Let me tell you a little secret. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes life is not fair, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. A lot of times you’ll be pissed off, upset, angry or just plain old sad.
Sometimes life will beat you down. It will feel like the entire weight of the world is on your shoulders, and you are failing to hold it up. Sometimes you feel weak and powerless against the full force of life and all its negative aspects.
The key to living a healthy life is not preventing these disasters or feelings. It is learning how to prepare for them, and in turn, properly deal with them
The inner citadel is a term used by the Stoics to describe one’s inner strength. It is built over time, and once complete it stands rock solid against the tests of life. Marcus Aurelius described it as “the fortress inside us that no external adversity can ever break down.”
None of us are born with this citadel intact, none of us are born with a steel backbone. These are things that must be constructed from the ground up. We must actively reinforce it during good times so that it will protect it during bad times. You can't build a house during a hurricane.
The foundation of your inner citadel will be laid over weakness. It’s important to be honest and identify your weaknesses.
When I first got sober I felt spiritually weak and physically weak. I had spent years giving in to shallow temptation looking for a momentary escape. I had let both my body and mind atrophy.
It was in this time that I decided to rebuild my body. My theory was that by gaining physical strength I would develop the necessary tools to develop mental strength. By purposely putting my body through adversity I would prepare my mind for future hardship.
By constantly struggling and failing in the weight room I would force my mind to adapt to these circumstances. It would develop the strength needed to deal with bad times when they inevitably came. I would no longer be searching for momentary escape- I would be thriving in adversity.
I attacked my weakness. I realized that the way I was was not the way I had to be. We can be rebuilt if we are willing to rebuild ourselves. We can become stronger, better and more prepared to deal with anything life may put in our path.
To overcome obstacles and adversity you must actively practice. Just like mastering the piano, overcoming life’s difficulties is a skill that is not inherent but can be learned.
I reinforce my citadel every morning. At the end of my shower I turn the water as cold as it can go, regardless of the temperature outside. I let the frigid water hit my body and force myself to stay still for 30 seconds. I tell myself “if I can handle this, I can handle anything today.” It is the perfect reminder that mental toughness is the stone upon which all positive traits are built.
Building your inner citadel starts with one stone. You only have to conquer one weakness. You need to realize that your weaknesses are not permanent, anything can be overturned. You have to make the choice to put in the work to overturn them.
We cannot dull life’s teeth, but we can prepare ourselves to heal the bite. You will be alone, you will be sad, you will fail at things. You need to be ready for when these things happen, because they certainly will.
Your inner citadel will become your armor. It will not prevent bad things from happening to you, but it will dull the blow.
You are not capable of changing the world. You are not capable of putting a saddle on life and commanding it to chart a path you deem fit. The only strategy you can take is to toughen yourself. Whether you feel weak or strong, you should always be aiming to toughen yourself. Life is unpredictable and we must always prepare for adversity and obstacles.
When life throws a punch would you rather be just another victim knocked out by circumstance and bad fortune? Or would you rather be left standing in the ring, bloody and bruised but unbowed? Strong enough to withstand the beating and look life in the eyes, only to tell it "You never knocked me down".