If there is one thing weightlifting has taught me, is that you can always train harder. If theres one thing going to engineering school has taught me, is that you can always study harder. Both have there rewards. you will never know how strong and explosive you are if you don't put in the work. And, you will never know how smart and intelligent you can become by putting in the brain work.
I've found, probably like many people, is that training hard and getting in the zone elicits the same mental states as working intensely with your mind.
I can remember when I first started lifting as a kid, how much I hated squatting. It had nothing to do with the movement or my strength, I hated doing sets of 5. Somehow, even after feeling like I was going to die after the first set, I would manage to do 5 sets of 5. Recently, I took several weeks off while working in Europe this summer. My coach programmed me 5 sets of 10! Day 1 my body was so wobbly, I felt like I lost all function of my nervous system. Day 3, I could do this work out all day long. It was like I had never taken time off. We adapt.
Of course, just being able to physically and pyschologically push yourself through workouts is just one stepping stone of developing your mental toughness. It's not getting to the Zone.
Seemingly, after putting in thousands of hours of training, getting into deep mental focus comes like a snap of the finger. I reach this state without even consciously conjuring it. Time slows down. A set can feel like an hour even if it only lasted less than a minute.
And then , there's the big pay-off. When you are able to get to the untouchable, invincible state. That state that is topped off by reaching the "white moment", during PR lifts, as Yuri Vlasov called it. I can say many times I have hit that invincible state perfectly and alwam or the left the gym or the competition feeling like I could have lifted 20 kilos more. Being able to turn it on every single competition or every single workout is something, without fail, is something I aspire to.
Similarly, I have hit the same states in engineering and in work, even in writing. It seems like, one night as an GA Tech undergrade, magic happened somewhere around 2AM. I was studying for my Jet Pro (Jet propulsion) test, and something happened. Suddenly, I could just write out equations with out even thinking. I could solve problems without consciously thinking. It just flowed out of me. It was something I had never felt before. In some ways it was similar to some of the best national meets I had had, that feeling of being able to do anything in that moment, complete focus. Though the feeling of not having to consciously think about work flowing from my hands was more like playing a musical instrument, than executing a lift. Though it was close.
I've found over the years, probably like many people who both lift and work in fields that require a lot of analysis and "thinking work", that weightlifting would make putting in the workload to study or simply work easy. And studying and working on papers, presentations, analyses would make weightlifting training easy. Its like this beautiful synergistic cycle.
Heavy mental stimulation makes it easier for you to train and to focus. And heavy, physical training loads make it easy to study and work hard in mentally taxxing fields. Both, seem to make you able to reach new levels of workload you never thought possible. It will pay-off in 2 ways: 1. you will be able to accomplish far more in less time than you ever imagined, and 2. you will hit those white moments from time to time.
So, don't be afraid to work hard. Don't fear that you aren't smart enough or athletic enough. All you need to know is that all talents must be developed. And, putting in the work over sustained periods of time will yield you almost magical results.
Because .... There's nothing better than feeling like you are invicible and have wings (Vlasov).
You can hear more on this topic by dowloading the August 2017 episode of the Thrivalist podcast on itunes.