You may think you are strong, or that you have willpower. But do you, really?
A few years back, I remember watching a bunch of old Survivor episodes. I would download them off iTunes, eventually watching all the old seasons. I remember thinking, like many viewers probably, “I could totally do that.”
During this time, I could not do 10 push-ups in a row, nor even do one single pull-up. I had difficulty even focusing my will enough to work on a single work day. I definitely wasn’t fasting once a week like I am now, nevermind being stuck on an island with little food for 39 days.
Still, I thought I was strong. I was sure of it. Though now I realize what was probably obvious to everyone. I thought I was strong… but I never tested myself.
I was like the kid in school who says “Oh yeah, I could totally [get that girl/climb that tree/ace that test]. I just don’t want to.” The kid we know is total bullshit. The kid we think is a joke.
Don’t think that’s you? How would you know?
The answer is, you wouldn’t. Our minds keep our self-esteem at a decent level whatever our personal situations. If you were paralyzed in a hospital bed, you would base your self esteem on something else than your body. You would have to– as I was before I could lift my own bodyweight. The same could apply to you being smart but not working hard. You’d base your self-esteem on your intelligence.
It’s not that we need to stop ourselves from doing this. Nobody wants to be weak. But it’s like basing all your self-worth in your work– it’s an unstable confidence that is easily toppled and leaves you vulnerable. Are you like this?
I have a suggestion for you instead.
Look yourself in the face, and make your confidence broad.
I’ve told you one story, but I could’ve told you any number of them. I used to be really selfish, for example. I used to steal. Still, I made excuses for myself and thought I was great. I’m ok laughing at this now, because I know what things were really like. Ask my oldest friends, and they’ll tell you.
A few years ago, I started to derive my self-esteem from my ability to grow. I always believe that tomorrow will be better than today, and I’m working today to make that happen.
You’re probably wondering when I’m going to deliver on the promise in the title– how it is you should test your strength, to see if you really are strong. Well, the answer is easy.
What it takes is putting yourself in situations, and testing yourself in ways that are just at the edge of your reach. Not too easy (because that’s boring), and not too hard (because that’s discouraging). Find that sweet spot, over and over again, in every domain. Have people challenge you on it. Essentially, look at yourself from the outside in, and test yourself as if you were someone else.
This is particularly valuable if you learn new skills, specifically in areas you used to think were difficult or impossible. This gives you proof that what was beyond your reach can be made possible with enough work. It tests, and proves, your ability to grow, and shows you that tomorrow really can be better than today.
The thing is, tomorrow will only be better if you work, if you strive today to make it happen today. Like Benjamin Franklin, who rated himself every day on his thirteen virtues. You have to be prepared to look at yourself straight on.
If you don’t do this, tomorrow will be the same. That is why you need to test your strength, and your intelligence, your drive and your compassion. If all of them are exercised, all of them will grow.
I’m guessing you probably have your own ways to do this. I’d love to hear them. Email me, or leave a comment. I want to know. I have a feeling I could learn something.