Almost doesn’t count
I want to use this blog to reflect on the tendency of giving up just before striking gold.
Not only athletes can attest to the fact that it is the last stretch that is the hardest. The starting and the middle part of any race seems like a breeze compared to the last part – the part that seems to take the most out of you. It is during the last stretch where the voices in your head start speaking louder and louder. One may say – “well, at least you tried”. Another may say – “this is too hard – it’s okay if you stop now”. Another one may pipe in and say: “you can’t finish this – you just don’t have what it takes”. And voila, you give yourself permission to step out of the race.
And while at times I may take a gentler approach and say – it’s fine – you did not finish the race – you can start again. This time, I want to be a hard ass-kicking version of myself. The one that says: “There is no way you can say ‘I almost finished my degree’, ‘I almost lost weight’, ‘I almost…’”.
In the last few weeks, someone really close to me gave up on something they had worked at for almost two years. The most astounding part of this was that they just had only another month to the finish line. However, this person simply threw in the towel and walked away. I found myself experiencing many emotions in relation to this particular incident. I started wondering how many times I actually did that, given up just before reaching the finish line. I reflected on a process I had embarked on for almost 6 months, and just as I was starting to gain momentum and also see some of the fruits of my hard work and dedication, I gave myself permission to take a break. In fact – I knew that I was at the brink of something huge if I just kept at it. However, in a fit of false confidence, I convinced myself it was okay for me to take a 3-month break before resuming again with renewed vigour. Reflecting on my usual habits, I realised that starting for me is easier than keeping at it. That even though I was convinced I would take tiny steps towards the goal and be ready in 3 months to go at it full force again, I also knew that little by little I would start dropping the ball and give myself permission to go easy on myself (after all, I had worked so hard so far – and everyone needed a break). At the end of the day, the accumulative result of these little ‘treats’ (of going easy on myself) would actually result in my backsliding and instead of reaping the rewards of the past 6 months of unwavering focus, I would have to start again (and so another cycle would begin). This is what Carolyn Myss refers to as the saboteur in all of us. The one that is actually a bit afraid of the success that lies on the other side of the wall I have been chipping away at. The breakthrough I wanted was within reach – but there was still a part of me that was afraid of it. My very rational explanation to myself that I was taking a break because of my energy levels, because of my finances (and the list can go on and on…) – was in fact me just stalling and wanting to keep my success at bay.
My exploration showed me that one of the most common causes of our disenchantment with self, is related to a habit of quitting when we experience a temporary defeat, or some failure, or perhaps even run out of steam. I have learnt it is worthwhile to find ways to keep moving even when we see no visible results. Living in an era of instant gratification where we want to see quick results does not help either. After all, when we do abandon our endeavours, we deepen a sense of personal failure, and it can be a repetitive cycle and create a negative self- narrative that often has far-reaching consequences.
Below are some tips that I use to stay on track when I feel tempted to abandon my efforts:
#1 Track your energy in relation to your goals
Keep a track of when you feel most energised about your goal, and when your energy dips. Document what are the triggers and contributing factors, as well as how you are able to deal with it.
#2 Set up a cheerleading squad
Your support team will be there to cheer you on when you feel like quitting. They have to believe in what it is you are trying to do, and want it for you as much as you do. In those moments when you lose sight of why you want it, they have to cheer you on. Ones that believe that YES YOU CAN! I can now see why all athletes and high performing individuals have coaches – they recognise that there comes a time in their journeys where they need a resounding chorus of reinforcement that will cheer them on to the finish line no matter how hard it is.
#3 Take time out when needed
Sometimes taking a break from the goal is not a bad thing. However, the break should be short and there has to be some way to get you back on the track. Taking time out can be a much needed energy boost.
I know that at times it is hard to keep moving, but without staying the course, you may never know what lies beyond. As said by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. My wish for you is that you stay at the races you started – because if you want to do anything in life – you have to learn how to finish the race. Start with something small – but start finishing the races you start. Because you and I both know – ‘almost doesn’t count’.