Repeatedly Breaking This Principle Will Make You Mentally Stronger Than Everyone Else

You’re only as strong as your mind.

fit man exercising outside Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

It was a story about Kobe Bryant’s mental strength that I’ll never forget. It goes like this.

The Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers were supposed to play a match at 7 pm. Knowing the importance of the game, Jay Williams from Chicago Bulls decided to get to the court at 3 pm and make 400 made shots before the game.

When he showed up, he saw Kobe on the court, already working out. Jay then started working out too. After working out for an hour and a half, he sat down to unlace his shoes, and of course, he still heard the ball bouncing. Kobe was still working out. When Jay arrived at the court, Kobe looked like he was in a dead sweat. And he was still going after Jay was done.


Baffled, Jay sat down to see how long Kobe was going to work out. After another 25 minutes, Kobe was done. And in the game later, Kobe made 40 points against Chicago Bulls. Jay Williams, curious to understand why Kobe works like that, couldn’t resist talking to Kobe after the game.

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He asked, “Hey, Kobe, why were you in the gym for so long?” Kobe replied, “Cause I saw you come in. And I wanted you to know that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that I’m willing to work harder than you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying I dislike you as a person. You just inspire me to be better.”

Since watching that video, the concept of mental strength has been like a dripping faucet at the back of my mind. Having been excessively mentally fragile at the time, one thing became crystal clear: I needed to work on my mental strength.

Seeing mental strength in a new light 

Before getting into the principle, it’s paramount that you see mental strength in a new light. I don’t really know you, but I do know the fact that you don’t crave what’s comfortable. You don’t dream of being mediocre. You desire extraordinary things in life.

I want an extraordinary life myself. That said, initially, I failed to face the fact that it takes immense mental strength to get there. I didn’t give it as much importance as I should have.


All of us grossly underestimate the importance of mental strength, which is why most of us never bother to work on it. However, you cannot afford to be mentally fragile. As we can all bear witness to this pandemic, we must understand that life is going to mess with us in ways that we cannot even comprehend right now.

We cannot foresee or prevent such instances from happening. In such situations, the person who’s able to shift gears quickly, do what’s needed, and produce output equal to suddenly increased demands will always come out on top.

All of us need to adopt the ‘Build before you have to’ mindset that James Clear talks about in one of his newsletters. He says —

  • Build knowledge before you have to.
  • Build strength before you have to.
  • Build an emergency fund before you have to.
  • Let internal pressure drive you today, so you can handle external pressure tomorrow.

I feel the same way. We must build mental strength before we have to. Because I got news for you — that external pressure is right around the corner, and it will knock us off our paths if we don’t build mental strength today.


So, I urge you to look at building mental strength as a new project for yourself. We’re used to thinking of projects as something external; something tangible. However, building our mindset is the ultimate project that we should all work on. Because as Buddha said: Mind precedes all phenomena, the mind matters most, and everything is mind-made.

Look at this as your new project. Get excited about it. Write it down in your journal. Tell your friends and family or make a declaration on social media. I don’t care what you do as long as you make a big deal about it in your mind.

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The SAID Principle

Having been obsessed with fitness all my adult life, I do a lot of research on exercise physiology. And the SAID principle forms the cornerstone in this field of study. It stands for ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’.


It asserts that whatever challenge you impose on your body long enough, your body will adapt to it. You’ll get better at it. If you do ten pullups every day, your lats (a muscle) will grow and be super-efficient at doing those pull-ups.

However, more importantly, it also implies that after a certain period of time, the challenge will stop being a challenge and become mundane instead. This means that ten pullups won’t stimulate your lats anymore. Either you’d have to increase the weight or the repetitions to keep stimulating them.

This is the essence of another principle in exercise physiology: Progressive Overload. You have to keep doing a little more than you’re used to. Duh! So obvious. But if we sit down to introspect, we’d have to labor to find the last time we challenged our mind.

More often than not, we’re acting out of habit. We’re stuck in our comfort zones. And we like it in there. But if we consciously keep on breaking the SAID principle, our comfort zone will keep growing. And in theory, as it grows bigger and bigger, we’ll end up engulfing all those invisible future troubles into our comfort zones without even realizing. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?


One excellent example of this comes to my mind as I write. Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL, writes in his book Discipline Equals Freedom:

In training, we always attacked the platoons hard on their primary objective, but we always attacked them even harder after they left the main target, once the platoons were patrolling back to base, when their minds had already gone home and “turned off”.

He wanted to train his men out of the tendency to relax. Because they don’t know when the enemies would attack them, they need to be prepared. Similarly, we don’t know when life will attack us, and we need to be ready for that today.

To break the SAID principle, you just have to do what you’re not used to. When you feel you’ve been living out of habit for too long, do something that your mind would hesitate to. Deciding how you do that is where you have a chance to be creative. Some examples would be —


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  • Going for a long run even when you’re not a runner.
  • Waking up at 4 am for a few days.
  • Fasting for an entire day.
  • Having a 10-hour workday instead of the usual 8-hour workday.
  • Going off technology for 24 hours.

Challenge your mind in at least one way every single day. It may be as small as cutting lunch quantity down to 70% or as big as going for a 10-mile run. It’s not about what you do. It’s about telling your mind over and over again that you’re capable of overriding it by doing things it does not want to do.

Also, if you want to keep up with this habit, you must generate accountability. Otherwise, it will get off your mind, and you’ll gradually slip into living by pattern again. A simple way to do that is to write down one way you challenged yourself every day in your journal.


Every time you do this, a little message will go into your brain that says: “I’m capable of outdoing myself”. Sending this message over and over, you will have rewired your subconscious. You’ll stop being a slave to the whims of your reptile brain. You’ll expand your comfort zone to a 50,000-mile radius. And you’ll be unstoppable.

Building mental strength is an absolute necessity

It’s essential to live a remarkable life. It’s paramount to be able to deal with adversities. However, many of us have assumed a very passive position in building mental strength. The only way our mental strength is tested and stimulated is when life challenges us. And many of us don’t face many organic challenges, which is why our mental strength has been lagging.

We need to adopt a ‘build before you have to’ mindset towards mental strength. We need to consciously dedicate time and energy, and see building mental strength as an essential life project. In doing so, we assume active control over our minds. And only then can we stimulate change.

The SAID principle of exercise states that your body specifically adapts to imposed demands. And the same is true for our minds. To keep developing mental strength, we must keep going against the habit pattern. We must find various ways of pushing our brains a little out of their comfort zones.


In short, challenge your brain every single day and write about it somewhere. Doing that will send a message to your mind that you hold the power to outdo yourself. An upward spiral will eventually take place, and you’ll have developed for yourself chiseled sets of mental six-packs.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.