Staying on Top of Your Game is a Pain

Conquering challenges involves pain, and staying on top in sports, school, business, caregiving, or uniformed service invites pain as a regular companion. Like it or not, victory is often decided by the winner’s ability to take the most pain in training, because winners make their competitors suffer the most. As a combat-decorated colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps once said, “The point of stress in combat is to make sure the other guy feels more of it!”

Military and athletic coaches try to “de-sensitize” warriors and athletes during training. We’ve all heard the mantras intended to build pain tolerance:

“Pain is weakness leaving the body!”

“No pain no gain!”

“The more you sweat in training the less you bleed in combat!”

A big reason “hell week” at the Navy’s famous BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) school is so physically and psychologically traumatizing is to give students who complete it the inner knowledge that they can endure an incredible amount of stress. After BUD/S, the new Navy SEALs know they can reliably coach themselves.

Most people will never face a grueling challenge of that magnitude, and getting young elite performers to seriously prep for pain can be its own challenge. According to Dr. Alexander Cohen, Senior Sport Psychologist for the US Olympic Committee, “Many athletes think they have to feel good to perform well. It's important that we help them learn the self-regulation skills that enable them to be consistently excellent even when their legs are burning with lactic acid and it feels like an elephant is sitting on their chest.”

Resistance to preparing for pain comes from mistaken thinking: either the invincibility delusion (“It won’t happen to me!”), or disproportionate concern for what others may think, or both. At some point, top performers come to the realization that emotional self-regulation is key.  Pain triggers fight-or-flight reactions and is often accompanied by powerful emotions like fear, anger or disempowerment. “Athletes who train for resilience can learn to create a more helpful interpretation of pain rather than be distracted by it. This allows them to stay focused on the right things, at the right time, every time,” says Dr. Cohen.

Resilience grows from learning and exercising self-regulation skills that play a key role in handling pain. SRTS teaches resilience skills that develop Heart Coherence, a physiologic phenomenon that can be learned and is effective in both rehab after an injury and in preparing to compete. Heart Coherence self-regulation establishes balance in the nervous system and helps neutralize the negative processes that magnify pain. These are essential skills that prepare athletes, warriors – and anyone who wants a better life – to handle suffering and put pain in its place.