MENTAL TOUGHNESS: The Romero Way

The mind will quit before the body will quit.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

I have read a lot on mental toughness.  I've heard of people who have studied it.  I've heard people talk about it.  Below is what I learned about mental toughness, during my run across America.

First, as with all things in life, we have been given "free will."  That means we have the ability to make choices.  When mental toughness is required or triggered, the environment has usually become extremely uncomfortable.  The "mental toughness" question them becomes simply stated as follows:

1. Continue on, and endure more suffering, discomfort and pain.
OR
2. Quit, and have the suffering stop, and the discomfort and pain will recede and fade away.

We then interpret mental toughness to be measured by whether we choose "1" (mentally tough) or "2" (not mentally tough).

For 60 days non-stop during 2016 I was confronted with this choice of "1 or 2".  After having had time to process what occurred, and synthesize my decisions, I have created a theory on how I was able to maintain my mental toughness to not quit, and ultimately succeed in what I had set out to do.  Interestingly enough, it also applies to all other struggles I have encountered in life.  So here's my discovery and what I learned by running 3,063 miles across America in 60 days.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR MENTAL TOUGHNESS

HOPE: The ability to believe in possibilities that are yet unproven, and may never be proven.  To have faith in the unseen and that which is without evidence.  A burning belief that all things are possible.

On countless occasions I was confronted with nay-sayers who espoused an opinion that what I was doing was impossible, fool-hardy and plain stupid.  This is the antithesis of HOPE.  These people had given up on me before I had ever even tried.  What is sadder, is that they have already given up on their own dreams.  The type of HOPE I discovered is best personified by the story of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, who was stranded with his crew on Antarctica for 22 months from 1914-1917 when his ship became lodged and crushed in the icy seas.  He ultimately led his entire crew to safety by camping on sea ice until it disintegrated, then launching life boats and traveling 720 nautical miles to safety in South Georgia.  It is said in his writings, and by others, that he never lost HOPE.

On my journey, I was reduced to rubbles on many occasions - cars tried to run me down, people yelled at me to get off the highway, firecrackers were thrown at me, people told me I was cheating on social media, I ran out of shoes at 1,000 miles, I failed to get relief for my crew to take a week off, I got lost adding extra miles to the journey, I was chased by wild animals, I got caught in unexpected weather, etc.  I persevered by maintaining HOPE that things would get better, and my FAITH that I was doing this for something much bigger than me.

PATIENCE: The ability to remain calm as undesirable things happen, and wait for things to improve.....and they always do.

My Mom has always told me that things will be better in the morning.  On many occasions when I have been overwhelmed, I have relied on this advice.  I get a good nights sleep, and almost always, things have been better in the morning - and, after 2 nights of good sleep, things are always better : ). There were many times during my run that I would encounter bad weather - wind, rain, sand, etc.  Sometimes, it was an hour of adverse conditions; sometimes it was a day - sometimes longer.  Early in the run, I had no patience.  I tried to fight the adverse condition and run "through it".  What I discovered was that Mother Nature is much, much stronger than I am.  I would wear myself out and have to limp and gimp it in to finish my miles with a heroic effort.  I also exhausted myself for the next day's effort.  As I continued running, I learned to be the calm in the storm.  I started walking when there were strong head winds and torrential rain storms.  I wasn't going to make significant forward progress in these conditions, and I was using a ton of effort and risking injury to run "angry against the storm".  I opted to walk when these conditions presented themselves.  On one particular day, I was forced to walk the first 7 hours of the day and only logged 17 miles.  It was horrible - and I didn't think there was anyway I would be able to achieve 50 miles by my cut-off time (12 hours).  The storm cleared and I got my opening.  I ran, ran, and ran more.  In the subsequent 5 hours I covered 33 miles and finished the day with 50 miles as planned.

CONSISTENCY:  Making consistent effort toward a goal will yield consistent results; and the inverse is true - inconsistent effort yields inconsistent results.


The above chart represents my daily mileage.  My goal was to run 50 miles a day, without taking a day off.  The one dip in mileage on day 5 occurred when our van flatted in the desert and we cut the tire while driving on it.  It took 30 days to make up that mileage to get back to an average of 50 miles per day.  The above chart does not reflect my physical injuries - plantar fasciitis, hamstring strains, twisted ankles, knee pain, IT pain, a feared broken pinky toe, shin pain, a compacted ankle, etc - nor did it reflect my roller-coasteering emotional state - sadness of being away from my kids, anger of having drivers recklessly take aim at me, fear of not seeing my kids again, fear of my Mom being injured or harmed, lonely isolation of not hearing from friends or family as they went on about their busy lives, etc.  The lesson was, despite whatever factors come your way - if you consistently make relentless forward progress toward your goal, you will achieve that goal.

FORGIVENESS:  Peace

When we carry negativity, anger, and past baggage with us, it weighs us down.  We are not at our best, and extremely inefficient.  During my run, this became extremely clear to me.  By about f,000 miles and 20 days of running, I had exposed and exhausted all of my coping skills.  I was literally bankrupt, raw and nothing.  I had no choice but to forgive myself for the wrongs I had done and the guilt that I had felt.  Once I had forgiven myself, I only then was able to forgive others and jettison the baggage that had been weighing down my heart and thoughts.  Had I not been able to do this, I could not have taken another step at that point.  I clearly remember when the day came - I could no longer drown out the negative thoughts with headphones.  In fact, the noise in my head was just too much.  For the next 5 days I would run with no headphones and work to forgive.  The process was not easy, and I needed to feel angry, sad, guilty, denial, depression and finally acceptance; which unlocked my ability to forgive myself and others for many things.

When we are not burdened by past transgressions, our hearts, minds and feet are much lighter.  We are more efficient in our efforts; and in the case of my run, I became much more effective.  This is probably the most important piece, and breakthrough for attaining stellar mental toughness.  I've heard people say they are fueled by anger.  They are not at their full potential.  They could push even farther, only if they can forgive and wash away that anger.

These mental toughness principles are part of my theory for success, something I call "The Success Cycle."



Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com


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