The First Step to Facing Any Storm Is Conquering Your Own Mind

The more you can practice getting comfortable when uncomfortable, the better prepared you will be to deal with the everyday challenges and obstacles life throws
The First Step to Facing Any Storm Is Conquering Your Own Mind
(Sari ONeal/Shutterstock)
Epoch Health Bookshelf
Editor’s Note:
Author and dedicated mental health advocate Bill Murphy believes that how you react when amid a life storm is always a choice. As a childhood trauma survivor, Murphy has jumped many difficult hurdles—but through them learned healthy ways to deal with adversity. In his latest book, "Thriving in the Storm," Murphy shares how building a resilient mindset can help you face any problem with ease and confidence.

How to Harden Your Mindset

Strengthening your mindset isn’t only about determination and willpower. It begins long before you ever encounter the storm, and it’s something that’s built up over time. It’s a process. Here are a series of techniques to help ensure you will perform well when facing adversity:

1. Preparation

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for any challenge is to practice when your competition isn’t. I’ve learned that from author and motivational speaker Andy Andrews, who had a lot of great parenting lessons, but it’s also practiced by icons like Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, who were notorious for getting to the gym before everyone else. I practiced this myself and tried to instill it in my son when I helped him train for football. We’d get up at 5:00 a.m. before he had to go to school, because that would give him an advantage on all of the other guys that he’d be competing against on game day who were still sleeping.

Preparation is half the battle. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing; if you make sure to put the time in beforehand, you not only become more aware of the potential obstacles that lie ahead, you can also put yourself in a much better position to overcome them.

2. Mind, Body, and Spirit Are All Connected

It’s a lot harder to manage your mind if the body and spirit aren’t healthy. Even if you get to a place where you can get the mind on board, it can only go as far as the body will take it.

Don’t make the mistake of overlooking your physical health. If you don’t feel good and you aren’t eating or exercising, it’s going to impact everything you do and make you more susceptible to stress. And when you’re stressed, it’s difficult to perform at your best, or worse, it’s easier to quit. I’m not talking about going out to run marathons, but you want to be active and healthy. You can devour all of the self-development and mindset material out there, but if you’re not healthy, you won’t make nearly as much progress.

The third part of this equation is the spirit. That means different things to different people, but I consider spirituality as a way to cleanse the mind and the body to help create faith and hope. For me, it’s my belief in God. Part of my routine is that I read scripture every day and watch online sermons every week. Praying is part of my spiritual meditation, but I know that it’s not for everyone. For some people, their spiritual practice can be meditation, affirmations, yoga, walking, or even a daily workout.

3. Focus on the Process

You always want to have that target in mind at the end, so you know what you’re aiming at, but that can’t be all you think about. Whenever I hit a wall when running and know that I have to dig deep, I don’t think about how much farther I have to go—I think about the next step. It’s not the five miles to the finish line that I have to get to; it’s the next landmark. If I’m training and listening to music, it’s getting through the next song. If it’s during the race, it’s about making it to the next water station or to a spot where I know my friends and family members are waiting along the route. That gives me energy and a much smaller goal to hit, so it doesn’t feel so daunting.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about running, sports, work, or a personal issue. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with such a monumental task, but when it doesn’t seem like there is any possible way to get what you need done, don’t focus on the result—focus on the next step. Break that bigger goal down into more tangible mini-goals that you can realistically achieve. You will not only overcome the doubt in your mind, but you will also get further than you ever envisioned possible.

4. Celebrate Small Wins

There is a trick to focusing on the next step: you have to reward yourself once you get there. It does you no good to get to the next step only to immediately face another mini-obstacle immediately after. You need something to pick you up and give you that jolt, because it’s not going to happen on its own.

Once I made it to that next water station during the marathon, I rewarded myself with something as simple as walking for 30 seconds while I took a drink of water. When you focus on the small steps and play the reward game with yourself, it helps to eliminate the burden that comes with the gargantuan and arduous task in front of you. Sometimes all you need to do is congratulate yourself once you accomplish that small step. Whatever it is that does the trick, make sure to celebrate even those tiny victories.

I’ve always been hard on myself, so this remains a struggle for me, but I now understand how important it is, and I force myself to recognize and appreciate the progress I make, no matter how small.

5. Know What Motivates You

We all have our quirks, and one of the goofy things I do is talk trash to myself as a way to psych myself up. A few times, I’ve caught myself doing this out loud, but it’s mostly in my head as a way to give myself an added boost of energy to keep going. I just keep telling myself that I’m not a DNF’r, and I’m not going to quit. Even if I have to walk a little bit, I will do what I have to do to keep going, but I won’t give up. What kind of games can you play with yourself to keep you moving forward? It could be reminding yourself of your goals, charting your progress, or checking in with an accountability partner. For some people, music can be a big motivator. Reconnecting with stories about people who inspire you and have already accomplished what you’re trying to achieve can help propel you forward and keep you moving in the right direction. Find out what motivates you and be prepared to utilize that when you encounter resistance.

6. Reconnect With Your Why

The mind will always find reasons to quit, and those reasons are going to sound pretty damn good in the moment, when things get tough. There is very little that’s as important and impactful as identifying your purpose, because that will provide more fuel and motivation than just about anything else. When you’re in the moment, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, so remind yourself of this when things get tough. During that first marathon, I had my own personal goals and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, but that only gets you so far. What really ended up fueling me more than I could have ever predicted was the contribution I was making and the awareness I could bring to Dana Farber. Depending on what it is and what you’re trying to do, knowing that you’re taking steps to accomplish your why can be its own form of reward.

7. Strengthen Your Stress Muscle

When training with my coach in the pool for the Ironman, he introduced me to a drill that tested me in ways that I hadn’t been tested before. If I’m being honest, it was terrifying. I’d get in the deep end of the pool and tie a 15-foot bungee cord around my waist that was attached to the wall. The drill was to swim for a minute straight before getting a ten-second break. When swimming, I couldn’t go farther than the bungee would allow, so the trick was to maintain my pace to reduce the resistance. I had to learn this the hard way and expended way more energy than necessary. I’d lose my breath, panic, and start to sink. After 10 rounds of that, I was dead. It took me a couple of attempts to realize that I had to get out of my own head, settle my mind, and just relax. For me to even reach that point, I first had to experience being uncomfortable, and that was what made the drill so beneficial.

Many assume that things like ice baths, cold showers, and fasting have only physical benefits, but these tactics are also an excellent way to harden your mindset. The more you can practice getting comfortable when uncomfortable, the better prepared you will be to deal with the everyday challenges and obstacles life throws your way. That’s why I trained in the extreme cold during the winter and the heat during the summer. I leave my pool open until November, and even though the temperature of the water can get down to 50 degrees, I still make a point to jump in a few times a week. It’s great for inflammation and muscle recovery, but it’s the mental toughness it builds that I find the most valuable. It’s the same thing whenever I fast for 36 or 48 hours.

Schedule the pain. Schedule ways to push yourself harder, either physically or mentally. Start small. If you aren’t used to fasting but want to make it a practice that can build up your stress muscle, start by doing it for 12 hours. If you’re not used to going to the gym or working out, start by doing it for 15 minutes, and build up on that. If you struggle to make all the phone calls you want to make during the day at work, set a goal to do just 10 more a day. That’s it! Build in a reward when you do it, and pretty soon that 10 will become natural and then you can stretch that even further. Just like kids trying to see who can hold their breath the longest underwater, they build up endurance. The point is to keep pushing yourself beyond your limits. It sucks when it’s happening, and there is some anxiety that builds up in anticipation, but afterward you feel great, and each time you do it, it’s like you’re adding another layer to that suit of armor.

8. Just Breathe

That’s it. It’s so simple and natural, yet so impactful. Whenever you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or in doubt, just take the time to breathe. Take deep breaths, reassess the situation, and figure out how to best deal with it.

One technique that I’ve found incredibly useful is box breathing. I learned this breathing exercise from Mark Devine, author of Unbeatable Mind. I do this exercise when I’m stressed and have made it a part of my routine when I’m in the sauna after my workout. Think of it as a simple four-step process that involves breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, and then breathing in again for four seconds. The apps Calm and Muse each have several guided breath exercises that I frequently do. Sometimes I only need to do this for five minutes, and I can notice a difference in my mindset. It can help when I’m stressed out by reducing tension. That tension can deplete your energy and your wind, which is why it’s so important to breathe and reduce stress during athletic activities. I’ve done this a few times before sparring during martial arts or swimming when I felt anxiety. It helped me to conserve energy and be more level headed so I could perform better. I’ve used these same techniques in the workplace and when dealing with my kids. It’s also a great way for me to improve my focus when I find myself distracted.

Bill Murphy is a nationally recognized mortgage originator who has closed over one and a half billion dollars in loans and has been a top producer for 25 years. He is a marathoner, ultramarathoner, Ironman finisher, and has a second-degree black belt in Krav Maga. He has raised over $500,000 for the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and actively supports a number of charities, including Fairway Cares, The American Warrior Initiative, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He is the founder of the nonprofit Thrive Foundation.
This excerpt has been adapted from “Thriving in the Storm: Nine Principles to Help You Overcome Any Adversity” by Bill Murphy. To buy this book, click here.
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