My current mood is one of slight agitation. It is bubbling just below the surface. I am writing this from my couch with my leg wrapped in ice and propped up as high as I can get it comfortably without losing my laptop off my lap. It is not the most ideal writing position as every key stroke makes my laptop wobble and I can barely see what I am writing. It might sound like I am suppressing, but it feels to me as though I am utilizing rather than having my emotions utilize me. I am proud that it hasn’t risen to the surface because I now know that it won’t (well maybe for a moment if this laptop continues to move like the Darth Vader bobble head on my dashboard) because I have purchased some “tools” for my mental toughness toolbox. The tools I purchased cannot be bought with money, they are only paid for through the work. I am confident in my ability to not only deal with my underlying emotions but utilize them to continue to move me forward rather than hold me back.

So here is how I got to this space in my head…

I consider myself an athlete. I train every day and I train hard. I was running close to 40km a week, biking about 150km, playing basketball once or twice a week and weightlifting at least 4 times. I don’t take days off. Then I had an ankle injury, ok screw it no running or basketball for a few weeks but we can pile miles on the bike. I proceeded to up my bike km to almost 300km a week. As the ankle got better and I didn’t address some of the imbalances that had crept in, my return to basketball and running was less than stellar. Quickly I developed a nagging calf and then a groin/lower ab issue. I dealt with them as they came but at times it felt like the universe was knocking slightly harder on the proverbial door of my brain telling me I needed to pivot for a minute, maybe a break was due. I started doubting myself and I was having some major bouts with frustration (ok, maybe a little north of frustration into the land of anger). There is nothing quite like the frustration of wanting your body to perform in a certain way and it just not responding. Overall I was in a rut for the better part of 12 weeks physically, but I was mostly unaware of the rut I was in mentally too. Especially with the return back to basketball after years off. I did not realize how much playing brought me back to an old headspace, a headspace I had moved on from the last 2 years. This tied with the injuries was most definitely creating some cracks in the mental fortitude I have so studiously crafted.

Remember that knee at the start I mentioned, the one I was icing? How about the door being knocked on? Well the universe kicked the proverbial door wide open. I went up for a layup in our basketball game and came oh so unceremoniously down to the floor. My knee completely buckled in, big crunch, far too loud scream (a little embarrassing) and game over. Some may not call it luck but there are 2 physios on our team and one on the other team as well. What are the chances? They all had their turn taking a look and as I sat on the bench for the second half of the game somewhere between agony and feeling sorry for myself all of the frustration I had been feeling flooded back. It felt like all of the work I had put in was for nothing, like I was heading back to square one and if you have known me for a while that was going to be a long way back. All I could think of was oh god please don’t let this be where the story takes its turn for the worse and I go back to all of the bad habits I had worked so hard to get away from. Being brutally honest with you this is still a huge fear of mine and probably in some way shape or form always will be. I never want to be that Clint again and I work tirelessly for that reason. So with my thoughts racing and my knee throbbing my incredible men’s league team literally carried me out to a waiting car and one of the boys drove me home and practically carried me in to my house. The second the door closed I crumpled to the floor, I sobbed knowing full well the road ahead was going to suck. Although I have had a ton of ankle injuries I have never injured a knee before. But having played basketball my whole life I know a torn knee ligament can be the death knell for an athlete, especially one at 35. Depending on how serious the injury was it wouldn’t just spell the end of basketball but maybe running and lifting too. At least these were the thoughts swimming through my head while the pain was fresh in my knee. I am not exactly sure how (with some super human help from my wife is actually how) but I got showered and into bed.

Worried I would wake up in a worse state physically and mentally I did the best I could in between my fitful moments of sleep. I prayed, a lot. I talked to myself in a positive way. I told myself all of the good I had done and the things I was grateful for about the moments that had led me directly to this spot. I reminded myself of the things that were in my control. I realized that there were many and while doing this nothing actually happened. Often it will sound like these things happened overnight and people have these epiphanies out of nowhere, they don’t describe the hard parts, the embarrassing pieces that helped them realize what they needed to realize. It is rarely pretty coming to a big life realization, especially for someone as incapable of learning lessons as I am. The reason nothing happened when I just talked to myself is because there was no action. There was work to do. My realization didn’t hit me until today and it isn’t like I woke up with an epiphany, I struggled to get out of bed today, remnants of feeling sorry for myself keeping me tied to my bed. It was a slow burn as the day went on, a culmination of maintained habits since the injury that showed me I wasn’t going back to who I used to be, this wasn’t a slide it was just more adversity to go through. It wasn’t “god” or whatever you choose to call it telling me to take it easy or to take a break, he was telling me to go through the fucking pain. To feel it and not just push it down, to embrace the adversity not just try to smash it to smithereens.

I definitely went through it over the last 10 days wrestling with my ego, with the fact that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to in  the way that I wanted to do them. I felt like I had let people down, at work, on my team, even my wife and kid (one of the absolute worst feelings for me was telling my daughter there would be no more “shoulders” for a little bit) but everyone was completely understanding. My daughter blew my mind, she “doctored” me every day and brought me crutches, passed me my water and grabbed me anything she could help with. If you’re a parent you know how much pride this gives me.

This is where I diverge from the normal thoughts people have around an epiphany. I know today the realization that I am tougher than I was giving myself credit for and that like I have said before I just needed to go through this pain not shy from it dawned on me. That is all it did, it dawned on me today, But it would not have if I didn’t put the work in, well before the injury but right after it too. In the past I would have just wallowed, sat in bed with my leg propped up and made poor Tam do everything for me and then probably bitched at her for doing it wrong ( I say this because this is literally what I did when I sprained my ankle about 6 or 7 years ago). I didn’t do this, did I stay in bed longer? Totally, I literally had to hop around the house on one foot or slide down the stairs on my ass, which my daughter so graciously showed me how. But I got up, I set myself up downstairs (with some assistance for sure) and I attacked my rehab as best I could. I didn’t just sit there and use that as my excuse though, I made sure I still got what I could done, using the counter to help myself around I got Katie’s breakfast and snacks ready, I unloaded the dishwasher. I did whatever I could to be useful knowing full well over the next few days Tam would have to do a lot more. This unlocked something in me and I know now that making myself useful and not just succumbing to my injury was incredible for my brain. I even did a 10 minute workout in the afternoon. It hurt like hell but I was able to do 100 1-legged push-ups and 100 sit-ups. It wasn’t much but it was another habit held, I had put a check mark firmly in the box  labelled mentally-tough and disciplined. I proceeded to do that every day. I found a way to be useful at home, at work and to myself. I maintained each of my habits that were so important to me and attacked what I could from a rehab standpoint like my life depended on it. I didn’t tell myself I had purpose and it was all going to be ok and most importantly I didn’t wait, I did what I could to continue to move forward even if I was literally crawling on the floor to do so.

Now I want to make sure you understand the diagnosis was not as bad as initially thought, I had not torn anything and it was just a severe MCL/ACL sprain. Some people may read “just” and write me off, but if you have ever injured these ligaments you know it is unnerving. I cannot get my lower quad to engage without staring at it and even then it seems like it is only about 75% engaged. I still can’t walk down stairs more than one at a time. It feels like all of the strength I have accumulated just vanished overnight. I am literally struggling to squat 40lbs and I can’t even get to 90 degrees. It is emasculating to say the least. I also want you to understand that it hasn’t all just been realizations and gritting my teeth. I have punched a few walls because I can’t do something, I have thrown up because I tried to do something I shouldn’t and it induced far more pain than I was ready for. I have cried, felt sorry for myself, beat myself up and absolutely wallowed in the last 10 days. I just only did them for a moment, I caught myself far better than I ever had in the past and told myself the way things actually are rather than broad stroking the most negative picture possible. For this is what I am truly proud of. If anyone ever tells you they don’t have dark moments, run, or tell them to fuck off and don’t buy anything they are selling. Real mental-toughness, confidence or whatever you want to call it is wrought from facing your demons, from catching yourself and not letting your initial feelings drive your next actions.

All of these things have been great realizations and they came to me over the last few days for sure, but the actual epiphany I had was not these. No what blew my mind is something I have said at many points in the last 2 years but hadn’t actually internalized. Today was the first workout I blistered. I went fucking hard, like I had something to prove and in a short video after that I took the words just popped out of my mouth “you have to go through the pain”. I have said this too many times, but never had they hit me in the way it hit me today. I have not gone through some of my pain recently. I have been shying away from it, finding things to keep me distracted and today had me fully realize that all of the injuries in the past couple of months were a representation and manifestation of this point. Whether you choose to believe in the law of attraction or not it is there and it is definitely real. My body is living proof of this on both sides of the coin. I thought prior to today that going through the pain was just dealing with it. What I learned today was that I have to embrace it, be grateful for it, maybe laugh in its face a little but respect the hell out of it, grit your teeth and then fucking push anyways. This is the only way through and this is where most get stuck. I know for a long time I wanted it to be easy, to not hurt or not push me. Those were all fantasies.

Most people will disagree with this and I am not for most people. I am not saying that you need to just hammer away at an injury and pretend it isn’t there, that’s stupid. Speak to your respective doctors, psychologists or whoever for the issue in front of you and when you understand what it is, realize it is time to do the work. The work is not done at the doctor, that is the lesson. The practice happens in the dark of your own mind or in my case basement. But no matter how good we feel leaving the lesson it does not translate if we don’t do the work ourselves.

I have led in the hospitality industry for well over 10 years now. This has afforded me the opportunity to interact and lead almost every type of person imaginable. Some good, some not so. But all of it has left me with an understanding of how we work  as people that I could not have imagined. I appreciate people for who they are much more now than I ever did as a young operator. I was much too busy trying to save those in my patronage, even if they weren’t looking to be saved. This left me exhausted, battered and often with my own struggles as I felt in order to save them (again, even if they weren’t looking for it) I had to be in the water with them. I took on so much of what they were fighting without them asking me. When I look back now I was doing both of us a disservice.

I can think of many situations where this happened but one truly stands out. I had an incredible cook in one of my kitchens, we will leave him unnamed as that is not what is important. The talent was obvious. Not only did his food look spectacular but he could easily cook an almost full lunch service of 100 seats with almost no help, but, and there is always a but, it completely depended on how he showed up that day. Which really depended on what he did the night before. If you are in this industry you completely understand and have worked with a person like this. For me I was young at the time and knowing this kids background and how it related to the tough times I had as a teenager and youth I thought I could help him. Only problem is he didn’t always want the help. There were times that our conversations would hit home and he would stay stable for a while but it almost seemed as though he would head back into troubled waters so that I would have to come save him, like he couldn’t see the positive attention he was getting and only the negative registered in his brain. I poured a ton of myself into him and for the most part he responded but only while I was around. My support, tough love, re-directive and positive feedback only worked if he was in my vicinity. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t create his own accountability system and consistency. It was because he never had to as I was always there to save him. Ultimately I ended up having to fire him as I could no longer ignore the damage his situation was creating and I realized the damage was my responsibility and this sent me reeling for a bit. I was exhausted and my psyche was badly damaged. I took it as though I was not a good enough leader to help this kid, that it was me that had failed him.

This isn’t the only team member I did something of the like with as a young leader, and I believe it is these things that sent me on my own mental health spiral for a number of years. I was trying to save those that were ultimately unsavable because they did not want to be saved. And how conceited of me to think that I could make a difference for someone even when they didn’t want me to. But when you are in it you don’t always see things for what they are and you don’t see another path. So as I headed into my own darkness I failed to realize that the term in service of others has nothing to do with giving a piece of yourself, it has nothing to do with “saving” anyone. Now with hindsight being 20/20 I believe that no one actually saves anyone else unless they choose to be saved and then really who is doing the saving.

Having put others burdens on my shoulders whether they wanted me to or not I was weighed down. Life was heavy for me and I was looking for a way out. I remember one day in particular where I just sat in my car crying outside of the restaurant I was supposed to be running. I watched the parking lot and the store fill up, I knew they needed me inside and I could not physically move out of my seat. I just watched almost like I was separate from myself, there was nothing I could do to make myself move for over an hour.

Now this is typically the point in the story where someone writes “and that is the moment I knew I had to make a change, and this is the shit I did” often times they make it seem like it all happened overnight, and these simple changes fixed everything and life is good. If that is true these people probably also fart fairy dust and their burps smell like roses. Now I don’t know about you but in this situation while that moment in the car may be the penultimate moment that I can look back on, I by no means changed immediately and probably didn’t even think that day “shit, I need to fix this”. I believe that day was about 4 years ago and if you have followed some of my blogs or IG posts you know that my journey to mental toughness really only started 3 years ago. So it took me almost a year before I started making any tangible changes.

I started reading and listening to better content and this is where the lighthouse and tugboat theory comes in. I am not sure exactly where it all comes from but I heard Sean Whalen talking about it on the old MFCEO podcast and it just clicked. I had spent my whole life up until that point being a tugboat, attempting to save those in troubled waters. You see a tugboat and a lighthouse theoretically provide the same service. They both save ships. They just do it in drastically different ways. While the tugboat heads out into the troubled waters, battered by waves and wearing itself down working to save one ship at a time, the lighthouses stands tall and shines its light. It does not take on any of the troubled water, it maintains itself and makes sure it is always a beacon for others to see and in the process saves many more ships than a single tugboat ever could. But not only does it help more than the tugboat it allows those in the water to save themselves.

Now I am not sure I am doing it justice and I by no means live this theory perfectly, it is something I strive to be better at every day. The way I interpret this is that I am much better off focusing on improving myself so as to be an example for others to see. Rather than to be a battered soul myself in the same waters as those I am trying to save. How do you show someone the way to safety, how do you light the way when you are taking on the same water as those you are trying to save? While some may see this as noble and will look at the lighthouse as an all too stoic and uncaring figure. I see it differently. As people we rarely respond to someone telling us we need saving and usually this person has decided on what that saving will look like. They are telling us where we need to go and what we need to do. But what do we really need? An example, someone that is where we want to be, someone that offers support but leaves it up to us to take. They let us be the hero of our own story as we still get to steer the ship out of the troubled waters and into the light.

So the challenge I have taken on is how do I live my life more in line with the way a lighthouse operates? This is one of the lens I use often to view my world. It is a question I constantly ask myself. When I see something that needs to be better in our world I try to think of how I can be better in that area of my life. How I can shine my light on the subject in a positive manner. If I want others in my life to get healthier then I must first be healthy. If I want our society to look after the planet better I need to always pick up extra trash. If I want people to have better tools to improve their mental toughness so they can positively affect their mental health, then I better develop those things in myself and test the theories I find. All in all it boils down to going first. To living what you say is important not just pointing your fingers at others that are in a worse place than yourself and not dragging yourself down to the place they are thinking that this will help them. You can only go to that place and come back from it so many times before you too break down in those dark and rough waters and need saving yourself.

As a product of the 80’s and 90’s I got to watch some of the craziest changes in our history. The gap from limited resources to an absolute abundance (now seemingly heading back to a lack), the advent of the internet, email and all of the things that come along with it. It’s been incredible, some of the most exhilarating changes in history have happened in my lifetime. But along with some incredible highs there have also been some terrible lows. Even prior to our current pandemic we have watched depression and anxiety skyrocket across all age categories, while we may live longer than our parents many studies are showing that doesn’t mean it will be in good health. Roughly 2.1 billion people are considered overweight or obese, almost 1/3 of our world’s population! Stats show that on average roughly 10kg of extra body weight leads to 12% higher risk of coronary heart disease and 24% higher risk of stroke. So while I appreciate all of the recent body positivity focus I believe it is at a detriment to many peoples cardiovascular health and I know that when I was unhealthy my mental health suffered immensely.

Now does that mean you need to go to the lengths that I do to affect my mental and physical health? Fuck no, but could a large portion of our society gain some traction from focusing on their physical health and mental toughness rather than their mental health? If I didn’t already give it away, I believe that is a resounding yes.

Now I am not sure as a society where things like toughness, stoicism and confidence became villainous but it is getting harder to find acceptance of people that fall into these categories. It is interesting to watch the world try to view all things as though they are opposites when really they are dichotomous. They are all on a sliding scale and our goal should be to keep them centered as best as possible. Our society celebrated and needed major toughness for many years especially through world wars and the great depression. This led to some incredibly prosperous times, but these were built on the back of competition and zero sum games. There was not a lot of win/win situations and many were focused on doing anything they could to maintain power, on pushing down others to keep their status. It was inevitable that we would shift away from this and without being conscious about this shift it has not benefitted us all that well either. We have traded our problems of machoism and emotional repression for fragility and false vulnerability. Now neither are good, I actually believe that machoism is often a mask of insecurity but fragility serves no one. Emotional repression creates more issues than could ever be tracked and fake vulnerability just keeps us seeking attention through over sharing and making no effort to solve our own issues. We expect someone else to do it for us. I hate to burst the bubble but never mind the fact that no one cares about your issues enough to solve them for you, they have their own shit and are ill equipped to deal with them. Most people are barely staying afloat themselves so how can you expect someone to come along and save you?

Enter mental toughness.

Many people hear the term toughness and strength and shy away from them. Through the years they have often been confused with power and abuse. Our vernacular has become so convoluted so I will do my best to differentiate how I use the terms here. I look at toughness and strength as qualities of duality. You must strengthen your body as well as your mind if you truly want results, as David Goggins coined it “you must callous the mind”. Toughness is wrought through perseverance and striving to become better but only with the right intentions can real mental and physical toughness be achieved. You can become physically strong and still be weak of mind which leads to an individual with little mental control who leans to anger and aggression as coping mechanisms. Alternately you can strengthen your mind but if you do not work on your physical state then the vehicle to take you where you want to go will break down leaving you with no ability to accomplish what you have set out to do.

This brings me to my argument for mental toughness. If you think critically, over the last 20 years we have heard almost exclusively to “focus on your mental health”, “you have to come first” and “you should be happy”. I know they seem pretty innocuous but I think these 3 sentences are what has been screwing us all along. They tend to be too ambiguous which just leads to a lack of ability to take action. How do you actually take action on mental health? There is about a million ways to do this and none of them make inherent sense, but inevitably it boils down to strengthening your mind and fueling it appropriately. When I bring this up I typically get met with some blank stares but it truly isn’t complicated.

You have 2 avenues to strengthen your mind and a combination of the 2 has proven for me to be the best. You must find stillness. Think meditation, prayer, journaling, mindfulness and visualization. I am purposely not including affirmations in here as I think until they are true, for me at least I just feel like I am lying to myself. I prefer to be honest with myself about where I am at and tell myself that I am in the process of becoming great. The other key to mental toughness is literally doing hard shit. At some point we have to take action. There is no getting away from it and this is where many people get tripped up. Don’t get me wrong meditation for me is at times the hard shit. I still have no idea how to keep my mind quiet and accept my thoughts. This is why it is a practice, the point is to work at it. But in the beginning my hard was 5 push-ups and 5 sit-ups every single day. That then progressed to completing 75 hard, the 4x4x48 challenge and literally just today I have signed up for a 100km ultra marathon. It is always a journey, a progression and I think it all depends on how far you want to take it and how fucked up you are at the start of this journey.

The second part of mental toughness is how you fuel your mind. No one buys a Ferrari and puts regular gas in it, so if you are want to be a Ferrari you probably shouldn’t be putting low grade fuel into yourself either. The simplest way to figure out where your fuel situation is at is to audit what you consume. Most people jump straight to what they eat which is a great place to start but is only a portion of what I am talking about. Obviously the more processed, fast and unhealthy things you eat the more unhealthy and inflamed you become. But consumption doesn’t just stop at food and drink it is also what you watch, read and listen to. Think of the last few songs, shows, YouTube video’s or social media posts you consumed, were they uplifting or inspiring in any way? If so you might be on the right track. Now don’t worry you can still watch Sons of Anarchy, just maybe don’t binge 4 seasons in one night, instead fill in the gaps with something a little more uplifting. I tend to listen to podcasts that focus on mindset and learning when I am in the car, I cleanse my social media feeds of any negativity and use them as a space to be uplifting and invigorating rather than focused on gossip and fake news.

Now I know I haven’t touched on the other two points. So let’s look at them quickly.

It is not wrong to say that you have to come first, but most people misconstrue the term. They think that their feelings come first, that they should get what they want first. It is actually your growth and development that has to come first. You have to improve yourself in whatever facet you want those around you to improve. It is not that you get yours before they get theirs. It is improving yourself so that you can give more of yourself to help those around you.

Lastly I urge almost everyone I know to give up on happiness. Not because it isn’t great but because it can be a byproduct of the effort and work you put in. Rather than chasing it let it come to you. Emotions are neither good nor bad, that is just a judgement we have chosen to apply to them. No, emotions are meant to be gone through and the harder we try to hold on to any of them the tougher it becomes, the stronger our grasp needs to be. Thinking happiness is the default was the underlying issue to all of my mental health struggles in the past. I felt like there was something wrong with me every time I wasn’t happy, so in order to find happiness I would chase the things I thought made me happy like drinking, food, movies and going out. What I didn’t realize is that those things should be the rewards for work put in. I learned that happiness is not found it is made on the back of hard work and holding yourself accountable to what you say you will do. It took me a long time of chasing happiness to realize that I could just sit with my other emotions and it would come around, and if I leaned into those other emotions and actually tried to work through them instead of running from them it would come around sooner and more often. Just like the sun rising it becomes inevitable. Some nights may be longer than others but the sun always comes up.

This is my argument for our focus to shift to mental toughness. I don’t know how many people it will resonate with but it resonates with me and it has literally saved my life. I am grateful every day for what I have learned around this and would love to have more conversations around it. Don’t hesitate to reach out and if you think someone else would appreciate this I would greatly appreciate if you shared it with them!

We often talk about our pain and tough times, our darkness, like it is a cave that we retreat into. But it dawned on me that maybe it isn’t a cave. Maybe like so many other things in our lives it is just our perception of it rather than the way it truly is. And man was this a big perspective shift for me recently. What if instead of that cave it was a tunnel? What if it was something you went through rather than into?

 While I much prefer writing about things I have fully tested I was so fired up about this mental ju-jitsu I just played on myself I couldn’t wait to share. I cannot find a lot of holes to poke in this theory and it gave me a pretty big pause when it dawned on me. I tried to prove it wrong and I just couldn’t, it actually made infinitely more sense than my philosophy around pain, trauma and dark thoughts which is that they are a cave we enter into, sit down to deal and then walk out of.

So hear me out. Like I said this is not fully thought out and I have not put the time in to prove this right or wrong. But what if it wasn’t a cave, what if it was a tunnel, just a tunnel of the variety that is so long and deep you do not see the light from the other end immediately. Or maybe it is just unfinished and all it takes is a bit of hammering and the other side will open. What if it was less of something you went into and came back out of, but was much more of something that you went through and came out the other side. I find this theory covers so much more ground in my brain. When I take this to the areas of fear, happiness, trauma and sadness in my head it just fits so much cleaner. It just feels right. The cave philosophy while not wrong just never sat perfectly for me and didn’t make sense as it always felt like when you were coming out of the cave you would just be coming out in the same spot you started from, that just never clicked in my head.

When you truly think darkness, of the emotions that create enough inner turmoil that we have to make a choice, you are never the same after those events. Whether you were an active participant or not. You do not journey back to your original spot. You travel through. Do some people get stuck when it gets really dark? For sure, but for those that find faith, discipline and will to guide them, like finding a headlamp they eventually come out the other side. No one dealing with pain and trauma is trying to get back to the way things were, they do not want to go back to the original destination. They want to journey anew, to find new places, emotions and feelings.

This also sat so well with me for the fact that I have for a long time now talked about having to “go through” your shit. You truly have to deal with it and there is no way around it. I used to say that you had to sit in your darkness but as of late that has been less and less in my mind and I have realized while it is good to sit with it sometimes, just like in life I deal with my shit much better when I am moving. So why not walk with it, or better yet run through it. We can go through the tunnel headlong knowing full well there will be some goblins and ghouls in there but we don’t have to sit around the fire in the cave with them if we don’t want to. We can just keep going. We can decide on the time frame that we would like to deal with them in rather than dealing with our demons passively. For a long time I would sit in my darkness, really I was wallowing but now I realize I just walked into the tunnel and sat down for a bit when I could have kept walking, it may have been dark but I didn’t need to lose all of my momentum and I would have come through my shit a little bit faster and maybe with some mental cardio to help the next time things get tough.

So I don’t know if it helps  create a different perspective for you but it definitely shifted some things in my brain. I love the idea of being in control of my feelings and this put a little bit of that control firmly back in my hands. Maybe it’s a little half baked but I am sure there will be time to suss it out. So expect more to come around this!