This morning I listened to parts of a podcast featuring Tim Ferriss in which he was explaining the importance of stoicism (go team Marcus Aurelius!), resilience, and the ability to control your emotions. Paraphrasing what he said slightly, if we don't teach kids how to deal with suffering and adversity, they won't develop resilience and will not achieve their full potential.
Yeah. You could say I was in agreement.
One thing in particular he said was that you need to plan your suffering. The more you practice suffering, he explained, the less likely you'll be to crumble when unplanned suffering occurs.
And boy, is this true. If you never learn to get tougher in reasonably controlled settings (say, when a teacher fails you instead of letting you pass even though you didn't hand in your essay, or when a sports coach makes you work past the point of throwing up), you won't be able to push yourself through unplanned challenges life is bound to throw your way.
I spent the last 10 days dealing with a massive cold that morphed into a stubborn sinus infection. I don't remember the last time I was this sick for so long. I have been hacking and coughing and sneezing and not sleeping well and generally feeling miserable since last Friday. May 12, I mean.
Because we had Nationals this past weekend, I pushed through my cold and trained anyway. I figured I'd eventually sweat the stupid bug out. I sweated, for sure. But the bug persisted. This past Thursday I took it easier (only trained for an hour), hoping to be better by Friday when competition started for me. It didn't work. I pumped myself full of cold medicine and kept pushing all the way through the end. It worked, after a fashion. I did well in my divisions, but there were a few undignified moments, like the time snot came out of my nose during a kata (ignore it!) and the few times I came off the mat after a fight to erupt in a violent coughing fit.
No matter. I kept fighting and got results I wanted.
How did I do it? I dug deep inside myself and mustered everything all those years of hard training gave me. People often comment that I should take breaks more often, that I train too much, or too hard, or whatever. I always shrug it off (sometimes pleasantly, sometimes less so) because I know one thing: That if I don't push myself to train when I don't feel like it, I will not be able to perform in suboptimal conditions. This weekend I was suffering from extremely suboptimal conditions. My head wanted to explode, I couldn't breathe right, and my lungs burned after every performance (I did four katas and fought seven fights, on top of coaching my daughter through her divisions and running around the rings trying to cheer and encourage our dojo kids and their parents).
Now that it's all done, yes, I'm tired and sore. So today I take it easy. No training, and just some puttering around the house. I'll get back to training tomorrow, regardless of how I feel then. Because training hard when I don't particularly feel like it is what gives me the strength to push when it really matters.
If you make yourself suffer more on purpose, you'll suffer less when it matters and accomplish more. It's that simple. I highly recommend it.