Strength is a funny thing really when we think about it. It’s characterised as something physical: cartoon strongmen, huge muscles, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At a base level it’s portrayed as something that is overarchingly associated with exercise, of exerting ourselves in a physical manner or by having the stamina to endure a long period of exercise. Being mentally strong is rarely associated with the definition, though really the two go hand in hand.
A year ago I would never have considered myself a strong person. I could barely do a push up and got stitch from a couple of crunches. I had never been into exercise that made you puff or sweat and when I did have spells of wanting to shape up I’d give up on my first session because it hurt too much. I’d come back feeling shit and defeated and thinking that I was just a useless weakling. In reality it wasn’t my body that was out of shape but my mind.
In September last year I decided to kick the habit of quitting on exercise and just go for it. I committed to doing 15 to 20 minutes a day first thing in the morning and I started getting into it. Whenever I got uncomfortably hot or achy I would make myself push though it because I was determined not to quit and to reap the benefits. Soon I was getting through the workout without needing to skip moves or have a break. Not only was my body becoming stronger, but my mind was too. I was achieving fitness goals because my mind was telling me to go for it and was motivating me to exercise. Pulling myself out of bed every morning when it was still dark outside and freezing in my student house required willpower. And I did it.
Overcoming by biggest hurdle in my first task of the day made it a lot easier to apply myself to tasks that required less willpower. Working for eight hours in the library came easier as I am naturally driven to work hard on academic things and I felt energised and raring to go. Eating healthy and avoiding temptation was easier because I was now aware of how good my body could and should feel. Getting over that big mental barrier let everything else fit into place.
There have been times this year where I’ve felt mentally weak though. Where the hurdles are just too high. For example I really hated semester two at university this year. I was uninspired by all of my courses and hated my timetable. To make matters worse I really didn’t like my living situation which meant I never really had a break from unpleasantness. It was like living in purgatory. I felt very ostracised in my house and that there was one rule for me and another for anyone else. It got so bad some days that I couldn’t physically get out of my room. I was scared to just make the small trip to the kitchen or toilet in case I got a gruff “hi” or a confrontation. I hate confrontation and I think this made matters worse as I struggled to defend myself when someone wanted to have a go. I wanted to drop out so many times. I would phone up home crying and screaming I was so miserable. It’s times like that that we feel incredibly weak because we aren’t coping or things aren’t going our way. But it’s how we deal with the situation that shows our strength.
My tactic? I endured. It was painful and pure hell but I wouldn’t let them make me quit. I let snide comments and hypocrisy slide and just rode it out. I spent time round the houses of supportive friends and watched Brooklyn nine nine endlessly. I may not have felt strong because I couldn’t confront but in reality I was being strong. Strength isn’t about how much weight you can throw around but how much we can endure and cope with. If you can dig deep in times of hardship and keep going then you are stronger than you think.
I think strength comes from our weakest moments. The moments when we want to throw in the towel or the demons in our head start to speak up. By turning away from them we fight on and that’s where strength is harvested.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time,