“Each time we face our fears, we gain the strength, courage, and confidence we need to move forward. It’s far easier to change things than to change people. The real survivors in life are the ones who have the mental fortitude to press on even when the body wants to quit. Even if you don’t finish ‘first,’ you still need to continue on until you cross that finish line.”
P.M. “Chief” DeMarks
The people that always impressed me the most at the Ironman races I competed in weren’t the Uber fast athletes that were finely tuned speed machines. I was impressed by the everyday person who took on the mental challenge of completing one of the most grueling endurance events while also earning a living, taking care of families, etc. Those competitors always motivated and inspired me with their spirit of “never giving up,” no matter the pain, fears, or doubts. If you are ever in doubt of the human mind’s strength, cheer during the last hour of an extreme endurance event. You will see some fantastic displays of fortitude and courage.
Starting is easy.
Quitting is easy.
Finishing is hard. But that is when the real value is created…
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
What motivates you to carry on despite the struggles you are facing? How do you know when it is time to quit? How do you choose to persevere when everything seems to be stacked against you?
In 2013 I participated in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT) endurance race. I had completed my first Ironman race in 2011 and found I really enjoyed the training that goes into preparing your body to be tested by a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run. I chose to sign up for Lake Tahoe simply because of the sheer beauty of the location and as an opportunity to see a place I had never been before. I trained my heart out all summer and when race day arrived on September 23, 2013, I was ready.
The race was epic in every sense of the word. It was indescribably beautiful, the Sierra Nevada mountains with their snow-tipped peaks visible in every direction, and it was also incredibly challenging. It was so cold the morning of the race that the 64-degree water in Lake Tahoe felt warm and swimming at 6,200 of elevation was just a unique and special challenge. The best way to describe it is to imagine trying to swim while breathing through a single drinking straw. The bike was extraordinarily difficult due to the mountains you had to cross and the grade of the climbs involved (I looked down at my speedometer at one point and I was moving 3 miles per hour). The run was relatively flat but it was so cold down by the river that staying warm was an impossible challenge.
The DNF rate (did not finish) at IMLT in 2013 was north of 23% and I very easily could have been one of those who did not finish. The run was very tough and there were several points where quitting was probably the smartest option. I developed blisters on the bottom of my left foot at mile 8 that were so bad that I had to stop twice at the medical tents to get treatment. Every step was painful and I thought my foot was on fire. But quitting, walking away and actually ending my race early, never crossed my mind for more than a fleeting moment.
Why didn’t I quit? What kept me going when I knew I had 18 miles still to go and my foot was in severe pain? I certainly wasn’t racing for money or a spot on the podium. I am a very atypical triathlete at 6′ 4″ tall and 225 pounds. I wasn’t going to “win” anything. What kept me going was a relentless focus on what I wanted to accomplish by completing this race. My goal was to prove to myself that the mind is stronger than the body. I wanted to challenge myself to take on more than I could handle, and then plow through the wall. I knew I could finish if I stopped thinking about the seemingly insurmountable distance that was remaining and just focused on what was right in front of me at that moment.
I vividly remember the aid station at mile eight where I first stopped to have my foot checked out. I got up and ran/hobbled a few steps and my mind immediately went to a “there’s no way I can do this for 18 more miles” headspace. I remember taking a moment to gather my thoughts and remember what I was attempting to prove to myself, and thinking, “I can make it to mile nine.” So I did. And then mile ten, eleven, twelve, and on and on. I still remember mile 23 like it was yesterday. At that point I knew all was left was a 5k and in my mind, anybody can run a 5k. Running through that finish line chute was one of the most exhilarating and rewarding moments of my life. Should I have quit? Maybe. But I didn’t, and because of this, I learned more about myself than I could ever glean from a lifetime of reading or study.
Sometimes quitting will seem to be the easiest and perhaps the only option available. Before you allow yourself to go down the mental path of quitting I highly recommend that you take the time to think through the following questions.
Why did you start?
Why is this important?
What will matter more a year from now, that you persevered, or that you quit?
Who will you be letting down?
What is God teaching you through this challenge?
If you don’t take the time to answer these, I can almost guarantee that you will regret your decision. If you do answer them, and quitting is still the smartest and best option, you can do so with full faith and confidence that you thought through your decision fully and completely.
Even after you have answered the questions remind yourself of these things when you are tempted to throw in the towel and walk away.
This is all temporary – Tomorrow will come, and so will next week, next month, and next year.
The goal is bigger than the pain – If you had the courage to start something you had to have a reason why. Don’t lose sight of your goal.
When in doubt, break your goal down into the smallest possible step that can be achieved. And then do it again and again and again.
Some things are bigger than yourself – Some challenges, goals, and opportunities rise above your individual feelings and perceptions. Don’t let the voice in your head convince you to lose sight of this.
Who you will become as a person is defined by your decisions and actions in the most difficult times.
Quitting and failing are two different things. Don’t confuse them.
I share this story not because I did anything particularly amazing (I didn’t!), but because it was the best and most vivid personal example I could think of from my life. What I learned is that sometimes the reward is just on the other side of the breaking point…
I recently read “The Shackleton Way” and was absolutely fascinated by the leadership skills and expertise that Sir Earnest Shackleton displayed during the epic “Endurance” expedition attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. It intrigued me so greatly that I then read “South” which is Shackleton’s book on the topic and am in the process of reading “Endurance” which is considered to be the seminal work on the subject.
I am continually amazed by the fact that in the face of the greatest of unknowns, and with no outside influence or support, that men could rise above the uncertainly of the next moment and survive for months at a time in the most grueling of conditions. The name of their ship, the “Endurance” was incredibly apt for what was to come.
Knowing that others have survived conditions that are far beyond contemporary understanding helps put everything in perspective. Having a positive attitude and focusing on what is truly important is how one perseveres. On the other side you will be far stronger than how you went in…
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
It can be very challenging to feel connected to others in this new world in which we are currently living. It is difficult to foster relationships and maintain strong connections when so often the only thing connecting us is a digital screen, or simply the sound of another persons voice on the phone.
I personally have found that it takes a lot more work and intentional effort to unite with others. There are new and different behaviors that feel uncomfortable at first, but when we lean in and embrace them, a sense of normalcy comes roaring back.
For example, this past weekend one of my closest friends called and asked if we wanted to do a “car social.” Not having heard this term yet I asked him what that meant. His exact response was “We drive up, open our doors but don’t get out. We drink beer together. Then we say good bye.”
So that is what we did. They parked in the driveway and we stayed apart and didn’t violate any of the social distancing rules. But, for an hour or so, the human relationships that truly mean so much in this world were front and center and everything else just drifted out of focus.
One of my favorite verses is from Ecclesiastes and given the current nature of our world I don’t think couldn’t be more relevant. ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. ‘ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
We aren’t meant to be divided. Humans are meant to work and act as a tribe and, for the time being and perhaps forever, how we do that has had to change. If we want to remain united we need to find new and different ways to do so. We have to lean in and foster the relationships that truly make all the difference in the world. Whether that is via phone call, video chat, “car socials” or anything else that is socially responsible, we have to invest the time and energy into becoming more united, because that is what truly matters…
“Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever give in. Don’t ever stop trying. Don’t ever sell out. And if you find yourself succumbing to one of the above for a brief moment, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, whisper a prayer, and start where you left off. But never, ever, ever give up.”
Richelle E. Goodrich
How bad does it have to be to make quitting the best option? If you don’t know, then you aren’t there yet. Keep plugging away, it will get better, but it won’t if you quit…
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
It is amazing how much power we have over our minds, when we choose to exercise control of our thoughts. If we don’t, then we are giving control over to something, or someone else. That would mean that we are choosing to let someone else be in charge of our lives…
Have you ever noticed that those who are perpetually optimistic also seem to be perpetually happy? Their optimism effects those around them and they just seem to be surrounded by good things. Positive things just seem to happen to and for them.
The “glass half full” attitude is a choice. We can either choose to see the world, and what happens in that world, as a blessing or a curse. Either way things happen and how we react to it them is entirely up to us. When we choose positivity then good things happen. When we choose negativity, then we see only the bad things.
Be a force multiplier not only for yourself, but for those around you. Your optimism can and will be contagious. That contagion is how the force will be multiplied.
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
One doesn’t become stronger without first becoming weaker. One can’t become more without first becoming less.
At first glance this goes against our modern culture. We want life to be instagram perfect and easy. Society emphasizes the value not of the struggle, but of the reward. But the “rewards” are earned through the difficult times.
For example, to improve the fitness in your body you must first weaken it. If you lift weights you intentionally stress and tear down the muscles, that is what allows them to grow and become stronger and more powerful. If you don’t endure the stress and difficult work, the muscles will atrophy and diminish in power. The difficulty is NECESSARY for growth.
The same thing applies to life. What are the difficulties in your life right now that are strengthening you? What are the challenges that are tearing you down so that you can grow back stronger and more powerful?
One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is: ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ‘ Philippians 4:13
I used the think of this as a powerful reminder that when the times get tough I can lean on God for strength and perseverance. That is still true but now I realize that it has a larger meaning. God can be the “strength coach” of my life, pushing me into places I didn’t know I needed or wanted to go. Tearing me down, so that I can be built back up as a better and more whole self.
Embrace the difficulties and recognize that they can be some of the very best things that will ever happen FOR YOU. Because it is through the tearing down that the growth occurs…
“A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.”
Who are you? At your core are you confident and secure in what you believe and why you believe it?
Knowing what this means for you doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have much to learn in life, but being strong and confident in WHO YOU ARE and YOUR CORE VALUES is what allows you to continue to learn and grow in a positive and fulfilling direction.
This morning I heard the following verse which aligns so well to my interpretation of this quote. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Luke 6:26 ESV
Don’t sacrifice your morals and values seeking the approval of others. Be strong, and stand up for what you believe in.
“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”
There is nothing like the dawn of a new day to reset and refocus the mind. Though I think the same can be said for the end of the day as well. When you set aside a few minutes to reflect at the end of the day, learn from what went well, and what didn’t, and frame out the day to come you can rest much easier and rise ready to tackle the day ahead. That’s when you can demonstrate new strengths and generate new thoughts. It starts the night before…
“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”
Booker T. Washington
The amount of effort and energy expended pushing people down in this world seems to outweigh that which is spent helping others. It’s hard to read or watch the news anymore because everything seems to have a political or negative bent. Being exposed to a continually negative environment can certainly influence how you leverage your own strengths and talents and we have to guard against that influence.
If you were to think of your daily energy spend how much of it would be spent on “pushing down” versus “pulling up?” Hopefully more is spent on the latter than the former. Thinking about this another way. What are your unique gifts and talents? How much time do you use leveraging these to help others versus pushing others down? What is one additional thing you can do today to pull someone up?
“Your strength doesn’t come from winning. It comes from struggles and hardship. Everything that you go through prepares you for the next level.”
I am extremely competitive and I love to win. But I know that my losses and struggles have helped me grow and improve far more than any win or success in life. Overcoming obstacles is the key to growth and resilience. Though when you are in the midst of the struggle it can be hard to keep this in mind. I have found that asking myself this simple question can help me reframe and refocus for the future.
“What is God teaching me right now so that I can better serve and represent His Kingdom in the future?”
Pausing to answer this, and take my focus off of me and put it back on God, is how I recenter during a struggle. What works for you?
“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
Most of the greats have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. There is an edge to them that you just can’t quite put your finger on. They have something to prove and no one can push them harder than they will push themselves, especially if they are challenged in some way. I am sure that we have all known people like this, or perhaps even been this person from time to time.
When should you push hard and turn another person’s perceived weakness into a strength and when should ignore that criticism and focus on leveraging the strengths that you already have? Being able to discern this is critical otherwise you could spend all of your energy trying to fix the perceptions of others and that could in itself become a great weakness…
I don’t know about you but the world very rarely seems to be quiet anymore. Finding stillness and time to think and reflect seems to be so challenging with the constant availability of distractions and ways to “spend” your time. It isn’t just physical noise or busyness that gets in the way of quiet reflection. It can be the pervasive and ever-growing “digital noise” that clouds our minds and stops us from finding time to just sit alone with our thoughts.
I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately as I reflect on what I need to do to grow and improve. My favorite time of the day is the first hour when I take time to read my devotionals, pray, write this blog post, and enjoy a completely quiet and calm house. I love this quiet time yet I have not been good at all at finding ways to bake this into a normal routine beyond the first 45-60 minutes of each day. Once my day starts it is constant and complete engagement with the world until I crawl into bed night to rest and prepare to do it all again the next day.
I am very guilty of trying to add more into every single moment. It is finally (maybe I am just a slow learner) sinking in that I need to be much more intentional about being very purposeful with my time and build in space to think. To make this happen I have to be much more intentional about finding silence and not try to cram as much as possible into every second of the day. Silence is truly a gift to oneself, to give it you must design it into your life…
“Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
Corrie Ten Boom
Thinking things through is a great skill and one that will pay dividends when things don’t go exactly as you planned (and that will happen to all of us sooner or later). But worrying, obsessing, getting lost in the fear of “what if” or “why me” doesn’t help improve our chances of success.
There is a big difference between preparing and worrying. How we handle this difference makes such an impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. Planning is proactive and positive. Worry is negative and emotionally draining.
There are so many good bible verses on worry but here are two of my absolute favorites that I go to whenever I cross the chasm between planning and worry.
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
Given the author of this quote the first thing that I thought of of course was the physical process of working out and strengthening your body through exercise. In order for the muscles to be stronger they must be used and strained; only then will they grow back stronger. Think of the ‘day after’ feeling when you have had a great workout and your body is sore. That soreness is the body rebuilding after “hardship” and an indication that strength is building. What a great feeling.
Why don’t we approach life the same way? We want everything to be easy. As a rule people desire no hardships, no challenges, no struggles. In today’s Instagram world everything has to be staged and we envy those with “perfect” lives. We never see the private struggles and when those struggles happen to us far too often there is a victim mentality vs. leaning in and embracing the suck knowing that you will emerge on the other side far far better.
You have to tear down the entrenched positions of the moment so you can be prepared for the future. If you are struggling today with anything think of this reframing question. Instead of “why me?” Think, “what am I being prepared for?” Struggle builds the muscle of life.
“Solitude is where I place my chaos to rest and awaken my inner peace.”
I find that it is harder and harder to find a place of quiet and peace in today’s world. We are digitally connected almost 100% of the time. To achieve real quiet outside of the chaos requires making a conscious decision to give yourself the gift of solitude and peace. For me it means quiet time with a good book or perhaps a long bike ride or a run.
I am reminded of the verse in Matthew that frames what I look for when taking some time of solitude: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
How often do you actively seek to give yourself this gift?