How To Push Through Challenges When You Can Only Take 1 Step At A Time
I’ve been staying in La Paz for the past 3 weeks. Encouraged by an energetic Brit, I booked a trip to climb Huayna Potosi, a mountain near the city.
With the peak at 19,970 feet, the air is very thin on the mountain. When I arrived in Cusco at 11,100 feet I was panting after 2 flights of stairs.
After one training day with the crampons and ice axes, we started our hike up the mountain at 1:00 AM in the dark.
With only a small headlamp I had no idea how far we’d gone or how much trail lay ahead. Roped together with my fellow climbers, all I could do was continue.
Every step was dull pain. It came and went in waves. Jumping over a crevasse or swinging the ice axe accentuated the strain. A flat section of path was a blessing where I could catch my breath and walk more easily. Maybe it’s best that I just followed the headlamp with no perception of distance.
The Mental Challenge
It’s always possible to take 1 more step but every step and every second is a challenge. At most the hike to the summit will take 7 hours but the awareness of the size of the mountain and the tiny distance of each step is painful.
As the seconds slowly pass 7 hours feels as if it will last forever.
But once you feel that the struggle is unending the pain no longer feels worth it the effort. You wonder if you’ll make it and you feel like you should quit.
How do you push through?
Think Beyond The Completion Of The Challenge
You must believe the end is near and that you’re close. It is, and you are.
A 7-hour hike is almost over as soon as you begin. You sleep for 8 hours every night.
Even long-term challenges lasting months or years will be finished relatively soon but a 7-day week, a 7-hour hike or a 7-minute meditation may feel like forever in the moment.
Uncomfortable or strenuous situations pass quickly but seem to last forever when we’re in the middle of them. This feeling of a 'forever' increases your pain, your hopelessness and your likelihood to quit.
Absolute timescales are difficult to comprehend, but it’s much easier to wrap your mind around the current challenge, to break out of the feeling of ‘forever’ and see the end, by comparing or relating your current challenge to something much more difficult.
Imagine Doing Your Challenge… Twice
When I was on the mountain I imagined that as soon I was at the peak and then back at camp I would need to climb it all again right away, this time in the heat of day and already exhausted from the first climb.
Thinking of how difficult the 2nd climb would be, the 1st climb was easier. I could more clearly visualize the 1st climb as a finite challenge with a definite end rather than a never-ending upward struggle. I could wrap my mind around the first climb, extending my awareness beyond its fast-approaching completion.
Try this with any challenge you’re facing.
An project at work
A sales quota
Your morning workout
Saving a certain amount of money
Imagine that you must do the project twice, close twice as many sales, do twice as many push ups, meditate for twice as long, or save twice as much money.
The required mental/physical exertion doesn’t decrease but your perception of its difficulty does. Imagine twice as much, three times, or even doing the task forever like Sisyphus pushing the stone up the mountain.
Once you’ve gained the correct mental state, the awareness of the incredibly short duration of your current strain or discomfort, you can continue with a sense of calm unconcern, taking the small steps one by one that get you to your summit.
Pictures From The Huayna Potosi Climb