It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but it wasn’t a dream I’d want to have again either. It started with a fire, turned into a flood and ended with a tall building falling through the roof of my house and burying me under tons of rubble. I remember distinctly how I waited patiently for the sound to die down so that I could take stock of myself, catch my breath and figure out how I was going to get out of it. And before I was pulled out of the rubble by my legs and rescued, I had a moment of clarity and this is what I thought…
Mind over matter—I can get out of this. I can do this.
It occurred to me last week as I participated in the Spartan Challenge, a 5k run with 18 grueling obstacles and physical challenges, that the strongest muscle in my body was under my total control. It wasn’t my leg muscle, it wasn’t my arm muscle, it wasn’t my 6-pack abs or massive delts… it was my brain. As long as I kept my head, didn’t panic and focused on the task at hand, my mind could propel me to complete the course despite the fatigue and the cold and the pain. Up-hill climbs, wet, muddy and rocky terrain, barbed wire, freezing water and unpredictable footfalls were insignificant. I needed to keep my focus, keep my head on straight and ignore the pain and discomfort and I could complete the course.
And grueling it was. I confess I wanted to quit. About half a mile into the course, when it seemed like we were hiking up Mount Everest and the calves and thighs were burning and the cold air made breathing difficult, I seriously considered quitting. I wasn’t in good enough shape for this! I hadn’t been training for months, doing sit-ups and pushups and burpees and running 10 miles at a time! I had been sitting behind a desk, staring at the calendar and procrastinating about getting ready – until the time for training was long since expired and the day of the race had arrived.
I wasn’t even mentally prepared. There was no dedication to the task at hand, no intense focus. I was my usual self, cynical and sarcastic about the course and downplaying my own nervousness. Until I had finished that first half mile and the thought actually occurred to me that I could quit, I could just throw in the towel, walk off the course and go get a nice hot chocolate.
It was then that I had my epiphany. I was at a turning point; commit to the course and finish or take the easy way out. So I made my choice and pushed through and got a better handle on my focus. I put my mind to it and convinced myself I could do it. And if I couldn’t, then darn it I was going to give it my absolute best effort.
So what happened? I finished in a little less than an hour and a half. Was I physically able to complete all of the obstacles? No – unfortunately the strength of my mind still couldn’t convince my muscles to climb up a rope, something I have struggled with since 8th grade. But I gave it my best effort and I was proud of that. The freezing water was no match for my intensity and focus. The climbing walls and fire jump were surmountable.
And it reminded me of something that sounds trite but is oh so true. When you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. Athleticism and brute strength are no match for the strength of one’s will power. Unfortunately, we forget about this sometimes because we have to have a goal in place at which our will power is to be focused. But once you find that goal and you set your mind to it, the goal is as good as reached. Just put your mind to it.
Of course, you may get bumps and bruises, but those bruises are a symbol of your focus. Bruises and scars are like medals. Something you can look at to remind you of your accomplishments.
And the hot chocolate at the end tasted that much sweeter.