Monday Musings…. The Keys to Finishing Strong! Part One

Are we there yet? This is the familiar complaint of many a traveller as they grow weary thinking the road trip will never end. Isn’t it true that reaching the destination always seems to take longer than the return trip home? It’s such a mental mystery.

How many times in our journey through this life, do we want to literally pull over and take a break, or give up, thinking it’s not worth it, longing to return home where it’s comfortable? We’ve all been there.

Many college and university students have just completed their exams and have another year completed under their belts as they press onto an often, uncertain future. They too can’t see the end of the road at times.

As I sat at my desk marking this past week, I kept thinking of each individual student who I had under my care for the last 14 weeks. What a journey we had been on together! Some of the students enrolled in my class I never did meet, not even once. They didn’t even make it to the starting line. Some started out very strong and then stopped coming, with no explanation; they must have taken a detour as they never made it to the finish line for the course. There could have been a variety of reasons for this, but sadly I will never know. I hope, and I’m sure their program coordinators hope, that they will find there way back onto the track. That left the majority of students who pushed through to the very end. Some were gasping for air at the finish line, while others had their personal best performance, and still others had turned pro and soared to victory.

So, what’s the difference between those who have good intentions, but no follow through, and those who triumph, each and every time. Most people think that victory in life is for the naturally talented. But I am convinced that everyone of us can become an elite performer, in whatever realm we find ourselves in, if we put our mind to it.

Angela Duckworth, in her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance makes a very important observation: Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare. Let’s think about it: we’ve all had good intentions about losing weight, going to the gym, getting organized, getting good grades, rearranging our priorities. We get our calorie counter app, buy healthy food at the grocery store, get our workout gear (even a little too tight so it motivates us to want to fit into it better), we buy our storage bins or Marie Kondo’s book to help us tidy up, or mount our 2' x 3', 4 month wall calendar so we can map out our schedules and highlight our To Do lists. We’ve embraced enthusiasm and moved towards the starting line! And the count down begins: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and….

"Oh wait a sec, you know I’ve got company coming this weekend so I can’t start my diet until after that. I can’t get to the gym because I have to take the kids to soccer. I just can’t keep up on the laundry so how can I possibly organize things. I’ve got multiple commitments on my calendar, so maybe tomorrow I’ll get to that assignment…" Some sadly don’t even start the race.

Let’s look at three possible reasons why enthusiasm is so short lived.

The first reason why enthusiasm falls by the wayside is because you have set unrealistic goals: "I want to have that beach bod by June 1st even though I have 25 pounds to lose. I can go to the gym, take the kids to their sporting events, work full time, and make homemade meals, plus have my house completely organized, while taking my night class for credit towards my diploma." You convince yourself that happiness only comes with INSTANT success in whatever area you are trying to improve: whether that is physical, mental, or financial health, or your relationships. So, you sabotage yourself right from the beginning because you’ve set the bar too high. This is compounded by marketers and social media moguls who tell you that you can have it all; when all they want is your money and your traffic to their websites which give you ad upon ad to get you to purchase their products. You buy the memberships, products, online training sessions. But you feel defeated before you even start.

The second reason you can’t get past the starting line is that you lack the confidence that you can do it, that you can move forward and improve yourself. Doubt stops progress in its path. It makes you feel helpless to change, so you give in and retreat to your comfort zone. Even though your mind will tell you it's not the best place for you to go, it's the most familiar. So, you leave the starting line, pull up a chair on the sidelines, and watch everyone around you do their thing. You are envious of them, but you believe it’s just not possible for you. So, you say to yourself: “I know I should _____________, but I know I can’t.”

Reason number three is you’ve got too much on your plate already. This is probably the most common barrier to starting the race let alone finishing it. You don’t think you can handle one more thing. It’s believing that you are already stretched to the limit. And this may be true. But that actually may be part of the problem, that you are doing too much. We’ve all heard the expression about the straw that broke the camel’s back, and you may be close to that. Ask yourself how that plate got so full in the first place.

So, we have three valid reasons and there may be more that you can think of, for why you can’t get past the starting line: unrealistic goals, lack of confidence, and too many demands for your time. Note that each one of these reasons is not a sign of a character flaw, lack of intelligence, or simply that you are just being too lazy. They are not. They are barriers we knowingly or unknowingly put in the way. But each one of the reasons will make you give up. And this is what's plagued people for centuries, not just students. But think about it: you can't finish what you don't start!

In order for you to plant your feet securely at the starting line of the race in your own lives, you have to change some previous ways of thinking and responding to the demands around you. It begins with changing excuses (“I can’t do this" "I can't say no") into expectations (“I can”).

Lauren Daigle's song "Look Up Child" takes us into the world of doubt especially when the world is crumbling. Doubt is paralyzing, but there is way to push past this. Next week, we will look at three steps you can take to get you to out of that starting gate and moving forward in your life, and then three more steps to help you finish strong! We're not there yet!

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