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Nathan Spearing standing in swimming trunks at the edge of an icy lake.

Elite Mental Performance for Everyday Life

What does “mental toughness” actually mean? It seems like a lot of people talk about having it, but how should you go about getting it? In this episode, Nathan discusses his experience of dealing with the crippling effects of overthinking as a U.S. Army Ranger, and how he learned to “cut the emotional rucksack” in order to thrive in the face of adversity.

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Transcript

Welcome back to another episode of the Life on Target podcast, where I am going to give you some knowledge that if you do the work can gain more control over your thoughts.

How you think is the most important factor in your performance, professionally, personally, physically, spiritually. Your thoughts drive everything.

I’m going to give you the tools and the mindset—things that I employed as a soldier first, and then moving now into small business as a husband and father, as I interact with other people in the community that don’t often act like you think that they should, how you can excel, continue to get better, and develop the elite mindset of a warrior.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Quick aside, it’s easy to look at the Tom Brady’s, the Michael Jordan’s, the Michael Phelps’, the MMA fighters, the athletes, and the CrossFit games, et cetera, and think those people are freaks. They’re superhuman. They were born with these abilities. It’s incredible. How do they do what they do? And to just think I am just a dad, or I am just a mom, or I’m just a banker and all that mental of performance stuff is for other people. Not for me. I’m just gonna hang out, do what I do nine to five, whatever. And to keep living in a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset that will allow you to excel to get better and to achieve things in life.

Also, I’m kind of sick and tired of people who don’t know the Creator—God—as the author of all things who don’t read the Bible, who don’t know the truth and from whence comes the truth, being the ones that are mentally tough. How do they have the mental edge on those of us that know the truth, that know the Author, that are able to see ourselves in a story that God is writing?

And God has told us how it’s going to go. He’s told us the way that He works. He’s given us commands that if we keep them for our good—he’s given us plenty of verses, we’re going to get to later on in this podcast—that prescribe how we are supposed to think. And yet the heathens out there are running circles around us. The undisciplined, the non-God-fearing people are somehow able to harness power of the mind and achieve things while us Christians are content to have mediocre performance.

I’m not talking about your church or you specifically, but honestly, things are a mess right now because Christians don’t take performance and mental performance, mental toughness, seriously enough. And we aren’t employing the tactics and techniques that God has wired into our being, wired into our psyche, and leveraging those to achieve things for his glory to remake this earth for him.

How I Learned About Mental Toughness

Anyway, this mental toughness, mental ability mindset first came to the forefront in my life when at the age of 23, I got a dream job offer in the U.S. Army. My wife and I moved to Fort Bragg three months after we’d been married. And I began a seven-month training program that I was required to pass in order to keep my job.

Things progressed very well at first. I was very physically fit. I was a Ranger. I knew how to carry heavy things. I knew how to run fast. My pullups, my pushups, my five-mile run with body armor. It was not a big deal for me to do these physically difficult things. I was taught basic skills like rifle marksmanship, pistol marksmanship. I started to pick up those techniques well, but when we moved into the dynamic close quarters combat training portion, the fundamental skill of the job that I wanted, I started to fall apart.

I would come into the room in the shoot house, identify a threat (paper target), fire two rounds, which was the number that we were required to shoot at each threat target when we came in during training, so they could assess our abilities. Then, I would see where the red dot was when the shot broke. And for the most part, my shots were good. But things went bad when I shot and the dot wasn’t where it was supposed to. I read the shot correctly. My heart rate would change, the way that I was thinking about what I was doing—I would obsess about that shot that I knew wasn’t good.

And what that would do, my mind, recognizing that I did a bad shot, would create a physiological response that would cause me to obsess about that mistake.

And what I would do is not put my weapon back on safe after I made a bad shot. And then I would get a safety violation for moving with a weapon on fire.

And then that would mean I got a written counseling statement from the instructor, in a one-on-one session about how tragic my safety was when I was in the shoot house.

And as training progressed, I couldn’t figure out how to continue to perform when I made those mistakes.

I was physically, but now when I made mistakes, when things happened outside my control, or when I didn’t perform the way I thought I should, I crumbled mentally. And the one of my instructors that met with me, he said, “Nate, you have to learn to cut this emotional rucksack away, or you’re gonna get dropped.”

For those of you that didn’t serve in the military, the rucksack is the military’s big backpack that we carry all our gear around in. It’s bulky. It’s not comfortable like a backpacking rig that civilians wear. And one of the key features that a military rucksack has is the ability to pop some snaps, pull some tabs on the shoulder, straps and release the rucksack, or cut it away.

My negative thoughts were becoming a very heavy rucksack, and it was weighing me down, and I didn’t know how to cut it away.

When it came time for the monthly counseling, my shot numbers were good compared to other students. I was doing better, but what was not okay, is that when I made a mistake, I couldn’t think straight. It wasn’t about my shot count. It was about what happened when things went wrong.

Losing My Dream Army Job

On my right at home from work, it was pure mental agony. Every day I relived every one of my failures. I just couldn’t overcome the emotional weight, the negativity of my thoughts. It was extremely destructive to my performance. Eventually, I was dropped from the course and reassigned back to Ranger battalion. But there was a bright spot: I would be allowed to come back in two years and get another shot. The Sergeant Major said that they took a gamble on me coming up so young, that I wasn’t ready, and that I needed to lead more in combat to get a few more years at making mistakes and be able to handle myself well under pressure and especially when I made mistakes.

At 23, I had no idea practically what I was going to do the next two years as a leader, because figuring out how to be mentally tough and to perform under pressure was a much more difficult process in my mind than just going to the gym and lifting more weights. I didn’t know what to do.

Before turning in all my gear, loading my U-Haul and heading to Savannah, Georgia‑my new assignment at 1st Ranger Battalion—I scheduled appointment with the psychologist to figure out if he had any information or anything he could tell me to get better mentally at performing under pressure. I told him that I knew how to fix this if it was physical, but what do I do for this mental agony? And how do I recover from mistakes?

Learning to Fail Fast and Learn Faster

He reviewed my neuropsych testing, the psychology tests, the personality tests, and was able to actually compare are those to the data that they had of other people that had been successful in the position that I was seeking. And he was able to actually tell me, “Hey, your IQ is fine. Your ability to process visually is okay.” All these different metrics for measuring my mental and cognitive ability were at the levels required to pass. But what he also told me was as a 23-year-old, my brain was still physically developing and could continue into my late twenties.

And so that actually just the change physiologically in my brain growing up could be it. But he also told me that I needed to practice whenever I made a mistake to not let it continue to come up my mind but learn to deal with it quickly. To glean the wisdom or what my mistake was, and then put it out of my mind and continue to work. So for the next two years, I messed up on a lot of things. But what that gave me was practice to quickly learn from the mistakes, to work hard, to discipline myself, to make the changes needed and to do better next time.

Every single mistake I made for the next two years, I viewed as a chance to practice the skill that I needed to go back and perform next time.

Cutting the “Emotional Rucksack”

Not letting mistakes that you’ve made in the past come back into your conscious mind and mess up your performance now is a huge skill that you need to have. Putting mistakes to rest is important because you’re going to continue to make mistakes the rest of your life. And if past ones are continuing to weigh you down, you will not have the mental bandwidth to focus on what you’re doing. Now, the best book I’ve read on this “superpower” is a by John Acuff titled Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking. This came out after I developed my own process when I was in Ranger Battalion, but it is an excellent book and framework to help you understand if you’re one of those people like me, that overthinks. In the book, he talks about our thoughts being soundtracks that we play over and over again and encourages you to make sure that they are true, helpful, and kind and says that “One of the greatest mistakes that you can make in life is assuming all your thoughts are true.”

In the book, he teaches you how to retire, replace, and then repeat a true, helpful, and kind soundtrack. This isn’t something new under the sun. The Bible has a lot to say about that too. And like I said before, just like anything else, Christians should be anti-fragile and should excel at mental toughness and make the average population look like wimps. Why? Because we know the truth about ourselves. We’re sinful. We can’t achieve perfection. We don’t have to because Jesus is perfect, but he demands perfection. He demands for us to be excellent at what we do. In Ephesians 4:15 it says, “Rather, speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” In Psalm 15:1–2 it says, “Oh Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall the well in your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.”

Speak Truth in Your Heart

This is the mantra in our family. When my kids are whining about a situation, whether it’s a mental thing, something didn’t go how they expected, or it’s a physical thing—Their legs hurt because they’re on a bike ride and they don’t want to go up the hill. And I say to them, “Speak truth in your heart. Speak truth in your heart.” The truth is that things bad are going to continue to happen and you can’t control those things. But what you can do is control your thoughts about what is happening and figure out how to get through it. Or it will get easier to get up that hill when your legs get stronger and you applying yourself and continuing to pedal, as you go up, the hill allows you to get stronger. Speak the truth.

This is good for you. This is making you stronger. And 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” He also says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability. But with this temptation, he will also provide a way of escape that you may be able to endure it.” You are able to endure whatever hardship comes your way in Christ Jesus. None of this stuff is new under the sun. It is common for man to come into trial, but you can endure it.

Another podcast that had just recently listened to a Chasing Excellence podcast about mental toughness, “Mental Toughness Isn’t What You Think.” And he is a CrossFit coach. I forgive him for that. I kind of an anti-CrossFit guy. Don’t hold it against me if you’re a CrossFitter, I’m just not into that religion myself. But anyway, I think this coach says some really good stuff and gives a really good framework. He says he encourages his athletes to focus on the things that they can control: training, recovery, sleep, nutrition, and mindset, but he says of those five really the only thing you can control is your mindset.

How to Train Your Mindset

And what they do is this: You expect adversity. You set your sights on a goal or purpose. You learn that your triggers, the things that you feel anatomically or the physiological change that comes upon you if somebody cuts too often traffic. Or the example he gave is the judge doesn’t give you a rep on a set that you’re doing or the weather’s bad or these things that you start to feel, these emotions creep in and try to crowd out in your thoughts become a negative soundtrack.

So, you learn those triggers and you learn to kill the critic or kill your thoughts. And realize that your thoughts are not always true. And then you seek out practice. And this practice that they talk about in this podcast, I think is summed up really well in the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson. And they talk about purposeful practice being seeking out ways to take your body out of homeostasis, which is that natural kind of condition that your body views as normal—your heart rate, your pH level, your breathing rate, your blood pressure, all these things that your body is kind of subconsciously regulating— and looking for ways to take yourself, take you out of your comfort zone, to where that uncomfortable state becomes what your body views as normal.

What It Means to Have Grit

And that is essentially effort, which Angela Duckworth talks about in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, where talent times effort equals skills and skill times effort equals achievement. And talks about how effort counts twice in that equation. You have effort applied with talent, equaling skill, and then you take that skill and more effort and that equals achievement. So, willingly choosing to place effort to set your sight on these goals, to take yourself out of the comfort zone, it builds your ability to perform and Peak talk about this difference between peak performers and just normal people and says that

The clear message from decades of research is that no matter what role innate empowerment may play in the achievement of gifted people, the main gift that these people have is the same one we all have: The ability of the human brain and body, which they take advantage of more than the rest of us.

Are you ready to start taking more advantage of what your brain and your body are capable of? I hope so.

So, the end of the story with me in the military, or the continuation of that story of me in the military was after two years of applying myself to develop the ability to make mistakes and to reframe it and or learn from it and then jettison the negative speak and to realize that there’s going to be more mistakes to come, I returned to Fort Bragg, and I passed the course. There were always trials, and I messed up a lot, and I actually ended up getting many counseling statements again, but I learned to not let them become a heavy rucksack that weighs me down, and to learn from it quickly, make adjustments, and keep persevering, to keep using the grit that I had developed and get it done.

Now that I’m out of the military, I faced different mental challenges. And initially, getting out in entrepreneurship, managing my own life business and being a husband and father, I had similar challenges and similar failures, and they were foreign to me. Some of the differences meant not having a boss that was in the military providing the mission focus or the goal. I was now by myself. I was trying to create these goals myself for my businesses, for my family. So, there wasn’t this external framework and I had to learn to establish those—that purpose. What do I set my sight on? What am I focusing on? Where am I going?

Learning to Embrace Discomfort in All Areas of Life

And then as I’m going there, the setbacks were different. The setbacks were financial. They weren’t the threat of people shooting at me or throwing grenades at me or a parachute landing not going well or different things like that. There was more nebulous stuff like the paying the mortgage, the dealing with clients that were being unreasonable with weather, with all these things. My kids not acting like I want them to act, but choosing to use that same ability, when there is trial, when there’s tribulation, when there are things to come, to take every thought captive, to view it as a chance to grow and to learn and to apply myself and get better. So, I hope that you take that.

Obviously, I’m not a Michael Jordan. I’m not a Tom Brady. I’m not one of those performers, but I think that if you have joined me now and will continue to follow what I’m trying to do for the glory of God, remaking this earth for his glory, that you will see that my mental tenacity, my mental toughness, my ability to get in a position where I will make mistakes is the key point for me continuing to grow.

If you join me, and you do these things, and you implement them in your life, I promise you that you will see a result. And especially implement them as an example to your children, as an example to those around that you are leading and showing them how to respond when things don’t go well.

Essentially when things don’t go well—back to that one podcast I was talking about, and we start pitching a fit and whining, it’s ultimately immaturity, and there’s a lot of immature adults out there pitching a fit and whining when adversity comes their way, instead of using mental toughness, maturity, and wisdom to get through it.

As always, if you found this episode helpful, we ask that you share it with at least one friend. Giving out a plug on social media is extra credit.

New Workshops Now Live!

Also, we just released two online workshops on our website. One is an employee military transition into small business. And one is the basics of productive property and how you can use productive property as a family, put your excess money and time into creating productive property that will give you more freedom.

So, if you go to our website, click the Shop, you will see those workshops there. We hope to have you sign up for those. I’m really excited about relaying some of the knowledge in these two areas to you in a concentrated form at the beginning, but then there also is going to be a time for questions and answers specifically, focusing on what you are trying to do with entrepreneurship or with real estate investing. So, I hope you check those courses out on our website. Look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Thanks a lot.

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