If I learned one thing from distance running, it’s that sometimes you just have to gut it out.
When you’re tired…
When it hurts too bad…
When you’re way behind…
You just have to gut through it. And what you learn when you do this is that often—not always but often—the best experiences are right on the other side of this decision.
Yesterday, I was working out and was miserable. I hadn’t eaten that well during the day. I was tired. I felt low energy. Immediately after I started, I was looking for an excuse to stop. I started sweeping my workout area. I fiddled with my music. A voice in my brain started going through things I was upset about from earlier in the day. I was looking for any kind of interruption that would let me quit. Nothing came, so I kept going.
I’ve been in that spot before. In life and in the gym. I know that you just have to keep going.
46 minutes in the payoff arrived. Not suddenly, but it sneaks up on you—it ensues. I was mid row, the sweat was finally pouring, and those feelings of resentment and aggravation were a million miles away. As if they were never there.
I smiled and kept going still. It was easy now.
Robert Frost has a poem, A Servant to Servants
By good rights I ought not to have so much
Put on me, but there seems no other way.
Len says one steady pull more ought to do it.
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—
No way out but through. Not just the only way, it’s the best way. Because of what is on the other side.
I am writing this book right now and it is just kicking my ass. I told James Altucher the other day that I’ve almost come to dread working on it in the morning. It’s a very different style for me and the words are coming along so slowly. I find myself craving distractions and excuses. It’s not what I want it to be yet. I’m not sure if it’s good. I’m not even sure if it’s the right career choice.
“Maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t be working on it,” he said very reasonably.
I know that’s not it. I’ve been here before. I just need to gut it out.
There is a line from Gary Cantrell, the creator of one of the toughest ultrarunning races: “It never always gets worse.” It doesn’t just get worse.
What he means is that at our absolute depths of despair or at the peak of frustration all we see is that negativity extrapolated forward. The mind is really good at telling you what would happen if you don’t stop, if you don’t do something about this: You’ll die. You’ll be miserable. It’s going to keep sucking like this. It tells you to worry about what it will be like if it starts to suck even more.
The worst thing you can do is listen to that voice.
Not on the run you don’t think you can complete, not in the middle of a fight in a relationship you’re starting to think it’d be easier to just walk away from, not in that moment when you think you’ve taken on more projects than could possibly be handled, not during the game that doesn’t look like you could win.
Because it doesn’t always get worse. What the mind can’t see is that this is leading somewhere good—that a bear market can turn into a bull in a heartbeat. That those frustrating half-productive days are adding up to something, that the relationship is having growing pains while it is becoming something better, that the project is valuable because it is hard, that nobody knows how a game will end. It doesn’t always get worse.
Not everything that’s hard is good of course, but almost everything good is very hard. I’ve felt enough glimpses of goodness in the project, when the words are coming steadily, that I know it’s the right one. I know that if it was easy it’d mean I wasn’t pushing myself. What I need then, is to keep pushing myself through the troughs and valleys, to gut it through from one glimpse of goodness to the next. I already committed to this project anyway. Which if you’re the type of person who does endurance sports, you know that’s all there is to it. I’m going to finish. That’s what I do. I’m going to find out what’s on the other side.
What’s on the other side? I’ll tell you. You. You are on the other side of those struggles. A you you realize you only knew a little bit about. You learn you’re capable of more than you know.
That’s why you gut it out. That’s why you don’t quit.
Because it never always gets worse. Because sometimes it gets unimaginably, suddenly, awesomely better.
It sneaks up on you sure, but only if you let it.