By Dan Stanton
Guides who take clients on tough hunts for animals like bighorn sheep and mountain goats tell me that mental toughness most often separates successful clients from unsuccessful. As a fitness professional and avid bowhunter, I know every bowhunter can do things to increase the capacity to deal with uncertainties in the field. Without question, physical fitness contributes to mental toughness. That's right, fitness training leads to personal discipline and enhances your ability to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable -- the building blocks for mental toughness in the field.
The art of discipline really boils down to priorities and execution -- figuring out what really matters to you and paying the price to achieve it.
For me, the priority is that big herd bull bugling at his harem in late September. But how do I achieve that priority? That bull lives above 5,000 feet for most of the year. He survives harsh winters, predators, and many other obstacles, and he daily climbs up and down ridges just to get food and water. In contrast, I live at 2,000 feet, buy my groceries at a store, drive to and from work, and don't have to look over my shoulder for predators.
The differences in our lifestyles make execution of my priority a tough challenge, and I get an edge over the elk only through a disciplined lifestyle. I sacrifice sleep to get to the gym early, prepare my meals in advance versus pulling up to the drive-thru, schedule workouts in my daily planner, train with a workout partner for accountability, and say no to overindulgence. Making small sacrifices each day, minimizing shortcuts, and taking the high road fosters an edge for the woods.
Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
I'm sorry, but cookie cutter elliptical training won't test your limits.
When training, intensity should be the number one goal, and it's not measured just by heart rate or the amount of sweat you generate, but how much work you accomplish in the least amount of time. Workouts need to be monitored with a stopwatch so you're competing against the clock. This approach might leave you lying on the ground in a puddle of sweat with your muscles screaming and lactic acid flowing, but that's okay.
These come as the result of a maximum effort and pressing on when your body begs for mercy.
Workouts like this not only sear away calories and fat, they also adapt your mind to uncomfortable situations. After all, uncomfortable happens all the time in bowhunting: You hike straight uphill for two hours before daylight, sit in a rigid treestand from dawn to dusk, fight fatigue after 10 straight days of huntingâ€¦ You get the picture. And when you're there, you'll be thankful you've trained for it.
You also can enhance mental potency through daily lifestyle. Do you look for the high road? Do you challenge your mental capacity every day by doing things you don't want to do? I call this mental conditioning. It leaves no room for selfishness, compromise, or distraction. It builds a mindset that forms the bedrock for success in tough times. So test yourself constantly with adversity to build mental toughness. It will carry over into everything you do, including bowhunting.
Mental skills, like physical skills, need constant practice. Go get a 3x5 note card and a pencil. On one side of your card list your personal keys to success; on the other, list performance keys to success. Keep this card handy and study it often. It will serve as a friendly reminder of the mental cues needed for success. I'll use my personal note card for example:
Personal Keys to Success
- Work Ethic
- Perfect Practice
Performance Keys to Success
- Belief In Myself
- Top Tier Focus
I write these things as a student, not a teacher. I still have enormous room for growth in this department, but I am constantly seeking more truth and honing my mental game with success as the common denominator. Elevate your bowhunting game by continued mental conditioning.