Searching for Strength in All the Wrong Places
by Gregg Krech
If you were training for a major event – a physically challenging event, like a marathon or a bike ride across the country – what would you do to train?
Would you spend a lot of time on Facebook? Would you eat pastries and drink alcohol every night? Would you take addictive drugs? Would you smoke as many cigarettes as possible?
Of course not.
These kinds of habitual practices would weaken you rather than strengthen you. It would be foolish to do these things and then expect that you could handle the stressful challenges that you would encounter.
Yet we do this kind of thing all the time. Most of us live in a world of stressful challenges. Those challenges can be physical, but primarily they are psychological and spiritual. There is a baseline of stress and then periodically it is punctuated by a crisis or unexpected challenge: a relationship breakup, the death of a loved one, a serious medical diagnosis, a crisis at work, etc.
“When it comes down to it we all have these habits.
We look to things outside of ourselves.
We look for strength in what weakens us.”
– Pema Chodron
These are the times when we need to cultivate strength. But too often we simply find ways to escape from our challenges through food, social media, television, alcohol, drugs, and late nights with little sleep. We may find some temporary relief in these activities, but they weaken us. They actually reduce our capacity to cope with the challenges life has placed on our path.
When life is testing us we need to rise to the occasion and to do this we need to cultivate our strength. How do we do that?
- Spiritually — we can ground ourselves in a daily practice of meditation and/or prayer supplemented by spiritual reading.
- Physically — we can strengthen our bodies through physical activity (exercise) and eating food that supports health and energy (diet).
- Psychologically — we can devote ourselves to cultivating mental health skills that help us cope with our challenges. The four key skills are:
- Acceptance (particularly of what we can’t control)
- Attention (mindfulness, and also learning to work with attentional direction and focus)
- Coexistence with Unpleasant Feelings (taking action while experiencing anxiety or discomfort)
- Self-reflection (quiet reflection on what we have been given and our impact on the world around us)
These four skills can be cultivated in the same way we can learn to play the piano or play tennis. And each one is also related to spiritual values such as gratitude, faith, compassionate action and empathy.
Once we realize that we have been searching for strength in all the wrong places, we can begin the transition of cultivating genuine strength by looking in the right places. The cultivation of this strength is not just related to our own personal welfare. It allows us to have a presence in the world that impacts on our friends, families and communities as well.
Gregg Krech has been teaching Japanese Psychology for more than 30 years and is the author of five books about Japanese Psychology, including The Art of Taking Action.