Training Will & Reason To Control Instinct
Race results, future kids and Plato's depiction of the Soul
My Instinct Was To Push Back
I used to enjoy conflict.
For the first 26 years of my life, any time I received criticism, my instinct was to get defensive, react and push back.
My home life as a child was extremely confrontational and I blindly developed the habit of seeking it out.
If a friend disagreed with me, I’d whip a one-liner back at them.
If my wife asked me to be more mindful of my mess around the house, I’d snap back at her.
If a coworker said something contrary to my way of thinking, I’d dismiss them and let them know it.
And yet I couldn’t figure out why I was always so stressed out…
Plato’s Depiction Of The Soul
According to Plato, the Soul is comprised of 3 parts: Will, Instinct and Reason
The Allegory of the Chariot depicts the 3 part balancing act happening within the human Soul.
Will is the charioteer and responsible for steering the chariot in the right direction.
Instinct is the black horse. It’s bucking violently, often operating without thought and 2-3x as powerful as the horse by it’s side.
Reason is the white horse. It’s strong and reliable, but unable to overcompensate for Instinct’s chaos by itself.
If we want to live a good life, we must train Will and Reason to control Instinct.
Endurance Trains The Soul
Endurance training puts the mind and body in situations where Instinct tries to buck and lash out.
Long, steady rides are the perfect example.
The mind gets bored, looks for distraction and suggests impulsive reactions (Instinct) to…
get out of aero
end the session early
turn around and go home
… or do anything else that differs from what we set out to do (Reason).
The same thing happens on runs and swims too. The modern mind doesn’t know what to do with the monotony of endurance training (at first).
But with time, patience and reps, we get better at using Will and Reason to pin Instinct into submission.
Will & Reason On Race Day
My athlete, Dylan Spina, took on his first 100k in the spring of 2022.
At mile 38 of the 62 mile race, he struggled to take in fuel or water and the rest of his race went into extreme doubt.
It was 95+ degrees out and Instinct told him to quit.
“You tried your best. You’re physically at risk. It’s out of your control.”
D sat at an Aid Station and considered his options:
Step toward the Race Director and hand in his bib
Step toward the next Aid Station and stay in the fight
He chose the next Aid Station.
7 hours later, he crossed the finish line of his first 100k.
When I chatted with D after the race, he said he thought of his future kids.
That’s what helped him find the strength to choose Will and Reason. And an example of the personal depths we must go to bring out our best.
His other comment post-race?
“After finishing that race, I feel absolutely 100% limitless.”
I had a similar experience at Ironman Florida this past November.
I was through mile 13 of the run and having the race of my life.
Then my stomach flipped, I hit back to back port-a-johns and my entire race went into doubt.
I felt my body breaking down, my heart rate had crashed and Instinct told me to give up and take it easy for the final 13 miles.
“You tried hard. You did the best you could. It’s out of your control.”
All these thoughts swarmed in my head as I considered giving in.
Then I saw my pregnant wife and thought about our baby on the way.
My thoughts shifted to: “What kind of dad do you want to be? What type of example are you going to set?”
I also thought of all 7 of my athletes battling out on the course with me.
What happened? My Will kicked in. So did Reason.
And I decided to start pushing again.
What happened over the next 90+ minutes defied all prior beliefs I had of myself.
I negative split the marathon and set a new Ironman PR.
Lunatics In Public
The race stuff is sweet and brings out significant meaning in life.
But none of it matters if these practices aren’t translated to everyday living.
This past summer, I was on a walk with my dog Jameson on a trail near our house.
Jameson was off-leash (as always) and we came up on a lady walking in our direction.
Without hesitation, she started screaming at me about Jameson being off-leash.
No “hey, by the way..”
No “hi, do you mind..”
No “oh, in case you didn’t know..”
She went from 0-100 in a second and presented a situation that the old me would have jumped on.
The old me would have lashed back, delivered a one-liner, told her off or done something else to escalate the potential conflict.
Instead, what did I do?
I pretended she didn’t exist. I didn’t even acknowledge her. We just kept walking.
I kept my cool, maintained my peace and went on with my day.
I have at least 5 other experiences exactly like this over the past 2 years.
Endurance training lets us practice taming Instinct.
It gives us reps training Will and Reason, in tandem. It strengthens their influence on who we are and how we act.
The combination of physical and mental stress in training is our opportunity to develop new automatic behavior.
Too many of us never question our Instinct and are stuck defending, reacting and creating more stress in life.
All because we never give ourselves the chance to change.
If we want more peace, we must learn to endure.