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How To Practice Through the Pain to Do Something Great

Tom McGuire, Winner of the 2008 Nambian Ultra Marathon
Tom McGuire, Winner of the 2008 Nambian Ultra Marathon

Anything worth doing…is tough. Maybe even more than tough. Sometimes it seems like “anything worth doing is a painfully slow, mountain climb of an ultra-marathon.” Whatever your goal is, whatever you set out to do, will likely take twice as long as you expect (wish), and cost you twice as much as you’d planned (intended). Well, at least if you want to be smashingly successful at it – which is the aspiration we all have when we set out.

a-journey-of-1000-miles“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” the old Chinese proverb says. Somebody should probably have encouraged those old Chinese philosophers to also remind us that “a journey of a thousand miles also includes the one million steps between here and there.” And no, you can’t take a shortcut to get there. And no, you can’t hop on a horse (or motorbike) to speed you along. If you want to make it to the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial “thousand mile journey”, then yes, you are going to have to trudge along on every single one of those million other baby steps to get there.

So, how do you do that? How do you push through the pain of the unmet expectations of a dream that takes longer to realize than you’d…realized? How do you not look up after 30 miles and exclaim, “Seriously? Another 970 miles?! How have I not progressed farther than this yet?” Here are a few suggestions to help you practice through the pain of “not quite yet.”

1. Experience your future in your present

This heading could say something like, “keep the end in mind” because that’s technically what I want to say. However, that’s far too cliched and dully motivating to help you power through a mental road block.

People who “keep the end in mind” often end up doing something called “wishful thinking” where they imagine what it would be like to be there, then they sigh, and say something like, “Ahhh, that would be nice.” That kind of thing never works for me. It usually kills my motivation instantly. Then I move on to new ambitions (which die just as quickly).

No, no, no. By “experience your future in your present”, I don’t just mean “envision what your future would be like”, I mean actually mentally place your mind and heart in what your future will be like.

The Great Quest


You know those movies with a band of heroes on a great quest? When they start out on their adventure – once the journey really begins, you see the camera come close, right up to their eyes as they mentally take in the epic-ness of their quest. Then, the camera turns and zooms away! Over mountains and valleys, beyond hoards of evil armies, through snowy mountain passes and dark caverns, until finally coming to rest on the final destination (as the crash and crescendo of orchestral music hypes it up). The camera looms for a moment over the terminus, then returns quickly to the close-up of the main character’s eyes and he gasps sharply, as if fully experiencing the next 2 hours of the movie in a moment. That’s what I’m talking about. Go there.

Don’t just envision your future, live it and breathe it as if it’s already within your grasp.

You know when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first English movie, “Hercules in New York” bombed, he was interviewed because everybody thought he’d give up acting and return to what he really knew. But he didn’t. In the interview, he basically said, “I’m going to be the biggest name in Hollywood.” Nobody believed him until he was. But he knew. He lived it. He experienced his future while creating it.

2. Turn your pain into pleasure

I love hand-washing the dishes. Not the exercise in and of itself, but my time with my iPod.

Honestly, washing dishes is painful. It’s painfully boring and time-consuming. I used to hate washing the dishes. That is, until I started listening to the Dave Ramsey show podcast on my headphones while doing so. Now, I get to spend between 20-30 minutes each night escaping everything else to do a meaningful (yet boring) exercise, while listening to something equally meaningful (and highly entertaining).

Whatever goal you’ve got, it’s likely to be quite meaningful – at least for you. But, there are also going to be times when the meaningful goal is filled with lots and lots of absolutely boring and mentally painful exercises.

Turn boring into amazing into growth

So, do something about it! Stave off the boredom with something amazing! Or reward yourself with something awesome at the end. (That’s also why I recommend having a favorite drink any time you sit down to do something boring.)

And consider any progress toward your goal growth. Nobody daily observes their own growth. But after years and years, you look in the mirror and realize, “Wow! I’ve gotten tall! (or fat, muscular, or handsome)”

For me, in studying Korean, that looks like this:

  1. Trying to get as creative and inventive as possible when writing
  2. Posting grammar and vocab lessons with rock music
  3. Learning Korean touch-typing
  4. Taking pictures of Korean in daily use
  5. Writing this blog
  6. Using my passion and skill for design to create awesome PDFs for studying

Whatever you do, remember to be like Arnold (from the above example). You are the Master of your own Destiny. You create your future. You can tell your boring exercises to be awesome!

3. Focus on your footsteps, but let your destination guide you

You ever notice how when you’re just trudging along somewhere, mindlessly, eyes on your feet, that you inevitably, eventually end up somewhere? It’s like you never even noticed the scenery around you changing. One moment you started walking home from work, and the next moment you found yourself in another city! (It’s amazing the things we can do when we’re mindlessly doing them.)

That’s how most people go through life. Craig Groeschel has said, “Everyone ends up somewhere; few people end up somewhere on purpose.” How many people have had big goals for their lives at age 20, or age 30, and before they knew it, they woke up at ago 60, retired, and without having achieved those goals? Don’t let that be you.

The difference between footsteps and destination

If you’ve ever been an athlete – particularly an endurance athlete – particularly a Track & Field endurance athlete, then you know just how boring those races can be. (Ever ran 8 laps around a track at once? Boring.) At one point or another during the race, I always used to just start counting my footsteps. “Two-twenty-one, two-twenty-two, two-twenty-three.” I didn’t care that it was going to be 3,000 or more footsteps. All I cared about was that next number, that next footstep. That’s how we make progress toward our goals.

But, if we only focus on our footsteps, turning our eyes downward to count them – to the exclusion of all other things, then we’ll soon find ourselves racing over train tracks along a neighboring farm. So, “keep your eyes on the prize” while you’re moving. Focus on your footsteps. But every once in a while, look up at your final destination and reassess to be sure you’re still on track.

These things motivate me to continue learning Korean. What motivates you to keep going?

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