Hello friends, Do you ever go through spurts of epiphanies where you try to share your findings with the people around you and you sound like a mad scientist? That's been me lately.
Something's in the air this month. Bit by bit, sentiments have been linking together in my brain. Understanding and coping with my anxiety, practicing positive self talk, marathon training, not psyching myself out, pushing through challenges, goal-setting, healing my inner child, building and maintaining relationships with those around me. Everything sounds cloudy when listed plainly, maybe, but they all connect under one major umbrella--and that umbrella is the concept of willpower.
I've been listening to Cassia Tierney Clarke's podcast, the 9Lives podcast, and there are a few episodes that have resonated with me. I love all of her episodes thus far, but I've done a lot of re-listening within the past few weeks. The messages are just clicking more now than ever. Some repeated themes are that there's freedom in discipline, there's freedom in movement. And you can bend your routine without breaking it. And beyond Cassia, I've been recommended videos on YouTube for folks like Dr. Kim Sage and Margarita Nazarenko, who speak a lot about mental health and reclaiming your self esteem. So in today's blog post, I'd like to go through and chat about my findings in all of this. How do they link? How can willpower be used in both physical and mental health?
I feel like it's a lot easier to conceptualize willpower when it comes to fitness. It might feel difficult to attain, but you can better see when someone has 'good willpower'. Maybe they're waking up early and going to the gym before your first (of four) alarms goes off. Maybe they're stepping into the wind and rain for a 4 mile run after a long work day. Maybe they're mapping out their step goals and macros for the week.
Whatever the case, physical willpower looks like working hard towards something, appreciating the payoff, and setting the next goal. It's about experiencing some degree of discomfort in order to adapt and progress. It's a form of self exploration. Once you tackle one goal, you gain the confidence to set the bar a bit higher. That discipline grants you a new level of trust within yourself to go out and conquer. Hence, there's freedom in discipline.
In my opinion, willpower is equal parts physical and mental. The two work together in order to push you forward. A circumstance Cassia described was the first time she ran in the rain. She said she had her workout clothes on and went outside before her brain had the chance to psych herself out. Cassia recalled it being an incredibly memorable time in her running career. And as someone who runs in all weather conditions, I resonate with this! Sometimes the unfavorable weather makes me feel the strongest when I finish a run. And not allowing time for negative self talk is a key ingredient to that first push. Incorporating intentional positive self talk throughout whatever your challenge is helps you preserver through each moment, bit by bit. Then a beautiful pattern forms where you're out each day, working towards that goal. And along the way, you're finding that you can do the hard things. You can run in the rain, and maybe you even like how chilly it feels. Pushing through the difficult thing makes you reflect on what you thought your limits were, and where they actually might be. And it's a mild blowing experience.
With physical willpower, it's about tenacity. Tenacity describes the 'mental or moral strength to resist opposition, danger, or hardship', according to Merriam-Webster. When you push through discomforts, you're learning and understanding what your body can do. Your mind and body are working together and forming a new trust that maybe you've not experienced before. At least, that's been the case with me.
And I'll give myself credit. I think I've definitely mastered tenacity in fitness. I work hard towards my goals and I don't often let bad weather or a poor mindset steer me far from them. For me, it's about diving in before I psych myself out, similar to Cassia. I've been trail running for a few months now and am petrified about climbing over rocks and slipping if it's muddy. But in the first stretch of the 10k trail race I completed recently, I was immediately desensitized to the mud (considering I was running through a giant puddle for about a tenth of a mile) and carried on more confident than ever. Overcoming obstacles is huge, and that's what trail running has been helping me with. Going in as fearlessly as I can.
I know I'll probably use running as my comparison a lot, but it's been a major component to me feeling a connection between my mind, body, and soul. There are technical concepts I've had to research, like tending to my respiratory health and nutrition. But with learning and chipping away at my miles each month, I understand my body. I trust how far it can take me. I nourish it along the way. And I'm gaining the confidence to hit the next distance. Even if I feel pains, even if my energy feels off. Cassia says discomfort is a stimulus for adaptation, thus doing those hard things makes you stronger than you were before. You have to work with the discomforts to progress into the next part of your journey. And this takes us to the mental health portion.
We all have experienced different lives. Our upbringings and differences and pains are what have put us in this moment right now. Our flaws, our traumas. Do we hide it? Do we suffer in silence? Or could we use it as a tool to dig deep within, self-explore, and become stronger from it?
Another comparison Cassia used was she mentioned Kintsugi, the art of Japanese golden joinery. If pottery breaks, it can be restored with gold. There's no hiding the cracks, but the cracks become a part of the piece. If you're broken, if you've been shattered into hundreds of pieces, you can make those cracks, those scars, a part of your journey. No matter how big or small your healing may be, no matter what you decide to do moving forward. But knowing that it's your story is beautiful. It's a part of your history, and you are capable of finding strength beyond the pain. Cassia describes this realization as unlocking something special within, like a new joy or feeling present. Showing up for yourself is crucial.
Another key concept is realizing that everyone is capable of self improvement. Yes, everyone. Setting small goals and reaching them can help create a trust within yourself. It's proving that you can achieve something. So if you have a big goal, set those small goals in between. They're your stepping stones. This is something I'm using for my marathon training. A marathon right now sounds daunting, but I created a chart for myself to make things more manageable. And I trust myself that I'll follow those goals. I'm not worried about psyching myself out. I'm confident that I'll stick to my smaller goals. Proving it month by month will set me far by December.
I also want to take a second to remind you to slow down, take a second, and look within. Look back at your story. The good, the bad. This is what I'm currently studying lately. I've been doing a ton of introspection. I felt like all the conversations I had with my mother last year allowed for some inner child healing. But the rest is up to me. This is where willpower of my mental health comes into play. (And I urge you, that it you're in need of help and support with your mental health, please seek that out in whatever capacity you're able to! Therapy is crucial.)
I'm an anxious guy. We know this. I have my environmental triggers, I'm aware of them. And generally, I can create a game plan of how to cope with them. But when it comes to more of a depressive episode or a sudden and spontaneous anxiety surge, I feel lost. I lead with emotions and typically hide away. It's because I'm having a hard time pinpointing what just happened. What triggered that anxiety? Why am I struggling to identify it this time?
A lot of what I'm experiencing as an adult are deep-rooted traumas from growing up that I haven't learned how to cope with yet. Like getting anxious from inconsistent behavior in people, or overanalyzing others' emotions. My stomach will swirl, and often I'm probably not having an accurate read of people. But growing up in an inconsistent environment, closely observing my surroundings and the people in my world was my survival tactic. When was the bad thing going to happen? When was it going to be calm? As an adult, I carry this survival tactic with me, and it doesn't always mean I have an clear read on the situation. I'm leading with my anxiety over realism. But it's deep-seated, and it's something I now acknowledge. Something I've had to learn is, like I said, my story is mine. My triggers are mine to explore. My learned behaviors from childhood might bite me in the ass, so it's my job to start shaping the way I'm reading the world around me. I don't need to be in survival mode all the time. Yes, it's helped me with street smarts. But in day-to-day life, I don't need to overanalyze. Not at work, not with friends. I just need to be.
In order form a more positive view of yourself and the situation, you have to realize that there are positives in your background, and this is something Dr. Kim Sage pointed out in one of her videos that made me feel relief. My anxiety is a curse sometimes, but can also be a blessing. I deeply care for others. I feel strongly. I'm mindful. There's a beauty in sensitivity that gets overlooked. And my sensitivity is what makes me stronger, especially if I can overcome moments of vulnerability and anxiety. These challenging moments are the ones that require that willpower mindset. It's about sitting through the discomfort of your history, of your flaws, and finding the calm to preserver through the panic attack. Don't lose yourself in your past. Find yourself in your present. Aim for a stronger you in the future.
Dr. Kim Sage says 'the story of our childhood lives in our nervous system'. It's a physical reaction to an anxious mindset. And in 9Lives S2E2, there's the premise of how even the safe and secure environments can trigger unresolved trauma. That you might feel more familiar with the chaos than the new feeling of calm. And that unfamiliarity can feel scary. Like, what could be lurking around the corner? When will the bad thing happen? That's anxiety in a nutshell. This is why it's so important for me to challenge myself to work on healing my inner child. If I can help her, I can understand my current self. I can push through my triggers. I can overcome and I can support myself and can support others.
Something Cassia mentioned that spoke to me is, what you love belongs to you. Revisit your childhood and rediscover what makes you happy. Your inner voice is yours. I have to remind myself that I deserve calm, I deserve happiness, I deserve confidence. I have to fight through the discomforts and swirls in my stomach, I have to fight through the negative self talk. If I stay true to myself, I can unlock the next level of my life. A stronger, happier, secure life.
We can't always be prepared for challenges and setbacks. We can't always get fast relief from anxiety. Willpower is about building a better relationship with yourself, trusting that even your setbacks won't break you. You're flexible. Instant gratification can sabotage you. The slow process is beautiful. Have patience with yourself and love the journey.
I hope you've appreciated this post as much as I've appreciated exploring this topic and being able to write about it. Let me know your thoughts of practicing willpower when it comes to healing from your past.