, and that his first law is, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” So, we plan for the things that can happen and rehearse how we will deal with them. The first, and most important rehearsal, is what to do when unexpected contact with the enemy is made.
We call these immediate action drills or I.A.D.s. They are rehearsed not until we get them right, but until we can’t get them wrong. Until they are ingrained in the subconscious, and every team member knows exactly what they will do when they see the hand and arm signal, or hear an unexpected burst of gunfire and then the call: “Contact front!” (or left, right, or rear).
This concept can be useful if you are implementing new habits, especially this time of year. Holiday parties undo the best-laid plans of mice and men. But you can emerge victorious if you anticipate the contact, determine your immediate action, and mentally rehearse it until it becomes second nature.
“Hey bro, let me grab you another piece of cheesecake.”
No thanks, I’m stuffed.”
“We’re all going over to Charlie’s house when the bar closes.”
“Not me. I’ve got an Uber coming.”
In the words of the late Queen Mum:
“Oh, I wish I could, but I have to go to the stupid gym in the morning,” or
“Woe is me, I set this goal and I’m pretty serious about it.” or
“Well, I told myself I would only have two beers, but if you are going to twist my arm.”
As soon as you show a weak point the enemy will find a way in.
You must be unyielding in your defense and ruthless in your attack.
Now, I am not saying that you can’t have cheesecake or go to Charlie’s, or have a beer, but you know Charlie, hanging with him until all hours is almost going to guarantee that you will not be productive tomorrow.
Establish your priorities.
One of our many sayings in Marine Recon is:
This simply means that you are in a better position to decide what to do when you face a challenge before you face the challenge.
Each time to stick to a commitment when you would rather do something else, your mental toughness grows.
Each time you give in to temptation, it weakens. That’s swell if you want to be a loser, but I don’t think you do.
The most insidious attack, however, comes from the enemy you see when you brush your teeth. That enemy will say. “I really am tired… Maybe I should take a break… Baby, it’s cold outside… The bed is comfortable… It is the holidays after all… I can do it later.”
Contact Front! Immediate Assault. Relentlessly pursue and destroy.
This is the reason that you developed a plan. Execute the immediate action drill. Pull yourself out of bed and put on the gym clothes you laid out the night before, or pick up the book you want to read, or set down at your computer to write. Whatever it is. Each time you execute an I.A.D. with ruthless efficiency you strengthen your reserve of mental toughness and make each successive assault easier to repel.
And since we are discussing pilgrims, if you enjoy old-timey poetry, copy this one and tape it to your mirror.
“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”
― John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress
Read: What else? The Pilgrim’s Process by John Bunyan
This work of allegory was penned in 1678 while Bunyan was in prison. It has never been out of print since. It is the most important work of theological fiction and is considered the first work of fiction written in English. It is a literary classic that everyone should read. Of course, you can pick up a contemporary language copy, but where’s the fun in that?
I do enjoy your comments each week and am especially grateful for those who email with questions or comments, and even critiques. I can't preach about getting better If I am not willing to do so myself.
And in case I haven’t made It clear lately, I don’t write about these topics because I have mastered them all. I write about them because I am trying to improve on them myself. I am as much of a pilgrim making progress as anyone.
Last week a reader wrote in and sent me a list of the habits they intend to take up in the new year. I wrote back to first applaud them but included a word of caution. While it is great to plot out the future you want to achieve, experience tells me that picking one area for improvement at a time and truly mastering it is the best way to achieve long-term sustainable results.
Get a win on the board, then stack success on success, but ensure that each Is laid on a firm foundation.
Repeat: Words of wisdom from ― John Bunyan’s, The Pilgrim's Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come
“It is always hard to see the purpose in wilderness wanderings until after they are over.”
“To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.”
“Now, Mr. Great-heart was a strong man, so he was not afraid of a lion.”
“I would rather go through this valley to find the honor that true wise men seek than choose those things that this man and his worldly friends think most worthy of our affections."
Thanks for helping me grow over the last four months! Please recommend this substack to a friend that would benefit from it. See you next Thursday!
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