54 : What is Toughness? Bill Anthes, Green Beret, Founder of Between the Ears

Bill Anthes is a Green Beret, Co-Owner of CrossFit Motown, a 2015 inductee into Montclair State University's Athletics Hall of Fame for his superior performance on the soccer field, and Founder of "Between the Ears."  The name Between the Ears draws it's inspiration from a quote stated by CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman, when he said "the greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears."  That adaptation being mental toughness and specifically referring to the power of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.  We talk a lot about the athlete transition on this podcast which is often compared to a soldiers shift back to civilian life. The creation of Between the Ears has been a part of Bill's difficult transition to civilian life (which we discuss in the interview) and it is intended to provide voluntary opportunities for people to put themselves in controlled, yet uncomfortable situations that foster personal growth as a team.  I have always prided myself on being mentally tough, so you could say I was pretty confident going into my first Between the Ears (004) Evolution.  From now through the remainder of this post, I will refer the Between the Ears as "BTE."

Evolution - any process of formation or growth; development. You can find the word "Evolution" written 64 times in the BTE waiver.  As most people do, I didn't actually read the waiver before I signed my life away so I missed all the signs that foreshadowed the most important personal transformation I have ever experienced.  Although most BTE evolutions are unique from one another, I will not reveal the specifics of BTE 004 to maintain its purity for future classes. Bill and I discuss the power of going into something completely blind of what lies ahead. However, I will say that if you are proud of your Tough Mudder headband collection or your Spartan Race medals, the feeling of accomplishment I felt after doing BTE 004 made everything else I'd done before that pale in comparison.  And guess what? I quit. I cried.  I tapped out. I didn't even finish.

I thought long and hard after making the decision to pull myself out of the BTE 004 Evolution and honestly it was the best learning experience I've ever encountered.  Below are my thoughts on my personal evolution, which I sent to Bill after taking a few days to soak-in my thoughts and emotions (READ CAPTIONS): 

Hi Bill,

Honestly, I haven't been able to stop thinking about last weekend.  The poem, the idea of engaging aggressively in its relation to "toughness", the added weight of the extra baggage we carry around with us, and obviously my decision to pull myself out of the evolution. When I was reading this email on Monday I had to fight back the tears once again (I obviously don't win this fight often). Although I am a crier, I have never been so powerfully impacted by an experience like I was by Between The Ears 004.

The idea of toughness has been something that I have been obsessed with for most of my life.  I always wanted people to think I was "tough."  Toughness to me used to mean playing injured, lifting the heaviest weight, hitting home runs and scoring touchdowns.  Despite my effort to prove this definition of toughness, I felt I was never tough enough.  In the process I played an entire week's worth of football with a bleeding brain and nearly killed myself.  I tried to be tough to an extent that almost killed me and I still felt that my efforts weren't enough. Therefore I continued to push myself to extreme limits for what is now 9 years striving to be what I thought was "tough." It took awhile, but my knee was eventually impacted by this mindset as well. The same knee that was begging me not to take another step, when my brain was telling it "you're a sissy."

"In my experience, we rarely learn the deepest and most powerful lessons by examining the surface. We need to go to the deepest depths, not to find the answers, but to ask the questions. The answers, as we find out, are not always what we may want them to be. At the surface, potentially we answer these questions completely opposite of what the true answer really is." -Bill Anthes

"In my experience, we rarely learn the deepest and most powerful lessons by examining the surface. We need to go to the deepest depths, not to find the answers, but to ask the questions. The answers, as we find out, are not always what we may want them to be. At the surface, potentially we answer these questions completely opposite of what the true answer really is."

-Bill Anthes

I have been asking myself a lot of questions in reflecting about the decisions I made during the evolution.  It was seriously a life-changing experience for me.  Going into this you told us to think about our "why."  My why was to prove that although my body can't do what it used to or what I want it to do athletically (because of my knee), I still have the same mind and determination that I have always had. Looking back on it now, that why is exactly what has destroyed my body and tormented my self-worth for as long as I can remember. At the surface, I really did answer my question completely opposite to what the true answer turned out to be or what I wanted it to be.

"When we strip away the armor, the muscle, the ego, the defenses and are left exposed, we do not always love what we see...and that is ok. The 'toughness' piece is deciding to engage. Committing to the first step towards improving and taking it, aggressively. This is a decision that you can make, because you always have a choice, no matter what". - Bill Anthes

"When we strip away the armor, the muscle, the ego, the defenses and are left exposed, we do not always love what we see...and that is ok. The 'toughness' piece is deciding to engage. Committing to the first step towards improving and taking it, aggressively. This is a decision that you can make, because you always have a choice, no matter what".

- Bill Anthes

 I'll never forget when you had us stop and you told us that we were getting lazy with our movements and were just going through the motions feeling bad for ourselves. I took that to heart because I did find myself just trying to "survive" (can't think of a better word) out there. That's not tough. Anyone can do that and most people do. Like you said when we first began, toughness is deciding to engage, committing to the first step toward improving and taking it AGGRESSIVELY and we always have that choice. Toughness wasn't playing with a separated shoulder or concussion. Toughness was deciding to make my commitment to the football team and taking every step and every rep aggressively and with a purpose.  I was and I am tough.   The best thing about toughness is that we are in control.  I can't thank you enough for providing me with an experience to evolve. 

I'm not sure what was harder, coming up to you and trying to get the words out that I couldn't go any further or seeing everyone as they finally arrived at the end. The old thoughts of doubt in myself started creeping in. Did I really earn this patch? Coin? Backpack? Breakfast sandwich? Or did I cop out by not sticking with the group. I wasn't the only one who was feeling like shit. Did I take the easy way out by having K (Bill's wife) pick me up, so I didn't have to watch the group do the work I should've be doing? Honestly, for the first time I don't think so. My knee was hurting worse than ever before and I actually listened to what my body was telling me. Was it the answer or the outcome I wanted? Not even close. Was it the best lesson I ever learned. 100%. No one looked at me differently or down to me because I didn't finish with the group. That's because toughness is the decision to engage and taking every step toward improving aggressively. I literally couldn't take an aggressive step. 

Sincerely, 

Kevin

BTE Class 004

BTE Class 004

Choosing to continue on the journey with a bum knee would not have been making an aggressive step towards improving. I have already proven I can do that, time and time again.  I've also proved those decisions have never led to anything positive, I just didn't want to believe it.  My hope is that this episode shows athletes that playing injured isn't tough.  It doesn't lead to the glory, the girls or the accolades that Hollywood and ESPN portrays it to be.  YOU control if you are tough or not.  Did you dog-it on the play to the other side of the field?  Did you slow down before the finish line on that sprint? Did you put your head down after the opposing team ran the kickoff back for 6? If the answer is no, then you ARE tough and no coach, teacher, parent, teammate, classmate or anyone can take that away from you.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND BILL?

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | EMAIL : bill@btwntheears.com

Download Episode 54 : iTunes | Stitcher