How to Improve Your Endurance

Everything starts with your mindset, what you believe, and how you frame the things you experience. Many years ago, I was training to ride a bicycle across Death Valley. The total distance was two hundred miles. I rode one hundred miles every Saturday for a little over six months, plus another sixty miles every Sunday, to supplement my daily 30-mile rides Monday to Friday.

One Saturday, I planned to meet three friends to complete a 107-mile ride. When I woke up that morning, it was pouring down rain. Two of my friends showed up in my driveway, and we rode to the local high school to pick up another friend and start the course. When we arrived, soaked through, we found our friend standing under an umbrella.

I turned to my two other friends and predicted, “He isn’t coming.” Sure enough, before we could say a word, our dry friend started explaining to us why he wasn’t riding, but he was really rationalizing his decision to himself. He didn’t want to be uncomfortable, he said—nothing more, nothing less. Had it been sunny, he surely would have joined us.

It rained for one hundred and two miles that day. Five miles from my home, the sun finally showed itself, and the three of us were completely dry by the time we reached my driveway.

“Human effectiveness” consumes much of my attention, generally as it pertains to sales and leadership, but occasionally in other domains like productivity, positivity, goals, and success more generally. But this post isn’t about effectiveness. Instead, it’s about gutting it out in a year that has been mostly about intestinal fortitude.

image of man running

Grinding It Out

Sometimes what you need to do is keep your head down and grind out the work, without avoiding the effort or trying to find some way to be more efficient or more effective. The idea that you can “hack” the result you want is a seductive lie, one designed to seduce the part of you that desperately wants to believe that you can produce results without having to give yourself over to the work.

Your capacity for work is far greater than you believe it is. The Navy SEAL turned ultra-athlete, David Goggins, tells his audiences that when you are certain you cannot keep going, you’re at the forty-percent mark of your true capacity. You can keep going, but first you have to stop your inner voice from telling you that you should stop, that there is no reason to keep going, that you should move on do something else, or that you have had enough.

So many people fail to achieve the results they want for themselves because they either don’t put forth the effort necessary or they are unwilling to endure. It’s hard to continually do hard things, but those who achieve their goals do just that. Recently, I saw a meme noting that every day, drug addicts find a way to acquire the drugs they want. It went on to suggest that you should not allow yourself to be outhustled by a drug addict.

Or, put another way, the reason the Native American rain dance worked every time it was tried wasn’t that it somehow appeased the spirits. It worked every time because the dancers kept dancing until it rained.

Improving Your Endurance

Self-discipline is at the root of sitting down and doing the necessary work. If your computer is on, but you always have your web browser and your email open, you’re going to struggle to stay on task. The work that you need to do has all the appeal of spinach, while the browser offers the equivalent of warm chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk. And don’t pretend that the browser is there to “reward” you for, say, an hour of work. The rewards you should be working for are the results you really want.

To improve your endurance, remove the distractions and give yourself over to your work.

Giving yourself over to your work will cure you of the belief that something more interesting, inevitably located somewhere else, deserves your attention. If you have difficulty giving your full focus and attention to what you need to do, start by asking yourself how you can improve the work you are doing. Answering that question will make your work more interesting, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to solve problems.

It’s also helpful to remember why you are doing the work: the larger results you want and what those results are going to provide you. Trying to grind out another email or another spreadsheet, without consciously knowing why, is a recipe for procrastination. You need to endure for a reason, for something that matters.

image of man pushing a large rock up a hill

Where We Are Now

There can be no doubt that 2020 has required—and still requires—endurance. It’s easy to lower your standards when everything is on fire, and it can be difficult to focus on what’s most important, especially when you experience ongoing stress, even low-grade stress, that does not resolve itself quickly the way a shock does.

Endurance is a test. It’s a test of your will, your ability to push ever forward, regardless of the circumstances. It requires that you keep going, even when there is no end in sight, and even when the outcome is uncertain. Even when the end is in sight, and we are surely getting closer, you must continue on, come what may.

Filed under: Mindset

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