One of the most important activities a gentleman can undertake is to improve his mental resilience.
You hear people speak of being ‘weak-willed’ or ‘strong-minded’ and both of these terms are true. A man who invests in his own mental resilience will not only survive the slings & arrows of regular trying times, but will thrive.
Just as the muscular system can be trained for greater strength, so can the mental-emotional axis be trained to be resilient in the face of setbacks, and flexible in the face of problems.
How are the muscles trained? By causing many microscopic tears in the muscle fiber itself. After a workout, the body rebuilds the traumatized tissue, repairing it so that it’s bigger and stronger than before.
In my work with people, I have discovered that often the most mentally resilient people are those who life has thrown the hardest challenges; who have been beaten down, but still got up again. Their repeated exposure to tragedy, pain and struggle has hardened their minds and resolve.
Now, the modern world has advanced in material comforts to the point that we now rarely tax our physical bodies, while at the same time, creating psychic discomforts that increasingly tax our mental and emotional systems. The breakneck pace of technology and the “always-on” culture have encouraged us to work longer hours, take fewer breakers, and have less restful ease in the rare breaks we do take. The constant stress of the modern world has created a ceaseless drop of stress hormones that erode our willpower day by day.
But you don’t have to submit to this. With three simple practices, you can build habits that will build your mental & emotional resilience, so that you can remain calm and unruffled no matter what the world throws at you.
Below are 3 of the most important activities you can take to build your mental resilience and flexibility.
STILL THE WATERS, SO THEY MAY RUN DEEP
First, it’s essential that all gentlemen start a practice of mindfulness training, or meditation.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction has been repeatedly shown by clinical trials to improve health outcomes and increase emotional stability, no matter who is practicing. [source 1] [source 2] [source 3]
The benefits of meditation are too numerous to detail here, but suffice it to say: 20 minutes a day keeps the stress away.
You’re not expected to be a yogi or enlightened master now or ever. Start today, even if you have to start with 60 seconds. Know that, if you truly desire that John Wayne-esque calm in the storm — if you want to be the man who has the presence of mind to do the right thing at a horrific accident scene, the man who steps into the breach and begins improving the situation, as a Perfect Gentleman should — you need to make meditation a part of your life.
Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect:
- Improved mental clarity
- Quieted “mental chatter”
- Improved willpower
- Physical brain growth
- Increased power of focus on single tasks
- Creative problem solving increases
- Better social acuity
Add meditation to your life. It is worth it.
UPGRADE YOUR MENTAL FOOD
“A high volume of reading increases knowledge, broadens vocabulary, and reduces cognitive decline of aging. . . the better you are at reading, the better you are at thinking.”
– Alexander Macriss, Senior Vice President, Alloy Digital
Modern Internet-based entertainment is making our attention fragmented and shallow. The Perfect Gentleman will replace chat shows, reality TV, or video gaming with challenging reading.
As Alexander Macriss says above, a high volume of reading increases knowledge and shores up the brain, but you don’t have to take it on his authority, instead, you might want to heed the advice of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and his business partner, Charlie Munger. Says Buffett: “I just sit in my office and read all day.” Says Munger: “You could hardly find a partnership in which two people settle on reading more hours of the day than in ours.”
And one Todd Combs, who now works for Warren Buffett, is reported to have read up to 1,000 pages a day in order to improve his knowledge in the area of investing. (That’s a truly blistering place — essentially reading four non-fiction books per day. It’s no wonder Buffett hired him.).
You don’t have to read a thousand pages a day — but it’s for certain that self-pampering with constant, easy and diverting streams of entertainment will contribute to a man who is weak of will and emotionally limp, isolated in his head, with no connection to the source of his power, and without the willpower to resist unhealthy food, habits, compulsions, and companions — any one of which could poison-drip his life away.
Reading more, and more widely, will not merely increase your store of facts, it will compound your knowledge and creativity, as you train yourself to see parallel connections between disparate fields, and draw creative ideas from far afield.
Here is a short list of fairly challenging books to get you started:
- Second Treatise on Government by John Locke
- On Liberty John Stuart Mill
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
- The History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
- The Beginning of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Contexts, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450 by David C. Lindberg
- The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
“The top performers do work more intensely than the rest of us…but they also recover more deeply.”
– Performance expert Tony Schwartz
Those with the most robust & resilient emotions are those who have been exposed to deep tragedy and found meaning within it.
So why are they resilient? Because they have had the most emotional and mental stress (remember the tearing muscle fibers).
However, this resiliency requires regular rest periods. It requires that after the storm, a calm settles, so we can repair our minds and hearts.
Someone who is under a constant onslaught of pressure, stress and disappointment will eventually reach the end of their rope.
This is why, if you’re in a constantly-stressful work or home environment, it’s even more critical that you regularly take a good fortnight to fully unplug, rest and recharge. May we additionally suggest that you abandon all screen media for that vacation, and fill the time with meditation and reading, instead?
Conversely, those whose lives are easy, who never experience much in the way of stress or pressure — either imposed from the outside or self-imposed — will not gain the mental stamina and fortitude required to really excel in the modern world.
Don’t be one of these men. Interrupt your placid routines with mental and emotional training. The Future You is not a superhero — he is weaker, older, sicker, and poorer than you are. Unless you do something to change that…every day.