What James Bond Teaches Us About Life

Five toughness tools to keep you going in tough times

Posted Feb 05, 2016

After watching every James Bond film from “Dr. No” in 1962 to “Spectre” this year, my one conclusion about the character is that his main talent is he perseveres. Yes, he can shoot and fly helicopters and bed women and choose the perfect wine. He certainly knows his way around fast cars and high-tech weaponry. He can fight multiple attackers, often much bigger than him, and almost always while wearing an expensive suit or tuxedo. He can work complex computer systems, defuse bombs, and survive being punched, shot, or tortured. He’s great at moving from the battle to the bedroom and he speaks many languages, including the language of amore. 

But all those things being equal (and fun to watch), his primary skill is that he keeps going; he endures, despite being wounded, outnumbered, outgunned, surrounded, and (Bond purists will gasp as I write this) even showing us on-screen, occasionally, that he can be afraid. Of course we all know he is a mythic literary and movie character with a high tolerance for pain and the ability to drop a droll aside or a bad pun as he kills a bad guy. I’m hip to the fact that he doesn’t exist beyond the mind of his creator, author Ian Fleming, and executive producer Albert Broccoli and his family’s continued legacy of the film franchise. But I have met guys as tough and resourceful as Bond and we have heard stories of our brave military men who have overcome horrific situations and survived. They are not ten feet tall and bullet-proof. They certainly have skills and tactical training. But like Bond, they keep on keeping on, out-enduring the other guy and their bad apparent situation. More of this should rub off on more of us, these days.

We already know we can develop endurance of the body through physical exercise. Conditioning the mind for endurance is also a learned skill, through practice. Putting yourself in situations where you need to have patience, problem-solving abilities, and even a little luck can build those mental conditioning skills as well.   

Improve your physical endurance – So many sports actually require more stamina than skill in order to win. Whether it’s the fourth quarter of the football game, the last period in basketball, soccer, or hockey, the last set in tennis, or the last hole in golf, your ability to fight the fatigue factor and finish strong is often the difference between victory and defeat in a close contest. In boxing, it’s who is standing at the end who wins. Your mind tells you you’re tired a lot sooner than your body does. Your brain will say, “Let’s quit, let’s walk, let’s stop, let our opponent go past us, let’s head for the bench, the sidelines, or the couch.” Your body can and will ignore all that negative energy and simply do what it wants to do, which is complete the event, with as much energy as you had at the beginning. Physical strength is built through time, repetition, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and developing new upper limits. Building your physical side trains your mind as well, to ignore the negative self-talk and quell your doubts.

Add to your mental endurance – Suppose there is a group situation where ten people are asked to work together on a fairly complex math problem, e.g., “If a train leaves Cleveland at 8:00 p.m. and travels at 74 miles an hour, when does it crash into the train leaving Baltimore traveling at 72 miles per hour?” Unless there is a math whiz or a word-problem fan in the room, many people make a few wild stabs at the answer (“Three hours? Two weeks? A month from never?”) and then promptly give up. Having mental endurance requires you to keep working past the original three guesses. Edison tried over 700 elements to find the right materials for the inside of his first light bulb. Keep moving your pen across your paper, do more research, look at the problem from reverse angles, get expert help, but don’t stop thinking when the answers are not apparent.

Get more comfortable with pain – Having a higher pain tolerance than most people helps you endure. Training for a marathon is not really about fitness (unless you plan to win the bloody race, then you better be fitter than a Kenyan); it’s about having stamina under discomfort. Most reasonably healthy people could prepare themselves to run 26 miles in a row at a 10-minute per mile pace. (I did it in 1998 – worst five hours of my life.) That level of fitness is not overly-difficult to attain, in general. Specifically, however, the pain that sets in at mile 11 or mile 18 or mile 22 can be significantly unpleasant. When your feet, legs, back, and head start to hurt from all that pounding, and your stomach is upset from too much Gatorade or not enough Gatorade, it’s easy to simply quit the race. Tough people get past their pains and keep going. This is a learned skill. Putting yourself in situations where physical and mental pains are sharp and vivid can remind you of your own fears, but also give you a great opportunity to go past those self-perceived limits and finish the task, no matter how unpleasant.

Get some POT - Plain Old Toughness – There is a story, supposedly true, about a Russian doctor on a polar ice cap research team that discovered he had appendicitis. Thousands of miles from help, he knew he was in a serious medical situation. The rupture of that organ would cause peritonitis and certain death. So in his agony, he set up a mirror, asked his colleagues to pass him his surgical tools upon his request, and removed his own appendix. Surely whatever you’re facing at home or work can be solved through a healthy dose of POT. Get tough, get tougher, lean forward!

Constantly seek options and solutions – One of my favorite movies - and I’m not exactly sure why it is – is "Sexy Beast" (2000), starring Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, and Sir Ben Kingsley. It’s about how Kingsley goes to Spain to drag Winstone, his reluctant former crime partner, back to England for one more bank heist. Mc Shane plays Teddy, the crime boss running the operation, and he has the best line in the film, “Where there’s a will – and there’s always a fu#$*%^# will – there’s a way.” And he’s right. As long as what you’re trying to do doesn’t violate our natural laws (defying gravity, breathing underwater without oxygen, etc,), you can and should figure out a way to get it done. In his book about the Vietnam War, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, Lt. Col. Hal Moore said, when facing what seems like insurmountable odds, “There is always, always, always a solution.” Never stop looking for the answer you need for the situation you’re facing.  It’s there; find it.

Dr. Steve Albrecht is internationally-known for his writing, speaking, and training on workplace violence and school violence prevention.  He manages a San Diego-based firm specializing in high-risk HR, security, and work culture issues.  He holds a doctorate in Business Administration, an MA in Security Management, a BS in Psychology, and a BA in English.  He is board certified in HR, security management, employee coaching, and threat assessment.  He has written 17 books, including Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace, one of the first books on workplace violence subject.  He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years.  You can hear his “Crime Time” radio show at CrimeTimeRadio.com.  Contact him at www.DrSteveAlbrecht.com and on follow him on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht

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