Increasing our endurance is a key to having a long, productive life. The ability to make yourself do what you DON’T want to do (and to do it well) is vitally important. Without grit, fortitude and determination, success in the major endeavors of life can be overwhelmingly tough to obtain.
In my early 20’s, I began studying the topic of leadership training, especially as it applies to men and boys. I quickly noticed a strong, direct connection between a person’s effectiveness and their ability to deal with hardship and tragedy.
I began noticing people who had successful experiences with getting tough, nasty jobs done. These kinds of people can often be found among the military, first-responders like medics and fire fighters, construction crews, farmers, miners, oil field workers, etc.
Success in tough jobs such as these require a person to go above and beyond what “normal” people would or could. And, people in all professions and in all stages of life can learn some key life-lessons from them about the value of endurance and staying power.
There are 3 basic ways that we can increase our endurance:
- Revise your expectations about the problems of life.
I have been accused (rightly I believe) that I have what some call a “warped sense of humor.” In my defense, my life has taught me to view hardship differently than the average American of today might. Being able to laugh at things that others might see as tragic or depressing can sometimes be a helpful tool in the toolbox of life.
Many believe that life “owes” them a certain level of ease and comfort. And, they often define that level as being much too high for what realistic expectations should be.
Listen to me — troubles are not “signs” that something is wrong. Problems are not “reasons” to give up. Difficulties don’t “prove” your inadequacies. In fact, things in life that “knock us down” are actually more “normal” than many think.
Great leaders from all of the world’s religions have taught that increasing our endurance, not the avoidance of problems, is the way to go.
- Jesus the Master Teacher once said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b (NIV)
- Confucius, the wise Chinese teacher said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
- India’s Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
- Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda said, “Suffering only gets worse when we try to run from it rather than facing it.”
The truths regarding obstacles in real life can be found in sayings such as these:
- “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”
- “No pain, no gain.”
- “They might kill you, but if you’re tough enough, they won’t want to eat you.”
- “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
- “There’s nothing to fear except fear itself.”
- “Today is a good day to die” (in battle).
- “If you make me chase you, you’ll go to jail tired.”
Expecting things in life to be quickly and easily successful sets us up for great mental anguish. If we expect ease, and find only one obstacle after another, it can lead to an inner sense of hopelessness.
On the other hand, if we expect things to be tough, nasty and difficult, we mentally “win” no matter what happens:
- The greater the problems, the more we feel, “Yep, that’s just what I thought. It doesn’t surprise me, and I planned for something like that to happen.”
- If problems don’t occur, or if they are less than expected, we think, “Score! My plans just got moved forward much more quickly than I expected!”
We simply must find ways to view life’s struggles as normal and natural parts of living!
- Find real-life examples of hope in the middle of despair, and mentally focus on them instead of the challenges you face.
Another big step towards becoming a person of endurance is in knowing that others who have had your problems have been successful in spite of them. It’s incredibly valuable to say things to yourself that focus on the positive, rather than the negative.
- “If THEY can do it, so can I!”
- “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
Learning how to hope in the middle of despair is one of the keys to increasing endurance.
- Endurance is learned and maintained best in community with others who struggle.
Duke Theologian C. Kavin Rowe said in a blog post a couple of years ago:
“We often think of resilience in individual terms: this or that person is resilient. But communities of hope — the calling of all Christian communities — are actually places that have resilience written into their being. They are founded on hope, and their very existence testifies to the fact that getting back up is not simply a matter of the individual will. We can be helped back up, and can learn how to help others up.
“Hope too, therefore, is not only our own response to the world but is something we can extend to others and they can extend to us. Christian communities often fall far short of being places of hope, but that is their foundation and their calling.
“Because of God’s work in Christ, we can, quite literally, hope for someone else, and they can hope for us.
“Start talking with resilient leaders and soon enough you will see that someone hoped for them in a time when they couldn’t get back up. Resilience, in this understanding, is a communal practice, the fruit of a common life rooted in hope itself.”
Increasing our endurance is a common, repeating theme in human culture:
- The phoenix dies and is reborn out of its own ashes
- “The Little Engine That Could” – “I think I can! I think I can!”
- Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky movies
- The 1997 Chumbawamba song “Tubthumping” – “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never going to keep me down!”
- Literally thousands of similar examples
Increasing our endurance is important, both to us and to our children. Be VERY careful about how easy you make things for your kids. If they don’t grow up learning how to increase their own endurance in the face of difficulties, they will be at a great disadvantage in their adult lives.
In the words of an adopted grandfather of mine, “Son, no one is going to “give” you anything but a hard time. Dig in, get to work and get past whatever hard time you are having!”
- Kavin Rowe, Cultivating Resilience in Christ-Shaped Leaders http://www.faithandleadership.com/c-kavin-rowe-cultivating-resilience-christ-shaped-leaders
- John 16:33b (NIV)