Say you’re running a marathon. You love running, you’ve trained hard and you’re running for a good cause, yet about halfway through you hit a wall – not literally but figuratively. Your energy levels slump, every movement creates a shockwave of pain radiating through your body, and your heart wants to leap out of your chest. Tears prick your eyes as the evil little thoughts start to infiltrate into your head – “You can’t do this,” they say. “You’re tired,” they say. “It’s ok to give up,” they say.
It’s at this point, as the experts claim, that you need to dig deep and find the mental strength to push through the pain and negativity. In a way, it’s not so much finishing the marathon that is the achievement (although I salute everyone who has had the urge to run a marathon – you are troopers). It’s almost more the overcoming of the desire to give up. You faced the prospect of failure, gave it two thumbs up and triumphed.
My dig deep moment
A month ago I was in the Lake District, UK, halfway up a small mountain. We were marginally lost, I was feeling decidedly unfit and exhausted, and I just could not be bothered trying to find the summit of the mountain. I was that close to packing it in and retracing my steps back to the hut.
It was one of those dig deep moments. So I consumed four Haribo sweets in quick succession and chugged back some water. Then putting one foot in front of the other I forced myself up the hill.
About half an hour later, I reached the summit, celebrating with a rather embarrassing victory dance (thankfully we had the mountain to ourselves). The view was stunning – green rolling hills all around, the valleys dotted with the cool, sparkling waters the Lake District is famous for. I wouldn’t have got to experience the summit’s beauty if I had given up back down on the mountainside.
When not to give up
Since that trip I’ve been thinking about my dratted 40 volcanoes. I mean seriously, what was I thinking? Forty volcanoes by the age of 40. All that cost, all that planning. It would be so much easier to just bin the idea.
And then I had a revelation. Although I wasn’t in the middle of running a marathon or climbing a mountain, although I was neither physically tired nor in pain, I had somehow stumbled to that crossroads where I could either give up or plough on.
I was surprised by this. In my head, I thought I would face the prospect of failure as I physically strode towards the top of a volcano. That it would be physical pain and tiredness that would put an end to my quest of climbing 40 volcanoes. But here I was, at home, sitting in front of the computer with a cup of tea and a plentiful biscuit supply. I wasn’t even breaking a sweat and yet I was thinking of packing it in.
The realisation made me feel uneasy. Somewhere buried in my subconscious I was actually considering giving up based on the thought that the whole quest was just too much hard work, that I had too much other stuff going on – but worse, I considered this a perfectly permissible reason to give up because it felt “better” than if I gave up during the physical act of climbing a volcano. How cowardly is that?
Yet scarier still was the realisation that I hadn’t even recognised, up till that point, that I was subconsciously willing to accept defeat in this way. It was like I was giving up before I’d even begun (or just begun if you count two volcanoes climbed so far). And that is just downright shocking.
And then I thought, good Lord, what else have I given up on in my life just because my brain had had a minor meltdown? There are probably university classes, job applications, first dates, holidays, new experiences, healthy eating plans, exercise regimes – hundreds of things that I’ve chickened out on without fully realising it. Things I wanted to do but fear or excuses got in the way.
Life is hard. It’s easy to make excuses. I’ve learnt that that crossroad with the neon sign advertising defeat and encouraging you to give up can appear on the horizon at any time. You don’t have to be physically out of your comfort zone to come across it; a mere unguarded moment of doubt is enough to have it come careening around the corner.
It’s at these times that it’s most important to dig deep. Don’t give up.