The Real Way To Develop Discipline And Mental Toughness

In about 3 weeks, James Lawrence (a.k.a. “The Iron Cowboy”) will start the process of breaking his own world record for completing 50 Iron Man triathlons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days by doing 100 consecutive Iron Man triathlons. This time he’ll complete it in his home state of Utah. If you’re unfamiliar with the sport, ONE Iron Man consists of a 2.1-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.22-mile run (a marathon) that must be completed within 17 hours. Arguably the most difficult single-day athletic competition in the world. It’s brutal.

Then, when you elevate the difficulty by doing 50 of them, on consecutive days AND in 50 different states, you exponentially multiply the suck and likelihood of failure. It required him to get very little sleep – about 4 to 5 hours a night on a good night, often sleeping in the back of a van or on a commercial airplane. Simply getting and preparing food was a challenge. He had to endure severe weather, from temperatures ranging from over 100 degrees to torrential downpours from a hurricane. Every day was a fight as he pushed through dehydration, crippling pain, internal bleeding, a torn shoulder cuff (requiring him to do the 2-mile swims with one arm), hypothermia, hyperthermia, nerve damage, infected foot blisters, a blood-clot scare and extreme sleep deprivation. As if all of this wasn’t enough, he drew massive criticism on social media from people saying he’d never make it. That he was a fool. That he was outright faking his accomplishments. You might be tempted to think he’s superhuman…a freak of nature…that he has some truly unique physical abilities that enabled him to do the 50. But the simple reality is, he simply doesn’t quit.

As he explained to our Producers Club members last week at our Q1 meeting, when you refuse to quit, you adapt and evolve. You get stronger. You develop discipline. You develop mental toughness. You don’t get that from reading about it or talking about it. You develop that ability by intentionally putting yourself into uncomfortable situations over and over again, rising up against them. By the end of the 50, James had become physically stronger. His feet healed and his body became more efficient – and the 50th Iron Man was his fastest of the entire race.

But most people never develop mental toughness and discipline because they don’t practice it. The minute they get bored, tired, uncomfortable or scared, they back off and stop. For most, it doesn’t take much. A stressful day at work becomes a reason to eat like a pig at dinner and plop down in front of the TV instead of working out. Do that a few times and you’re practicing quitting. In marketing, I see it all the time – a few failures, frustrations and setbacks result in most giving up and looking for an easier path. They quickly get overwhelmed by anything complicated and new because they aren’t practicing mastery of anything complicated and new. They’re practicing easy. Like all skills, discipline is a muscle that needs to be exercised to maintain strength and overloaded on a regular basis to grow. You don’t get it by reading about it, talking about it or wishing for it. You get discipline and mental toughness by choosing discipline and mental toughness on a daily basis.

Now, the big question: where are you practicing quitting – by neglect, default or with intention? Where are practicing easy? Where have you sold yourself short? A bigger question: what will you do about it now?

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