by Robert Maxwell
The first time I lifted heavy, I got blisters the next day. My soft adolescent hands weren't ready for the abrasion of a heavy barbell pulling downward with the relentless strength of gravity. I had three choices: quit, start wearing gloves, or train bare handed until my skin thickened and the barbell no longer hurt. I chose gloves. At first it seemed like a perfect solution, but then I got stronger. I could lift more weight, but the barbell kept slipping in my gloved hands. With a layer of soft leather between my fingers and the weight, I couldn't maintain my grip long enough to finish my sets. Off came the gloves, and the blisters returned. This time I knew I had to stick it out. I kept lifting, and the blisters popped. They bled. I didn't stop. After two weeks I noticed the skin of my palms at the bottom of each finger had grown thick and yellowish. I could poke it with a pin and it barely hurt. Best of all, I could pick up the barbell without feeling like I was rubbing my hands on a hoof rasp. I'd learned a valuable lesson about perseverance and mental toughness. Shying away from discomfort keeps you weak. Facing it head on makes you strong.
No one starts off tough. Toughness is built, not born. Everyone faces adverse situations, and how you respond to these determines your physical and mental strength. Every painful situation offers a choice: shy away and find an easier path, or plough through the discomfort, reaping the rewards on the other side. The Man Factory is about urging you to embrace the second option. That goes for exercise and life in general. When faced with challenges, each choice you make contributes to your character, either for good or ill. If you're serious about getting mentally and physically tough and strong, it's vital to keep this in mind. Here are four strategies for harnessing challenges in your life to boost your toughness and become a better man.
Don't Shy Away From Pain
Robert Frost wrote the famous line "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Nowadays, choosing to face pain head on is certainly the road less travelled by. In our modern, affluent society, pain and discomfort have become enemies. We forget that only a few generations ago they were constant companions. Ways of life. Years of innovation have allowed us to live safe, nearly painless lives, insulated from the harsh realities of the natural world. Trouble is, human beings are designed to struggle. Without adversity, we grow soft mentally and physically. I'm convinced this is why many people turn to exercise. They have an innate need to overcomes painful challenges, and if their life has none, they create them. Whether in or out of the weight room, don't be afraid of pain. If enduring it will achieve something great, embrace it. Not for its own sake, but for yours.
Make Manual Labour PArt of Your Life
If your day job involves a lot of sitting, you might find the idea of hard physical work distasteful. Do some anyway. I earn most of my money at the computer, so I understand the temptation to stay on your padded chair, where the biggest risk is a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome. This isn't good for you physically or mentally. I'm not suggesting you change what you do for a living, but if that living is earned without sweat, you should find something useful to do between shifts that challenges you physically. There's nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment that comes after a productive day of working with your hands. I've never enjoyed this same sense of satisfaction after a day at the computer, no matter how many websites or videos I create. The ability to push through tough physical work is something every man should have, whether or not their livelihood depends on it. Even men who spend their entire careers at a desk will eventually face situations where being physically capable is a big advantage.
This should go without saying, but if you're not doing some form of challenging exercise regularly, you won't be physically normal. Human bodies are designed for exertion. Without it we suffer all sorts of consequences: weak muscles, bad backs, seemingly random aches and pains, and an inability to lift even light objects without pulling something. This is no way to live. Maybe you've convinced yourself you don't have time for exercise. If so, I refer you to this article. Perhaps you know you should be training, but can't muster the motivation to start. Now's the time to change that. Don't wait until you throw a spinal disc lifting a paperclip. Start staving off weakness now. Remember these wise words from Mark Rippetoe in his book Starting Strength: "Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem - it is a thing we must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems."
Seek Out Worthwhile Challenges
Life isn't just about existing. It's about overcoming worthwhile challenges. When I was in high school, I pitied many of peers who seemed to have no idea what they wanted in life. They felt pressured to make a decision, while I couldn't wait to make mine. This unfortunate condition isn't unique to teenagers, either. Far too many adults live what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation", plugging away at their menial jobs, slowly losing hope that life can ever be anything but mundane and repetitive. That's where having a passion can help. If you're not passionate about your work, find a hobby. Something constructive and challenging that you can really throw yourself into. For me, it's building my body and my home. For you it might be learning a foreign language, starting a business or training for your first marathon. Whatever proverbial mountain gets you excited, strap on your alpine boots and start climbing.