Pages - Menu

Monday, December 31, 2012

Unlocking the Mind's Strengths

The mind can be a wondrous or terrible thing. It can be wing or sumo wrestler. It can hold you up or pin you down.

Unlocking its strengths is like unlocking the power of the body. Unlocking its strengths requires the discipline of a body builder. Unlocking its strengths requires feeding it right and exercising it.

Boxing great Muhammad Ali is famous for repeating this mantra over and over: "I am the greatest. I am the greatest. I am the greatest."

I wonder if he felt like the greatest on cold mornings when he first opened his eyes. I wonder if he felt like the greatest when he had to drag his aching body out of bed. I wonder if he felt like the greatest as he lifted his heavy legs in the darkness and started running down deserted streets.

I wonder if he felt like the greatest in the ring when his opponent was punching away at his exhausted body. I wonder if he felt like the greatest when his heart seemed about to explode as it pumped blood to support the swift movements of his massive body.

I wonder if he felt like the greatest when he faced Sonny Liston in the ring only eight months after being knocked down by Henry Cooper. I wonder if he felt like the greatest when time seemed to stop while he was on the floor and the ref was counting, "One ... two ... three ... four ..." I wonder if he felt like the greatest as he was making his way back to his corner in stunned humiliation.

I wonder if he felt like the greatest while the crowd booed as he threw up five fingers to remind them that he planned to beat Cooper in the fifth round. I wonder if he felt like the greatest when he heard the pundits speculating that he was just an over-confident bag of hot air.

I wonder if he felt terror every time he made a prediction about when he would knock out his next opponent. I wonder if he ever had the thought for just a second that he would be a laughing stock if he wasn't able to do what he said.

"I am the greatest," Ali said. "I said that even before I knew I was."

Its a great story now, the stuff of legends. But before that it was one man's struggle. It was the journey of one man who was forsaken, sometimes defeated, getting up every day and taking small actions.

The legend began with one man sparring, even on days that he was tired and his mind may have been saying, "Rest today and hit it hard tomorrow." The legend began with one man jumping rope until his resistant body became swift and agile.

The legend began with one man willing his body and mind to conform to the idea of greatness.

I was thinking about this a couple days ago when I woke before dawn and stared through my venetian blinds into the darkness. It had been three weeks since I had exercised or eaten consciously. My body was tired, and I thought, "I'll start again tomorrow."
Maybe I've just watched the Rocky movies way too many times, but I could imagine Apollo Creed screaming at Rocky: "There is no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow."

As trite as it may sound there really is no tomorrow. At that moment I realized it in a way I never had: "This moment is all I have and how I choose to live in this moment defines me."

At 4 a.m. this revelation seems like a harsh truth.

The clock alarms. It's time to shower, meditate, eat, go to the gym for an hour and a half of exercise before work. But the unconscious mind is working overtime. It knows my pattern of starting things and stopping before reaching my goals. It knows that past failures haunt me like legends of chain-rattling ghosts.

Not long ago I beat myself up regularly over this, but recently I've started to practice compassion for myself. I realize that my unconscious mind is protecting me. It's protecting my established patterns, and I just have to override it, the same way I had to override my untrained body when I started exercising again after being sedentary for years.

Author Kristin Moeller calls this "fierce disruption of the ordinary." In other words, if I want to become the best version of myself, then I have to do something different, even though my sumo wrestler mind tries to pin me to the status quo.