Getting hit by a truck to be left fighting for your life would have been enough for most people to throw in the towel. But for coach, motivational speaker and endurance athlete, Marcus Smith, it was the catalyst he needed to create a whole new life.
Just nine months post-accident, Marcus committed to running 30 marathons in 30 days, which he completed in 2020. Since then, the former professional rugby player has taken on some of the world’s toughest fitness challenges, including running the Marathon Des Sables – a 250km run across the Sahara – and accomplishing a triple ascent of Mont Ventoux, which is the Tour De France’s hardest climb.
The secret to each of these amazing feats? Resilience.
Marcus’ definition of resilience
Resilience. Mental toughness. Grit. For Marcus, the theory may be slightly different, but the result is one and the same: an ability to persevere in the face of adversity: ‘For me, resilience is the ability – physically, mentally and emotionally – to keep going; to pursue your goals, no matter what gets in your way.’
Far from a genetic predisposition, Marcus believes that your ability to push through mental or emotional stress comes down to how your subconscious is wired. Through his peak-performance health and fitness business, Dubai’s InnerFight, Marcus says he has seen first-hand how mental toughness can be coached, improved and developed. All it takes is a willing participant and an experienced coach with the education and passion needed to execute change.
‘As long as I can understand why someone behaves in the way they behave and understand what is happening in their subconscious mind that forces them to behave in that way; and if they let me change the environment that they’re in and let me reprogram their subconscious, I can make them mentally tougher,’ says Marcus.
‘When we are talking about resilience, what we are really talking about is building, establishing and then executing an operating system.’
How to become mentally tough
So how can you train your brain to better persevere when life doesn’t go according to plan?
Here’s four ways you can rewire your mind and build resilience:
1. Change your environment
Much of your behaviour and subconscious thoughts can be traced back to your past experiences and environments. Which explains why organisations such as the army have been able to develop resilience so well in their high-level soldiers, says Marcus. Everything from the food they eat and how much sleep they get, to the people they surround themselves with is controlled.
‘I believe that we came from the earth and modern society is actually pushing us away from our natural habitat. So much of our behaviour is programmed in our self-conscious from things that have happened in our life and have now become normal,’ explains Marcus.
Auditing your environment – including the food in your pantry, the apps you use, the social media accounts you follow, the podcasts you listen to and the books you read – can go a long way to changing how you think and behave.
‘I’ll often sit with individuals and go through their Instagram feed, and ask them one by one: how does that person make you feel? What does that content bring to your life?,’ says Marcus.
‘If they don’t make you feel good or teach you something, unfollow them.’
2. Upend your perspective
Are you looking for a reason to quit instead of a reason to keep going? For Marcus, gaining perspective is vital.
The first steps? Realising challenges are going to happen and to stop looking for the easy way out.
‘We all know life isn’t linear, so why are we always expecting it to be? We need to have self-awareness, and realise that ups and downs in life are going to happen – but if you’re resilient, you’ll run straight through them,’ says Marcus.
‘You can’t run through brick walls 24/7, but many people are too soft and giving up too easily. It’s about looking at life and going ‘yes, I can do that’, rather than looking for excuses to stop – because if you look for excuses, you’ll find them.’
3. Understand the difference between motivation and discipline
As a person who trained to run hundreds of kilometres in a month, you’d think constant motivation was hardwired. But Marcus says this is far from the truth. To build mental toughness and to persevere requires both motivation and discipline, he says. Crafting a life and goal you are passionate about can help you jump out of bed with vigour most mornings. But it’s discipline that get you through the days your enthusiasm wanes.
‘Do I wake up every morning and do a backflip out of bed and feel amazing and really want to get it? No, I don’t. But most days, I do, because I’m doing things that I love doing – I’ve made my life what I love, and I’ve made a number of sacrifices to get it there,’ he says.
And on the days you don’t feel as excited about your life? A plan is key.
‘It’s about having the discipline to sit down on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and map out your next week or even the week after. A lot of people are just too scared to do that,’ says Marcus.
4. Stop searching for a silver bullet
Humans are hardwired to seek a single, simple solution that will make them resilient. But, for Marcus, mental toughness, motivation and discipline require ongoing learning.
Whether you are reading a book, listening to a podcast, or studying on the job, avoid overwhelm by taking away one or two lessons that truly resonate. Then, apply them.
‘If you believe that a motivational book will motivate you to do backflips out of bed every day, you are delusional. The human body and central nervous system isn’t structured like that, and I think that’s where people actually lose a lot of motivation; they read a book and get fired up, and then a few weeks later it’s not what they thought it would be,’ says Marcus.
‘Don’t pick up a book and expect to get 250 pages of gospel. Instead, be happy to read a book and get one bit of absolute gold.’
The WarriorU podcast recently sat down with Marcus to talk all things resilience, coaching, training and leadership. Listen to the full podcast with Marcus Smith.
Are you a business or individual who has been inspired by Marcus, and is ready to take your leadership to the next level? Find out how Hindsight Leadership’s workshops and training programs can help you get the most from your teams.