Have you ever heard the story of the mentally toughest person on the planet?
His name is David Blaine.
It was about an hour long segment of the popular magician/performance artist David Blaine.
Granted I don’t live under a rock and so I have heard of him, seen the occasional video from his street magic days but I never really gave him much of a second thought. For some reason however, the interview sparked an interest in me and being the obsessive person I am, decided to find out as much as I could about him.
It took a while but the end of it all, I came to the only objective conclusion that anyone who knows of David Blaine would have –He is one of the mentally toughest people alive today.
Just a brief mention of some of his more notable feats would convince even the harshest of critics that his mental fortitude is impressive to say the least.
Some of these feats include:
Source: david blaine
- Breaking the then Guinness world record for oxygen assisted apnea, he did this by holding his breath for 17 minutes 5 seconds,
- Fasting for a record 44 days surviving on nothing but water,
- Being entombed in a pillar of ice for 63 hours
- Standing on a 100 foot pillar for 35 hours.
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A study of elite athletes report that at least 50% of superior sporting performances are a direct result of mental and psychological factors.
And what’s more, 83% of coaches rate mental strength as the most essential ingredient that determines a candidate’s future sporting success.
Let’s face it. Our mental strength is tested at every inch and every second of our lives. It is forged in the crucible of our daily association with society!
So here is what you and I can learn to get as mentally strong as David Blaine…
1. Have a capacity to challenge the odds that are against you.
David experienced the loss of his mother through cancer. Instead of giving in to emotion and crippling regret, what he saw in her mother during the tough times was only fortitude, courage and pure mental strength like no other.
David has always regarded her as the hero of his life! And so by simply observing how his mother fought a deadly tragedy in her life, he understood that our minds had the capacity to endure hardship & disastrous odds.
It was a nightmare for him, but he took this bitter pill with a desire to strangle weakness and vulnerability in his mind.
2a. Unshakeable self-belief in your own ability to achieve a goal
In a ted talk David gave, he described how challenging it was when training to hold his breath. One of the first things he did was consult one of the leading neuroscientists in the country to seek for advice.
He was told that there was no way it could be done without suffering from brain damage.
He could have walked away then but instead, he looked for a way to make the seemingly impossible possible. From trying to use a rebreather to tapping into an artery that would enable a machine purify his blood to using perfluorocarbon, an oxygen rich liquid, there is nothing he did not consider.
He finally decided on the traditional approach, he would actually have to train himself to hold his breath for the entire duration.
From his decision making process you can tell that his self-belief shines through, this stems from the fact that he has fully acknowledged his talents.
2b. Unshakeable self-belief that you possess the ingenuity or unique qualities that makes you better than the rest.
David was once was held & sent to prison for jumping a turnstile. He was sent to central booking where he was encaged with a handful of other scary & big inmates.
They were looking to pounce on him at any moment when he suddenly got the idea of snatching the deck of cards from a bunch of them playing with it.
They were on the brink of whooping his ass, but before they could; he used his creative magic tricks to win them over.
They ended up breaking a smile and he ultimately made friends instead of enemies.
For one to be mentally strong, creativity and a sense of self has to be present to begin with. I believe everyone is creative, but social norms and pedestrian ways of doing things have a way of eroding that side of us.
In short, we should strive to nurture our creative side; the first step in doing so is to embrace our talents.
3. Remain optimistic even in the face of overwhelming Evil or negativity
“You are spending the most time with your thoughts so be sure you are saying the right things”
Heraclitus, also known as the weeping philosopher upon realization of the state of the world chose to take the path of sadness and dismay. All the evil that he witnessed, all the pain and suffering led him to the conclusion that in such a world there is no place for happiness.
On the other hand Democritus, another Greek philosopher chose happiness. Not because he was dumb or had some form of bourgeoisie ignorance of what was happening around the world, in contrast to that, he was fully aware of how much evil, pain and suffering filled the world. He however chose to be happy despite that, he reasoned that since it was so commonplace there was no point in wasting your time worrying about it.
In that sense, all the negative things became sort of a baseline to him and whatever good happened became that much more pleasant. He learned to enjoy the good things while not worrying about all the evil in society because to him, it was just but a triviality.
When David Blaine was asked who inspired him the most, or who he looked up to, his response was that it was his mother. She passed away in his arms and he described that after the event he felt like he had been snapped like a twig.
Despite his loss, he remained optimistic and even drew his inspiration from it. At the end he chose to rise above it and extract something positive from it.
Whichever of the two philosophers appeals to you most, something you can take away is that, yes, there is so much evil and suffering around us, but then again despite all this you can still chose to be happy. This is optimism.
In a lot of ways, to build up your mental strength, optimism should be the foundation that you lay it on. In essence it gives you a direction and a goal for what you want to achieve.
4. Never stop improving & growing yourself
Always question yourself “What can I improve on?”even in the best of times!
Even at the height of his glittering career, to improve his acts, David decided to join an acting school and during one of his interviews he mentioned that he did this because he believed that a magician is an actor playing the magicians role.
In some ways this gives us an insight into his personality; you can tell that he has a drive for constant self-improvement.
This is necessary because in addition to building on your mental strength, by improving yourself you are also working on your mental dexterity.
If you want to look at another example, Rene Descartes, the mathematician and philosopher famous for what he termed as Cartesian skepticism; at some point in his life discarded everything that he believed to be true in order to start again from scratch.
His insistence on shunning falsehoods and embracing only truths stemmed from his drive of constant self-improvement.
Similarly, for us to build on our mental strength we must be willing to constantly learn new things, expand our abilities by reading, exploring, experimenting, in short, broadening our horizons.
This functions to give us mental confidence, and with confidence comes strength.
5. Regain psychological control after things get out of hand.
You cannot get unsettled by things that didn’t go your way. I see it many times in tennis matches. Players get so frustrated that they started punishing themselves by throwing tantrums and breaking their rackets.
Here’s what you got to do:
Flick that switch in your head into control mode. Don’t let your wild imaginations dictate your thoughts.
You have to see things for what they really are. Oftentimes our perceptions delude us into thinking that for example a challenge is harder than it really is or even the vice versa.
During Blaine’s stunt where he stood on a 100 foot pillar for 35 hours, he mentioned that at some point the buildings around him became animal heads. As much as it’s a bit comical if you think about it, the fact that he was discerning enough to know that he was just experiencing hallucinations and then go ahead to complete the challenge shows that he has a firm grasp on reality.
If we apply this, we realize that as much as it is almost impossible to be truly objective about what we see or even experience, part of what it means to be mentally strong is to be able to understand our affinities so much that in some ways we can reduce our biases.
There are a lot of different ways this can be done and one of them is by educating ourselves and expanding our horizons.
6. Consistency is a key ingredient
An interview of 10 elite performers conducted by Graham Jones and his colleagues revealed the central characteristics of mental toughness in their own words:
People who are mentally tough have a psychological edge that enables them to cope better than their opponents with the many demands that sports place on a performer, and they are also more consistent and better than their opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.
With each stunt performed, Blaine describes the training regimen that he had to go through to prepare for it. This is done without fail in each of his performances.
As with most anything else that we strive to become or achieve, consistency is key.
Most of what I have spoken about above has to do with structure. The two; consistency and structure make up the fundamentals of how to achieve that mental fortitude and strength.
The constant repetitions of the small steps are in actuality what it takes to build a habit. We should strive to achieve the smaller goals first before ultimately attaining our biggest goal, with consistency, this can be achieved.
7. Put your Mind into the Game!
“Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them.” — Josh Waitzkin
He admits that he doesn’t carry extraordinary intelligence, even when people label him so, but he was certain that the way he cultivated his mind allowed him to dominate that physical battle. Success, as he calls it; hinges on who determines the field and tone of battle.
8. Ability to bounce back from adversity or set-backs
We all experience set-backs just like David who lost his mother to cancer. But instead of sulking in depression and sadness, he chose NOT to let the scenario affect him, instead he channels them into something positive and productive.
Mental toughness in this respect essentially means that you should be able to use the set-back as a coil to rebound even higher than before.
Let it get the best out of yourself!
9.Practice Deferred Gratification Always
As mentioned in the introduction, one of Blaine’s more popular stunts was when he fasted for 44 days. During this period, he would only drink water, about 1.5 gallons each day. He ended up losing about 30% of his BMI and suffered mild organ failure.
He described it as one of the most dangerous performances he has ever had and this considering that one of his stunts involved him catching a bullet with his mouth.
I have not said that the journey is going to be short, neither is it going to be easy. As with most other things worth doing, this is going to be long and it is going to be hard. My advice to you, buckle in and enjoy the ride.
You will fail countless times and you will feel like you want to give up and call it quits, revert back to your old way of thinking and doing things. The body will always want to resist change even if that change is actually good for it. Then again, change is inevitable and if you have put your resolve in this then you should fight against being waylaid by the roadside on your journey.
The gratification will come at the end, when you have achieved the level of mental strength that you are aiming for, until then it’s a constant battle. The small victories are what make the journey worth taking in the first place.
To get there I had to understand what delayed gratification meant, learn that the journey is going to be hard and that the reward in the end will be worth it.
10. An insatiable desire and internalize motives to succeed.
You have got to want it as bad as you want to breathe ~ Eric Tomas
Imagine yourself being pushed down under water and somebody decides to hold your head down. Even if you’re struggling to gasp for air, he continues to keep your head down.
By then, the only thing you’re trying to do is to get some air.
You don’t care about your favorite food,
You don’t care about what’s on TV,
You basically don’t care about anything else in the world you have been holding on to.
All you care about it trying to get some fresh air. That’s it!
And when you get to the point that all you want to do is to be successful as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful.
Most people say they want to succeed. But you love your sleep more than you love success.
You have got to want it and do it for yourself, not others. So many times we neglect our own needs for some friend or family. People tend to take your time for granted.
So you have got to really understand why you’re doing it in the first place. Reminding yourself of your true motivation is vital!
11. Be Laser-Guided Focus on your task at hand
There will always be that shiny object glittering at the corner of your eye. We live in an age where attention & focus has been reduced to 8-seconds. A survey conducted by Microsoft.
Can you believe that? 8 measly seconds!
The fact that you managed to read every word of this article up till now is miraculous.
And for that, I applaud you.
So by focusing on what you need to focus on; one at a time, you essentially have a huge advantage over your peers.
As I type this article, I started noticing myself glancing over the email pop-up notification. I was itching to grab that iPhone of mine.
Before I knew it, I was googling for the scores for a soccer game. See… it’s not easy!
Train yourself & be aware of your thoughts every second.
When you know it is time to work on a project, create yourself a tunnel vision and avoid all distraction at ALL COST!
12. Understand our limitations
To be mentally strong also means that we should also be able to understand our constraints.
As much as it sounds counter intuitive, limitations are not a weakness.
To be human means to fail, and to fail time and time again until that one time when we succeed and we are all the better for it.
On one of David Blaine’s interviews, as he was trying to beat the world record on holding his breath the longest, he recounted the number of times that he failed, once even on live television in front of an actual audience.
He never gave up and kept at it, eventually setting a new world record for longest time spent without breathing at sixteen minutes.
Because he understood what his limitations were, he was able to push himself to that point and then through consistency and resolve managed to surpass them.
Limitations allow us to set goals, know what we can currently do so that we can work towards passing them.
Being mentally strong also means being aware of our abilities and with that comes the confidence to do things that others find incredible.
In the same interview, he was asked by a fan what he has always wanted to achieve but never has, or has been afraid of. He did not hesitate to say what he thought had been the most challenging thing to him.
He went on to explain that the one thing that at that point posed the largest challenge to him had been a stunt where he wanted to stay awake for five days straight. He said that what ended up happening was that on the second day he would get these hallucinations where spiders appeared to be crawling all over his skin and his fingers would turn into webs. Ironically enough, he is arachnophobic.
When his brain was deprived of sleep, what ended up happening was that it would draw on his greatest fears in an attempt to stop him from staying awake for longer.
It was something that he had noticed in some of his other performances as well. Despite most of them being physically challenging, the greatest hurdle that he had to overcome was his brain.
To do this he had to build on his mental strength, by recognizing what his limitations were and being assertive enough to push past them and achieve his goals.
We are all capable of infinitely more than we believe. – David Blaine
Even if you feel mentally weak at times,
Even if you feel the lack of Mental Grit to Persevere like David,
Even if you tend to falter before you arrive at the finish line,
You can always train your mind to be a mental hurricane without risking your life.
David is proof that it doesn’t require any form of miracle or wizardry. All it takes is commitment & conviction to trust yourself that you have all it takes to be Mentally Tough!
Of course there will be moments of weakness, all of us experience that including David. But there lies the moment for you to shine through and bounce back stronger than ever.
So Are You Mentally Tough? Do you have any Strategies that I didn’t mention to keep yourself from quitting when the going gets tough?