Spartan isn’t just a race. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle. Becoming a Spartan is both a challenge and a rite of passage that involves enormous amounts of grit, perseverance, and determination—on and off the course. Gritty. Resilient. Passionate. Spartans aren’t soft. They overcome obstacles. And yes, Spartans burpee.
Here are nine useful ways you can start living like a Spartan and begin reaping the physical and mental rewards of greatness.
Spartan Boot Camp: Learn the Basics
1. Do hard things
You won’t remember the easy times. Tough times define you and create your story. And the more difficult your challenges, the more interesting your story.
2. Life is a class—don’t skip
Your attitude, not your aptitude, decides your altitude. If you want to reach the peaks, decide right now to become a lifetime learner. Every day, learn something new that’s useful. You do that by trying new things, especially the stuff you’re afraid to do. Learn by doing hard things. Take the long route, the road less traveled. Read everything you can, especially biographies and history. Learn from others. Seek to understand them through empathy. And above all, strive to know yourself.
The journalist Sydney J. Harris said: “90 percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.”
Don’t allow that to happen.
Related: Find Your Next Spartan Race
3. Decide who you want to be
That’s right—you get to decide, especially when it gets down to overcoming adversity! But change is hard. You have to put in the work to recognize your purpose in life, your True North. “Your True North is a fixed point set by your deeply held beliefs and values,” writes Spartan founder Joe De Sena, in The Spartan Way. “Align with it and your True North will act as a high-speed train pulling you through life.”
Not only will you accomplish more than 95 percent of the people on the planet, but having a well-defined purpose to your life will likely help you live longer. One study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center that followed 6,000 people over the course of 14 years found that those who lived lives of purpose were 15 percent less likely to die than those who were aimless. The protective effect of having a strong life purpose may also extend to brain function. Another study conducted by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago of nearly 1,000 people without dementia found that people who expressed a greater sense of purpose were 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and were much less likely to develop any cognitive problems.
A Spartan paves his or her own way.
4. Embrace discomfort
If you’re not tired, you’re sleeping too much. If you’re not hungry, you’re eating too much.
“Life in the First World has become too easy,” said De Sena. “It’s hard to be happy when you have ‘easy’ in abundance. You appreciate nothing.”
Growth and fulfillment come when you embrace discomfort and adversity and struggle to overcome the tough stuff. Look for opportunities to make life more challenging. Create adversity. At Spartan Headquarters in Boston, you’ll find hand weights at the bottom of each staircase. Employees are encouraged to carry them whenever they go up and down. Why? To make life more challenging—and to build more exercise into the workday. Ancient Spartans didn’t have to try to make life hard, it just was. But we do.
There’s another benefit to embracing discomfort: It’s invigorating. “The human mind was built to deal with adversity by having a physical reaction to it,” said De Sena. “You see a lion, you run. One reason the Spartan race is so popular is because we’re looking for that physical excitement in our lives because we don’t have lions and tigers chasing us anymore.”
5. Don’t delude yourself
Success doesn’t come naturally. If something is easy, you’re not as good at it as you think you are. So, wake up and realize that you can do better. Two things separate average and extraordinary people: sweat and tears. Stop procrastinating and start sweating. Stephen King once said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Get to work, Spartan.
6. Wake up early
Why? It’s so simple and it gives you a daily edge over 99.9 percent of your competitors.
In a study at the University of London, researchers surveyed over 1,000 people about their sleep habits, physical and mental health, diet, exercise, and level of happiness. The study found that people who rise early in the morning tend to have lower body mass indexes than people who sleep in; they also report being healthier and happier.
- Getting up earlier gives you more time to make breakfast (breakfast eaters tend to be healthier and thinner than non-breakfast eaters, according to many studies), and more time to squeeze in a workout before work.
- A study in a recent issue of the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research demonstrated an association between waking later in the morning and shorter sleep duration, and higher levels of negative thinking and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Rise earlier and be more optimistic.
- Research by biologists at Harvard University says that while night owls tend to be more creative, morning larks are more productive. Their study found that early risers are more confident, better problem solvers, they spend more time setting long-term goals for themselves, and they procrastinate less.
How? To get up earlier, you need to establish a regular sleep schedule. So, start going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night and get up at the same time each morning. To make it easier to fall asleep do the following:
- Exercise during the day. It’ll increase the quality of your sleep by boosting the production of serotonin in the brain and decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Make your bedroom as dark as you can.
- Turn down the heat. Setting your thermostat to a cool temperature, say 60 to 65°F could help because your core temperature cools as you fall asleep.
- Wear socks on your feet. It’ll help your body get into sleep mode.
Try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Studies suggest that quality slumber improves immune system function, reduces cravings for carbohydrates, and boosts metabolism. Get to sleep, Spartan!
6. Eat healthily
You are what you eat. If you eat crap, you’ll look, feel, and perform like crap. If you want to look healthy, feel strong, and perform like a Spartan, focus on your body’s fuel. Build the best nutrition into every meal. A few ways to start:
- Eat eggs for breakfast. A study in Nutrition Research found that people who ate an egg-based breakfast consumed a lot less calories the rest of the day, compared with people who ate a bagel breakfast of equal calories.
- Sneak more vegetables into your day. Toss a handful of spinach into a blender; add almond milk, frozen berries, rolled oats, flaxseeds, and a scoop of whey protein powder. Blend for one minute. You won’t even notice the spinach.
- Eat more fiber. Few of us get enough. Fiber slows the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, keeping hunger at bay. Foods high in dietary fiber include fruits and vegetables (eat the skins), beans, lentils, chickpeas, steel-cut oats, and whole-grain bread.
- Fuel muscle repair with protein. A study in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism found that people who doubled the recommended daily amount of protein (about 112 grams for men and 92 grams for women) improved their ability to build and maintain muscle and boosted their metabolisms.
- Snack better. Toss the chips. Snack on popcorn. It contains 15 times the disease-fighting nutrients of tortilla chips. Snack on walnuts, too. They are high in healthy plant-based fats. Eating a half-cup of walnut halves every day can improve blood vessel function, according to Yale researchers.
8. Train daily
This is non-negotiable. It’s not what you do; it’s who you are. For those times, when you feel you have no time, at least do this:
- 10 arm circles clockwise, 10 arm circles counterclockwise
- 20 bodyweight squats with your arms reaching toward the sky
- 15 push-ups
- 10 lunges, right leg forward,10 lunges, left leg forward
- 30 burpees
It’ll take you less than 5 minutes. Have a little more time? Do it again. You’ll feel so much better than if you did no exercise that day.
Related: 5 Best Stretches for Spartan
9. Become harder to kill
In other words, get gritty. Grit is elusive. It is something you have to work on all your life. Therefore, it’s the hardest Spartan trait to build and one of the most powerful. When you face failure after failure and you crawl into a hole to lick your wounds, grit is the tenacity that forces you to crawl back out for more.