A Brief Primer on Inner Strength
The concept of inner strength appears across cultures and time periods. The Finnish word for inner strength is “Sisu,” which is credited as a major factor in the world’s perception of Fins as preserving, strong, and resolute. But groups and individuals who possess extraordinary inner strength are found in every society, and for good reason: humanity has continued because of the inner (and outer) strength of our ancestors, and we still retain and access this trait regularly through focus and dedication. Inner strength is an invaluable personal resource whose definition is at times nebulous. When you take a moment to examine the enduring qualities that have enabled survival and achievement throughout history, it is easy to pin down exactly why each of us should take the time to improve or refocus our own path toward inner strength.
Inner strength: From Samurais to Special Operators
From ancient warriors to the battlefields of WWI, to modern-day combat, inner strength has always been a hallmark of soldiers. Numerous historical texts describe the importance of mental stamina training for successful samurai. Take this quote from Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook, “the imperturbable mind is the secret of warfare.”
We still use the same techniques to train our all our soldiers to be exceptionally mentally strong — cultivating a super-powerful inner strength that allows you to push past boundaries that first seem insurmountable. Inner strength is teachable. Certainly some people are born tough, but make no mistake, developing greater inner strength and resiliency is a function of finding out what works and being disciplined enough to do the work. For example within the community I served… Naval Special Warfare, psychological initiatives increased Navy SEAL trainee pass rates by 25-33 percent. The program effort to decrease SEAL trainee attrition rates at the Naval Special Warfare Center focused on instituting a four-step process to build up inner strength:
- Goal Setting
- Mental Rehearsal
- Self Talk
- Arousal Control
In The Book of Five Rings, famed Japanese swordsman and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi writes, “from one thing, know ten thousand things.” This is a core tenant of cultivating inner strength: mentally mastering the very process of mastery will give you the ability to conquer new skills and challenges like a pro.
Fitting together: Mental and Physical Strength
Control over the mind is the principal characteristic of building inner strength but connecting that mental command to your material form is an also essential step in the process. It’s not only soldiers who display shining examples of inner fortitude — we can also look to elite athletes, mountain climbers, and adventurers for inspiration.
Physical strength ties into mental in several ways: building confidence, creating mind-body harmony, and reducing stress/depression.
Confidence is key. It’s impossible to gain mastery over your mind if you’re doubting your own decisions and abilities. Getting in shape, being stronger and fitter, builds confidence. Once your physical confidence is on par with your mental state, the mind-body harmony comes into play. In some situations, inner and outer strength are a sort of chicken-and-egg situation. That is, you can’t mentally conquer a physical/endurance obstacle if you don’t have the body-power to back it up. Of course, there are many times where your mental strength can push you past your previous physical/endurance boundaries, but you must put in the work to get to that point.
Finally, building your psychical strength is proven to simply make you feel less stressed, anxious, and depressed — three of the toughest barriers to overcome on your route to inner strength.
Getting Started: An Inner Strength Questionnaire
While the examples given in this article of elite soldiers and athletes may make the journey to become inwardly strong an intimidating or unachievable feat, it’s actually possible for any individual to take control of their mind in a positive way. To get started on building your inner strength, use the following worksheet to identify what you’re already doing right and what you need to focus on.
How often do you:
– Spend time in silence?
– Do some form of exercise?
– Follow a routine that makes your day easier?
– Connect with trusted family members and friends?
– Reflect on the positives in your life?
– Draw strength from past accomplishments?
– Surround yourself with things that motivate you?
– Take time to fully relax?
– Set short and long term goals?
To use this list, simply think of or write down the frequency with which you do each item. Daily; Weekly; Monthly; Yearly; Never…etc. If you identify an area that needs attention, make a plan to work on it by making it a part of a daily routine like prayer and meditation.
The One Secret to Getting it Done:
Scheduling the work ahead of where everything and everyone else starts to try to take over your day.
Next Friday I plan to share a daily check list I have developed over a number of years to get control of my life and keep my priorities in order. It has worked wonders for me and I very much hope it will help all of you.