• Jeff Black

Mindset - Default Mode: Relentless

Mindset - Default Mode: Relentless

In all honesty, I am struggling to figure out what to say to start this article because mindset and motivation have been ingrained in me from my struggles as a youth. Because of those experiences mindset and motivation have always been present with me. There were three events though that I want to share with you all about what comprises my relentless mindset. I believe this way of thinking allows me to stay the course when motivation might wane for me as it does for others often in their struggles to preserve.


Back in August of 2019, I decided to go back to counseling at the ripe age of 38, almost 39, to work through some other issues I had from business relationships and personal relationships. I was struggling with being understood and relatable to others. I went in with a list of things I had to work through and instead went on a walk in the abyss that was the escape of my mind.

My counselor asked me the first day of counseling what my mindset was like as a way to get to know me. I must have had a smirk on my face because whenever anyone talks about the mindset I always think, “relentless, till the bitter end.” I also visually recall Jocko Willink, author of Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership saying in one of his books, “default mindset aggressive.” As I read that book I smiled while nodding my head in the gentlest of head-bangs in agreement. I read as a way to find wisdom, perspective, and knowledge directly from authors rather than the molested perverted words that far too often end up being spit out by the media or their outlets. It is just my personal preference. Though a lot of things Jocko writes about resonates with me as a competitor and business owner, the book Relentless by Tim Grover took my heart into its bitter grasp and has never let me go.


I remember the first time I read Relentless. I had such an overwhelming experience from the book. Never has a book touched me as much as that book. In perspective, The Old Man and The Sea by my man Ernest Hemingway and The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, who is also my favorite author, stood as my two favorite books at an equal tie till I found Relentless. Both have the common theme of fiction running through their illustrious veins where Grover just hit you in the face with the non-fiction that Relentless is. After reading that book in the summer of 2013, I changed my mindset from more of this melancholy compulsive realm I was walking in to comfort in knowing it was ok to think this way. He talked about one’s dark side that refuses to be good, that it is ok to run the score up on some and win, and that chasing excellence was ok with total detachment from everything else except the outcome. These were just some things I was familiar with. Him discussing these things made me feel less ashamed or guilty because as a child living through the hell I was my mind was fixated on conquering something genetic. It meant I had to detach to pursue and detaching is what I did.


The detachment part hung with me for long times as a relational thing and until recently I had no clue as to why that was, but I later stumbled on it in counseling. I was detached from everything and everyone because when I was born, I was born with both my femurs broken. That meant every time someone changed my diapers they picked me up by my legs to change me. My mom told me I would howl every time for a long time after my diaper was changed. I was always restless as an infant for the first 6 weeks of my life until they found out I had osteogenesis imperfecta. By then my legs had healed but bowed. What that meant was for the first couple of months of my life I was not held or soothed for fear of hurting me more. I am sure after reading that you might be shaking your head thinking complete bullshit, but I could take the time to give you a timeline of my life and the transgressions I made from my early to mid-20s to my early 30s as a showcase of that theme. My ability to be cold and detached is spectacular to those who know me. Worse it hurts those who love me.


I had friends and girlfriends who used to comment on how detached I was. How uncaring or uninvolved or unmoved over anything and everything I always appeared to be. Maybe it was because of all the trauma early on in my life. From the age of 8 to 14, I recovered from a skateboard accident that led to the 10 plus surgeries my legs endured over 6 years for me to walk again. In counseling, I divested that I remember being a fun and outgoing kid who loved people and by the time I went to high school in 1995, I was not that same kid anymore. Nothing excited me, but in the same breath, nothing disappointed me either. I have struggled relating to friends over various issues and partners as well through the years. I really truly and honestly didn’t give too many fucks. I can tell you in my mind that it was not with malice of any kind, I just simply never let myself attach to anyone or anything to care. Though I hate to watch people hurt or inflict the pain of any kind on others, I was causing pain and discomfort with others because of my inability to let people through to me. The walls were built young and they were built sky-high to protect my heart which was broken in my youth.


The genesis started I believe as I discussed in my infant years. My youth then became a story full of setbacks and heartbreak. I remember being in physical therapy after enduring 12 weeks of a bone stretcher machine to stretch my tibia and fibula 1 inch, which had 27 spokes going through my leg for extra support due to my bone disease, Osteogenesis Imperfecta that makes my bones more brittle. Though where my relentless mindset truly manifested itself was when the doctor refused to listen to me as he performed a radical turn on my leg and stretch in his office a few weeks before the machine was removed from my leg. I kept saying that something was off and was ignored. Then my leg snapped, and I was broken. It was also the last time I ever cried or made a sound when in pain. The next breaking of my childhood innocence happened when I took my first step in therapy. After that rage and defying swelled in my heart and soothed my soul. From there life became nothing more than valleys, and lots of deep valleys they were. I battled what I know now to be depression and madness from lack of sleep and constant unrelenting pain. The thoughts I can remember thinking from suicide to complete hostile rage are just wild to me to still comprehend went through my nine-year-old brain. Breaking these memories out of the grave I buried them in was difficult and counseling has been hard, but it has been reflective to me on just how I arrived where I am now.


As you can see, my childhood had a huge impact on me and in all candidness gave me my relentless mindset. There really was no other choice for me. I remember my leg breaking in physical therapy and immediately vowing to walk again only to have my doctor gently pat me on the head as if I was some dog that while it sounded cute, it was highly improbable. The bones in my legs were just too weak. Those moments were the catalyst to my desire to push harder than ever before. I put in 3-hour days Monday through Friday in physical therapy. I remember the first time I was no longer scared to bear weight on my legs in the pool when I was walking, how freeing it felt. I remember the pain of the physical therapists working back range of motion in my joints. I remember fearing the pain before my leg broke in physical therapy at age 9. By 10 my mindset had shifted and I was welcoming pain to now by age 10 after a few surgeries to my tibia and fibula to fix the bones that broke with the first step.

I remember not feeling defeat or resentment when it was uncovered my leg after the few surgeries after the bone stretcher machine that my left leg was still an inch shorter than my right leg. What they did was made my right femur longer than my left femur and my left tibia and fibula longer than my right tibia and fibula. My solution you might ask; to just wear a 1-inch lift inside my left shoe for the rest of my life. It was one step in front of the other thinking. I became totally detached from age 10 on.


I hairline fractured my pelvis my freshman year after being bullied in school. My mom came and picked me up at the gym. I was leg pressing at the time of the accident. I was told the prognosis and given crutches. The whole car ride home I was in my head, profusely reminding myself that my choice would bring pain, but I was intimately familiar with pain and this was a matter of pride and keeping a promise I made to myself. My promise was to walk into school on my first day of high school, which I did. I wanted to be viewed the same. Of course, it did not take long for the other kids to figure out I was limped, was small in build, and short. I did not hide the fact I had my bone disease, so I was given the usual treatment by one’s peers. I did though hate being called crippled.


I hairline fractured my pelvis my freshman year after being bullied in school. My mom came and picked me up at the gym. I was leg pressing at the time of the accident. I was told the prognosis and given crutches. The whole car ride home I was in my head, profusely reminding myself that my choice would bring pain, but I was intimately familiar with pain and this was a matter of pride and keeping a promise I made to myself. My promise was to walk into school my first day of high school, which I did. I wanted to be viewed the same. Of course, it did not take long for the other kids to figure out I was limped, was small in build, and short. I did not hide the fact I had my bone disease, so I was given the usual treatment by one’s peers. I did though hate being called crippled.


Another story involves me squatting when I was 3 and 4 weeks out from a bodybuilding show respectively. On the 7th rep, while squatting on the smith machine, a loud pop ripped through the noisy gym air and was heard over my headphones along with my workout partner’s headphones who I was dating as well. I managed to catch the safeties as I went towards the ground. The hairline fracture happened in my right leg which was the strongest of my two legs due to large part by not having as many surgeries as my left leg had. I laid there and thought for what felt like an eternity, so this is how it ends? I then in my head, of course, said fuck no. I crawled over to the leg press which was right next to the smith machine and tried to see what I could do there. I was met with gripping agony that seared into my soul. I then pulled myself up and proceeded to hop on my left leg over to the step mill where I was dying in agony from jumping my femur that was just cracked was throbbing by now. I then proceeded to jump with just my left leg for the next 60 minutes on the step mill. Each jump still just lashing me with searing pain. My right leg was hitting the machine from just being dead hanging weight. It was painful and far from ideal, but I had to prove to myself I had this, not my bone disease. I went on to place 2nd in both of those shows as well. I even went to work every day not missing one day at all. I went in propped my leg up and coached from a bench. It was another one of those, I need to keep it moving forward kind of moments. Pride is a powerful thing for us individuals.


Another story involves me squatting when I was 3 and 4 weeks out from a bodybuilding show respectively. On the 7th rep, while squatting on the smith machine, a loud pop ripped through the noisy gym air and was heard over my headphones along with my workout partner’s headphones who I was dating as well. I managed to catch the safeties as I went towards the ground. The hairline fracture happened in my right leg which was the strongest of my two legs due to large part by not having as many surgeries as my left leg had. I laid there and thought for what felt like an eternity, so this is how it ends? I then in my head, of course, said fuck no. I crawled over to the leg press which was right next to the smith machine and tried to see what I could do there. I was met with gripping agony that seared into my soul. I then pulled myself up and proceeded to hop on my left leg over to the step mill where I was dying in agony from jumping my femur that was just cracked was throbbing by now. I then proceeded to jump with just my left leg for the next 60 minutes on the step mill. Each jump still just lashing me with searing pain. My right leg was hitting the machine from just being dead hanging weight. It was painful and far from ideal, but I had to prove to myself I had this, not my bone disease. I went on to place 2nd in both of those shows as well. I even went to work every day not missing one day at all. I went in propped my leg up and coached from a bench. It was another one of those, I need to keep it moving forward kind of moments. Pride is a powerful thing for us individuals.


The final cool story bro moment happened recently when I suffered a hairline fractured in my right hip 8 weeks out from my attempt at a pro qualifier in bodybuilding. I still competed. I finished my posing up in the comparisons and when I got off stage, I simply dropped to my knees. I was tired of the pain. I remember thinking I just wanted to rest in peace. That constant state of pain also did not do well for my physique as well. By the end due to the constant pain, my body was inflamed and holding water. I ended up being leaner than my breakout showing in 2017 at a show but just looked different due to the injury. Honestly, in hindsight, I wish I had quit. That injury was unlike any other I have ever had, and it took me months after I competed to rehabilitate and recover from it. This lesson taught me that pride finally became a dangerous thing that others speak of. Sometimes setbacks are not quitting, but rather a reminder that maybe that path might not be the best to walk at that moment.


Though in my mind, up until the hip injury, the moment I suffer a setback, I immediately think of the worst-case scenario and work my plan backward. I mean how else could I have ever done what I have done with bodybuilding and my brittle bone disease. Before each workout, I have to go back in time to that pissed off and vengeful 10-year-old kid. I was wanting revenge against my disease and would stop at nothing to defy it. Admittedly much to the detriment of experiences in my adult years, been a huge focus for me to continue to do.


When my workouts begin I always crank some metal up and begin to get lost. I have to push fear out of my mind. I am handling significant weight and arrive at the conclusion the worst, the absolute worst thing that can happen is my bone breaks and I am under the knife. I mean, what’s one more scar? Sometimes I can feel doubt and fear creep into my mind. I wonder if today is the day that something happens to me while doing all this? I push those thoughts away. I remind myself that I have endured some real twisted stuff, and nothing can be worse than what I have already endured. This mentality gave a helping hand to my detachment in all things life. I do not want to just win; I want to run the score up on you my bone disease as well. That’s where my mind went at age 10. That where it has stayed ever since as well.


I remember all my friends and family along with partners saying this mindset was wrong the few times I ever talked about my relentless mindset. That to me there was nothing better than just straight kicking ass and crushing something that was supposed to kick your ass and crush you. I was met with people telling me that I was not right to think that way. That it wasn’t healthy to even some questioning my working out and dieting so much. I eventually became silenced by the opinions of others who could not fathom a different approach and viewpoint to the pursuit of the peace I needed to feel free.


It wasn’t hard for me to just let go and get lost in my mind, pursuing the things I want, but it left a void in my life that has not allowed me to feel relatable or close to anyone. I am one of those guys that once I set my mind to something it happens. I am really good at visualizing things and how they come to be. I also view my OCD about my habits to be of benefit to me in order to achieve things I see unfolding in my mind. From age 8 on all, I have ever known is the grind. Wake up every day with the pursuit of being better than the day before. With such extreme focus and pursuits come sacrifices, whether knowingly or unknowingly. I have learned in the last few years of my life that they are now things I am sad over but cannot change. The price of peace and pursuit of dominating osteogenesis imperfecta came at a cost.


We live in a world where we judge. I understand nature made it that way for us to always be judging to stay alive, but the judging I received is interesting from a perspective that is dual-sided. People see me and think I am some narcissistic asshole of a meathead. Little do those people know I am still very much the skinny and weak child maybe they once were too. I was picked on and had to work hard to gain any self-esteem for myself. I had to give my heart in so many ways with such focus and pain in return just to experience pride and love of myself.

We all go through things and experiences. What was once a skinny runt is now deemed an intimidating person, but no one knows that the physique they see is nothing more than shields for my bones, but most importantly, my heart. Freedom came through my visualization of wanting to be this bodybuilder I am today. Though as you should see by now, my heart was long ago broken and living free in the moment at the gym is my serenity. I know the true power of a gym which is when you are within its walls, there isn’t a single thing you cannot do if you give it you're all. And that is what chasing excellence with a relentless mindset will get you – a journey in mental therapy, but a heart that cannot be broken.


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