Team Invictus Member Bryce Smith at the California Regional

Your Brain is NOT a Muscle
Written by Teena Travis

It is just a simple fact: your brain is not a muscle.

Your trap is a muscle, your quad is a muscle, but your brain is not. That means you have to train your brain differently than you train your muscles. Do not misunderstand me, you absolutely can and should train your brain; but in order to be successful you must train it differently. We often think, “I am going to go to the gym, lift all the weights, and get strong!” Well here is the thing, strong doesn’t start in the gym, it starts in the mind. And again let me just drive this point home here; unlike our muscles, we have to train our brain to be strong differently than we train our bodies.

In 2013, after taking a stick to the face, Pittsburgh Penguins left winger Pascal Dupuis calmly pulled out two of his teeth, casually handed them to his trainer, and got back out on the ice to finish the game. I remember seeing that and thinking, “THAT is a true demonstration of committing to never giving up regardless of the pain – refusing to quit no matter the circumstance”. It is absolutely essential that you train your brain to get back up every single time you fall down, no matter the circumstance. That carries over from life and into training. Life, much like training, can be messy. In fact it can get downright mean. It can kick you in the teeth so hard that you feel them rattle around in your mouth. The key is to train your brain to rise up regardless of the pain. To choose to soar above the excuses when all you want to do is hide under the blankets and avoid the pain.

Just like getting physically stronger, in order to have a strong mind, you have to earn it. It is not something that comes easily or without full effort. It comes with constant work, dedication, and perseverance. Here are a few ways that you can begin to teach your brain to never give up:

While your brain is not a muscle, it can, like your muscles grow stronger if you commit to working on it. To properly train your brain, you must stop feeling sorry for yourself. Yes, life is hard. Yes, your baby woke you up in the middle of the night and you are tired. Yes, you’re not as young as you once were. But life is happening with you, not TO you. Stop making excuses. Stop using the words “busy” or “tired” – they do not serve you. And never use your age as a disability. You are not going to grow younger, but you can and you will grow.

When you’re lying on the gym floor after your 120th burpee and all you want to do is fall on your face and lay in puddle of sweat and tears on the gym floor, simply get back up. Holden wrote a great blog about refusing to fail at a movement, that really is all in your mind, check it out here: Why I love Burpees. Regardless of whether it is life or a workout that has you down on your face, make the conscious decision to get back up stand tall, and keep going, every single time.

There is a scene from The Replacements where one of the linebackers looks at the opposing team and with absolute certainty states, “We’re not losing this football game”. He then proceeds to block the opposing player, giving every ounce of his energy to hold him at bay, thereby giving his teammates the opportunity to score the game winning touchdown. We all love movie moments like this because they resonate with our desire to never give up, to hold nothing back. Do not leave a “safety reserve” in the tank. Believe with every fiber of your being that you can achieve this. That you can lift that bar and then hold nothing back. Give it everything you have every single time.

Regardless of whether you have to say it out loud every time that you approach the bar, or if you have to take a sharpie and write it on your arm, do whatever it takes to remind yourself that this is easy. Always be thinking, “this is easy, this is light”. Your brain is the most powerful tool you have. Train your brain to believe that this situation, or this lift, is easy and it will be.

Believe me, I understand that none of these steps are easy, but I believe that nothing worth achieving ever is. Remember to be focused on the journey and not the end result. Know that you will fail, you will fall. But every time that you do and life just kicks you in the teeth, stand back up. Recognize it takes strength and power to do that, and celebrate every victory.

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