The Holy Trinity of Holistic Training

Whatever your program looks like, you’re never training parts of yourself in isolation.

Ever feel overwhelmed by all the details that go into your training? Not just the ones you’re already paying attention to, but all the “Top 5,” Top 10,” and “Top 10,000” things you should be doing, but probably aren’t? The marketplace of ideas, especially about fitness, has never been as vast as it is today, and it’s never been easier to get overwhelmed by details, information overload, and option paralysis. Details are important, but if you don’t have a central, unified vision for your training, all the pieces fly apart like planets without a sun.

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, you need to be able to zoom out from those countless nitty-gritty details and see how it all fits together. You need to make sure that all your goals and sub-goals harmonize and align into a single, unified, integrated whole. Without that singular coherence of vision, one goal fights against another, cancelling each other out in an internal battle that steals your power and momentum, and splits you in two. One hand reaches for the kettlebell, and the other for a desperate and undignified fistful of supermarket birthday cake. We’ve all been there, right?

The instinct toward a holistic scheme is the mind’s natural defense against overwhelm. Like all instincts, it arises spontaneously. I remember one evening in high school feeling a sudden, urgent need to zoom out and get a bird’s eye view of everything I was up to. So I drew a pie chart of all the aspects of my training at the time (football, lifting, school, music), and tried to organize it into a whole picture. Later, I found out that this kind of image, or “mandala,” is often used as an image of focus in meditation and psychological work.

There were lots of open spaces and a lack of balance to the whole thing. Of course, I was a young kid in high school, barely knew anything, and didn’t have a lot of options. But it worked as a diagnostic, anyway: those empty spaces started me searching down a path of experimentation that led to many of the more obscure and underground practices that are now central to my training.

What follows is the broad outline of my own current training mandala. It’s just one example of how you can divide up the categories, but it’s what I’ve found most useful, and what I suggest you try as the basis for your own work. I call it the Holy Trinity of Holistic Training, and as you might guess, it’s made of up three parts: physical training, mindset training, and mental toughness training.

Physical Training: The Son

If you’re on this site, you already understand the importance of physical fitness. That said, understanding its importance is just the beginning of the adventure of finding what works best for you. I’ve explored all sorts of ways and means of physical fitness over the years—football, classical weightlifting, judo, jiu jitsu, kettlebells, bodyweight exercises, distance running—before settling into what I’ve found works best for me in terms of staying motivated and getting the results I want.

Everyone has to find their own sweet spot, and that sweet spot may continue to grow and expand over time. In fact, that’s important to keep that spark alive in your love life with your training. This may seem obvious, but it’s really easy to get lost in details and end up sleepwalking your way through a workout routine that you’re only doing because you feel like you have to. Zoom out, take a look at what you’re doing, and decide if it’s exciting and productive for you. If not, experiment. Play around. See what else is out there.

Mindset Training: The Holy Ghost

Everybody knows about the importance of physical training, but mindset training is a little less common. Regardless, it’s an area where you can make enormous gains. Your mindset is your filter for how you see the world and how you see yourself. If your mindset is that you’re insecure and the world is a scary place, then all you experience is yourself as an insecure person, and the world as a scary place. You don’t see the lightning-quick filtering of your perception through your mindset that results in that experience. All you see is the result. Similarly, if your mindset is that you’re confident and the world is a safe and fun place, then you just see yourself as confident, and the world as safe and fun. Mindset is so important and so central to how you experience everything that it’s almost invisible, like water to a fish.

Of course, if you could just wish your way into a new mindset, everyone would do it. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, despite what certain “positive thinking” gurus might have you believe. You can train new mindset on a deep level, but like physical training, it works the way it works, and you have to follow certain specific rules and protocols to make it happen. Techniques like hypnosis, self-hypnosis, visualization, and experiments that affect your actual behavior can be very effective, but like with physical training, you have to find the methods that work best for you, and that get you the results you’re looking for.

Mental Toughness Training: The Father

Mental toughness is where the mental and physical come together. The root of both is in your autonomic nervous system, the most primal part of you, which regulates your stress response. If you’re relaxed most of the time, even in stressful situations, then you’re mentally tough. If you’re stressed most of the time, even in relaxed situations, then you’re not. The tendency toward either stress or relaxation expresses itself in body tension, body posture, and body language, helping determine your status as either submissive or dominant in the ever-present, if unconscious, pecking order on planet Earth.

As the meeting place of mind and body, mental toughness is an enormous, powerful lever, and training it is a must. If your nervous system is chronically stressed and tense, it’s not going to let you tinker with your mindset, and it’s going to sap your energy continually, making it hard to motivate, initiate, or sustain physical training. Again, different mental toughness training methods give different results, and some are far more powerful than others. You have to find out what works for you, but unless you’re doing something, you’re missing a massive training opportunity.

Create Your Own Training Mandala

At this point, you can probably see how these three elements work to complement and accelerate each other. More mental toughness means a greater ability to program your own mindset. Better mindset means (among other things) more motivation for physical training. More physical training means (among other things) more forceful energy for everything else, and the whole thing feeds itself and grows exponentially. When all the parts are working as a whole, you end up doing less to accomplish way more.

My own holy trinity is just one example of how this can all shake out. But whatever way you divide up your training, keeping a conscious, coherent meta-perspective is essential.

So here’s my homework for you: Come up with your own training mandala. Draw it out. It can be a pie chart, or just a list, but take the few minutes necessary to scratch out the basic outline right now, and then take a look and ask yourself, how does this all fit together? What’s working? What’s missing? What’s next? Don’t try to answer too quickly. Let it be an open question. Put it up somewhere you can see it, or draw it on a whiteboard. Check in with it every day, even if just for a moment. Just glance at it, let it sink into the deeper parts of your awareness, and let your intuition provide you with insights in the coming days, weeks, and years.

Remember, your training mandala is a living, breathing, dynamic organism, not static thing. It’s also a reminder that no matter how many details have to go into training effectively on any level, you’re never chopping yourself into parts and training them separately for separate ends. You’re always training yourself as a whole, unified, individual being; the center of your own personal solar system.