Brian ‘Tosh’ Chontosh is an American hero who has pushed his body through physical boundaries most of us rarely approach. Serving his country, he earned a Navy Cross as a member of the United States Marines.
On a more personal level, he’s completed the Arrowhead 135 winter ultra-marathon multiple times and made regional qualifiers in the CrossFit Games.
As he was getting set to take part in a CrossFit initiative with the Travis Manion Foundation, we caught up with Tosh to glean some wisdom on a range of topics from being a good leader and overcoming adversity to how CrossFit has helped him become a better person.
Goalcast: What do you think are the characteristics of being a good leader?
Brian ‘Tosh’ Chontosh: This is an enormous question with as many answers as positive adjectives in the English language. It’s also just trait theory, but a great place to start.
We all have a composite of attributes or strengths in our being. Some are more developed than others, and some better suited for specific applications versus broad. They all help make up our unique personality fabrics.
What would be most important to the discussion is how a good leader taps into and puts into application their strengths/ characteristics towards purpose.
On the Travis Manion Foundation Leadership Expedition, we talked about identifying and strengthening our own unique combination of character and leadership strengths. This is important to operate at a high level and thrive; not just as an individual but also as a leader.
This is important to maintain a high level of overall well-being and to serve others and ensure the well-being of the people around us. What good is it to understand ourselves and improve ourselves if not to serve others? “If not me, then who…”
It isn’t just by reading about it, listening to podcasts, and going to lectures. It is ultimately through practice and building upon experiences.
There needs to be the creation of a shared common experience between individuals followed by feedback and reflection. But that sounds like so much. It isn’t really that complex.
Maybe what ties it all together is a genuine desire to want to be a better leader. There is so much lip service and superficial conversation about wanting it. Hey, it isn’t given to you, you have to earn it.
Get out and practice through seeking increased responsibility. Look for groups of like-minded people that will push you to get better. For me, that includes CrossFit and the Travis Manion Foundation.
You’ve done a lot of difficult things your life (whether as a Marine or the Arrowhead 135). What was the most difficult?
It would be insulting to any of many many situations that were exceptionally difficult to label one as definitive.
In the Marine Corps, it would be experiencing one of the men get hurt or killed. My divorce was particularly difficult and is still emotionally ongoing, while I am giving my best at being there for my children.
And yes, the Arrowhead 135 abused me mentally and physically two years in a row.
It seems like when it comes to something that tests your physical fortitude, the thought of quitting doesn’t cross your mind. Can you talk about your mindset in those situations?
It absolutely crosses my mind and often many times. I’m working on figuring out how not to let it pop up, but the mind has a mind of its own! I’m close to figuring it out though. And yes, there are times when it never pops up even under arduous circumstances.
The thought of quitting only comes up when you have that choice at hand.
I’ve gotten to the point where I am aware of the insidious methods of the mind to rationalize performance or repackage a defeat as a success or to recreate purpose.
I usually take a moment to accept my current situation; simply accept what is going on and sort through rationally what is not going on.
Then, I go back in time to recall what my purpose was when I was rested, fed, happy, sound etc. I don’t allow comparison to what I think my purpose is in the tired, wet, cold, hungry, nervous… moment. Then I forecast what I will feel two weeks after the endeavor: A or B.
When did you make it a goal to be a part of the Marine Corps?
I didn’t really. It came to me and I only always took it one duty at a time. Before you know it, I’m sitting at 21 years, successful, and tired. So I retired.
What were three of the most important lessons it taught you (being a Marine)?
Three significant lessons I can come up with right now would be:
- It is much greater than just one directional. You have loyalty to your men. You have loyalty to your duty. To your superiors. Yourself. What is right and just. At times these loyalties can become tested against each other. No matter what the path is, it’s never just blind or default.
- Do everything to keep it. It can never be taken from you and you alone can only compromise it. It is directly related to trust and trustworthiness.
- The power of the word “and”. You can be the “and” and don’t have to identify with “but” or other slippery tradeoffs. You can be strong AND smart. You can be a field Marine AND a garrison Marine. You can be a good human being AND lethal. You can do the right thing AND still be cool.
How do you think CrossFit helps people mentally
I’m a big fan of the unknown and unknowable. Just the simple excitement that at any given time throughout our lives we could be called upon to perform. It doesn’t always have to be in response to danger or in an extreme situation. It’s just about building a broad capacity to be able to participate fully in life.
CrossFit also breaks the pattern of routine and is about simple task accomplishment. Just get the work done. Don’t over think anything – no need to confuse the process – just do the work.
CrossFit reinforced for me that less is more, simplicity is beautiful and that you’ll get out of anything at least what you put in. To me these three things are very inter-relevant. I’ve always struggled with having to get something extremely detailed out to perfection and brilliantly crafty before I dig into launching. It was either that or go full reckless.
With CrossFit, you can take a 2 to 20-minute workout, in a simple couplet or triplet with compound (functional) movements, and go hard. That’s all you need. And it is effective.
I think the fear with CrossFit – or many other aspects of life where you have to sacrifice a bit of yourself to become better – is that you’ll get hurt. What words of encouragement could you offer to someone to get over that fear?
The greatest things in life all include some sort of risk and associated fear. Look at love: you need to commit fully and give of yourself authentically for it to express its amazement. Then, you are at the other person’s will to whether you have your heart broken or not.
Does that mean we all shouldn’t have tried truly loving and found ourselves in those shoes? What about driving then, where you are at the mercy of complete strangers on the road? More people are hurt by love or driving than CrossFit.
What hurts people who are exercising is EGO. That is it. It all boils down to that one word. Arrogant coaches, ignorant or stubborn athletes, over-prideful persons, competition and on and on.
If you go into a box and start taking classes, just be honest with yourself and insist on those that you are putting your health into their hands be honest as well. Do the best you can do and commit.
How important is it to see yourself succeeding at CrossFit? I.E. you step into the box, know it’s going to be tough, then get through it. I’m a big believer that that translates to the other aspects of life.
When I face a workout or task, I look at it and make a decision right then and there. “I am going to do this the best that I can.” Then I start. If the challenge starts to present struggle and my mind begins trying to trick me into accepting anything less than the decision I made before beginning, I find myself at a decision point and I chose to succeed.
To me, that is perseverance at the simplest. It is also likely to be the simple circumstances that you find most frequently in life. Everyone likes to look for the big dynamic eventful opportunity to persevere. Bah. It’s all about accruing up the millions and millions of miniscule wins.
This is why I also choose to be part of Travis Manion Foundation. Like CrossFit, our values and mantras align. “If not me, then who” speaks about leveraging your strengths to serve others and make others around you better.
Our foundation teaches members to first understand themselves; know their character strengths. Then leverage them to serve others. That’s how I live my life. Every day, every challenge is an opportunity to know myself better; know my strengths; know my limitations and break through them.
But that only helps if I use that knowledge to improve the people around me. Recently, I led a leadership expedition for a group of veterans that are out there leading TMF uniting communities and for a week I challenged them, trained them, and we all got better.
Whether through CrossFit or my work with TMF, I choose to be around like-minded people that are always looking for self-improvement and then harness that knowledge to serve others and make the people around them better.
Do you have a favorite CrossFit WOD?
I enjoy “Helen” maybe the most. It is a great domain to be able to push incredibly hard and still hang on. It involves running and weightlifting and gymnastics. It’s simple and extremely effective. Actually, after times when I haven’t worked out in a while or when I just need to do something, anything, I just default to “Helen.”
Last week, on the anniversary of Travis’ death, we did the Manion WOD together with veterans from Travis Manion Foundation and under-resourced youth from Steve’s Club. This is a great example of how to combine strengths from multiple groups of people to make us all better.
We pushed ourselves physically while working on and talking about integrity, teamwork and character. The mental growth is even more important than the physical. That’s what sets us up for future wins. That’s what sets us up for winning in life. CrossFit WODs and TMF character building are the tools.