The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Michael Kummer.
We can all find ourselves lost in moments between our self-imposed limitations and our actual potential. Throughout this mental tug-of-war, grit is the quality that bridges the gap between those two worlds. It stands with you to battle the voice that encourages giving up and the easy way out. Developing grit is a critical factor in your success as an athlete or with any of your endeavors outside the gym. You don’t need special equipment or trendy gym accouterments. You can develop grit with consistent, mindful attention and an awareness of the world around you. As with many things, the answers reside in you.
Giving up – The Voice of Your Ancestors
Staring blankly forward across the dark gym floor, I felt the burning in my lungs and the lactic acid building up in my legs. My eyes quickly darted back to the display on the rowing machine that was slowly descending from 350 meters. With each stroke, I coaxed the remaining balance down roughly 10 meters, but time seemed to stand still. Negotiating the third 350-meter interval out of four, my body and my mind wanted to be elsewhere.
I’ve had this feeling before and often. Long past the point of no return and no closer to the end, the slow release of thoughts began to emerge from my subconscious. You can stop here. You’ve already put in a hell of an effort. Nobody else is watching. Most people don’t walk into gyms let alone grind through rowing intervals at 95% effort. Come on, man. Take a break. Our minds were built to protect the bodies that serve them. The little voice that told our ancestors to seek shelter in caves rather than stand unprotected in open fields is the same voice that we hear today.
While we are no longer running from saber-toothed tigers, our biological response remains relatively unchanged given a similar stimulus. With 150 meters remaining on my third interval, I found myself slightly panicked. My gaze scanned the perimeter of the gym almost seeking help to exit a situation that I had entered into of my own accord.
Years ago, during the CrossFit open, I recall sending an exhausted look to my coach that felt like a plea for mercy to deliver me from the torture. The descending couplet of thrusters and rowing triggered the panic reflex rooted deeply in my physiology that served my ancestors well as they avoided becoming dinner. If you truly push the boundaries of your fitness training, you will hear the echoes of your frightened ancestors, and you will seek the eject button from this threatening experience. This is normal. It’s called self-preservation, and it’s part of training, learning and growing. Managing this aspect of your personal development is equally important to eating right, sleeping enough, stretching and moving safely.
Is it possible to develop grit, tenacity, and perseverance?
The answer is yes, and it requires focus and discipline. As with anything of consequence, it begins with you. I’ve been able to maintain a curious mind that enjoys rather undefined exploration. My research is a connected web of discovery that weaves through many writers and their wonderful creations, and it is often most comfortable in the world between disciplines. I am constantly learning about the power of the mind and the untapped ability of the body from the interdisciplinary science of E.O. Owen, the framework of learning from Josh Waitzken, the modern interpretation of Stoic philosophy from Ryan Holiday, the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti who believed that the answers are within you and not projected from a guru, the experiments of Tim Ferriss, the cold water exposure research of Wim Hof, the acknowledgement of ego from Steven Pressfield, th