Any goal worth taking on is going to require effort, and somewhere along the way you are guaranteed to find your path getting hard. When the going gets tough, you might ask yourself, “How do I keep from quitting?”
Yesterday I had the privilege of spending the morning walking with someone who had hiked over 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT), and was in the process of hiking 1,000 more. As we negotiated a rocky ridge-line trail, he was able to share several insights about how he has been able to keep moving on in the face of difficulty.
Whether you are hiking thousands of miles or have some other “big goal” in mind, we can all benefit from what he had to say.
He went by the trail name of “Hammer.”
I was out on another conditioning hike, getting ready for a longer trip next week (preparation is half the battle, right?). I thought I’d hike it alone and just enjoy the solitude. But as I was parking the car near where the trail crossed the road, I saw a head with a red bandanna go bobbing by through the tall grass.
By the time I got my backpack on and started walking, he was well ahead. Once in a while, I could see him when the trail straightened out.
After about a mile, he paused, seeming to wait for me. I wasn’t sure if he just wanted me to pass or was wondering about walking together. A pleasant hello, a smile and a word or two and it became clear – he was a thru-hiker, on the trail alone, and walking company for a stretch might be good.
Hammer was from Ohio, and had been on the trail since March. He started down in Georgia and was on his way to Maine. Based on where we were on the trail, he had already hiked over 1,100 miles, more than half way to his objective.
I’m pretty impressed by people who can put a big goal out there, act to make it happen, and stick with it through thick and thin. Anyone who has walked that many miles through the woods has seen his share of ups and downs (both literally and figuratively).
In terms of odds, only about 25% of those hikers who start out actually finish all 2,100+ miles of the trail. So by that measure, he was already well ahead of the distribution curve. I could probably learn a lot from this person.
He walked behind as I lead. It may have been a wily thru-hiker trick, since I seemed to be finding a lot of cobwebs across the trail with my face!
Secrets to Success
After we had been walking and talking a while, I asked him about his secrets to success. One of them, he said, is how you handle adversity.
We’ve already talked here about some of the ways to deal with adversity, whether your plan is falling apart in front of your eyes, you are having trouble reaching your goals, or your reality is not matching up with your personal expectations.
But I liked his perspective. It’s not a matter of IF you will face difficulty, especially in an endeavor as big as this. It’s WHEN. It’s going to happen.
Hammer has faced many challenges on the trail. One of them he mentioned was walking through 19 straight days of rain. They sure don’t put that on the travel brochure! But if you are going to be outside for five months, you have to realize that it’s going to rain sometimes; maybe even a lot.
The rains may come, but the goal hasn’t changed, only the conditions. So what can we learn from Hammer about how to keep on keeping on when the trail gets tough?
8 Ways to Help You Keep Moving On
Confirm your “Why.” Ideally you have this figured out before you set off. It is much easier to stay motivated if you have a crystal clear purpose in mind. A good way to cement this in your brain is to write it down; finding the right words to express your aims and committing them to paper has the effect of making it more real in your mind. When you encounter trouble, pull this out and read it again.
Near the half way point, Hammer was experiencing some doubts, but a rest day of reflection and conversation with his wife helped him re-confirm why he was out on the trail and why he needed to finish.
Establish accountability. People have differing opinions about whether or not you should announce your plans, but if no one knows what you are trying to do, it is all the easier to quit. If you are serious, let people who care about you know what you are going after, and ask for their support.
Hammer has the support of his wife, family, and friends. On top of that, there are even several grade school classes in Texas that are following his journey. Can’t let the children down, right!
Recognize the support. Be thankful for the support you are getting, and recognize that they are invested in you and what you are doing. If your confidence is fading, remember that they have confidence in you, too.
It’s OK to ask for help. You don’t have to take your journey alone, and sometimes you need a little outside boost to keep going. You are not less of a person to ask for help; you show your wisdom when you understand your personal limitations and reach out to get beyond them.
Hammer thought he had sufficient funds to complete the hike, but the further north he goes, the more expensive it seems to become, whether it’s feeding his ravenous hiker’s appetite, an unexpected trip to the hopsital Emergency Room, or buying a third pair of boots. Low on cash, he has set up a gofundme page; check it out if you want to learn more.
Recognize the good. The big goal is part of it, but if that’s all you are focused on, you could be missing something pretty important.
On his hike, Hammer has seen deer, bear, even a bobcat, and has experienced the favors and good deeds of many well-wishers along the way. He acknowledges that he couldn’t have gotten this far without them.
Embrace the challenge. It has been said that anything worthwhile is not easy. So look on your obstacles as part of the price of admission to the next level. In the Army we say, “Embrace the suck.” On the AT, they say, “No Rain, No Pain, No Maine.” Expect it to be hard and prepare yourself to deal with it.
Hike your own Hike. Set your own goals and establish your own rhythm. Learn what works best for you and stick with that. Adapting to someone else’s patterns takes more energy and can cause friction; but if you can find a partner who is on the same wavelength, by all means team up.
Hammer is an early riser and likes to get his miles in while the day is still young. Others like to hang out for a while before getting underway. Find the tempo that is right for you, and resist the urge to compare or compete with others.
Take a break. Rest needs to be part of your plan. If you continually push to exhaustion, not only do you become physically tired, you become mentally tired and more susceptible to throwing in the towel. Willpower is like a muscle, and it’s strongest when you are fresh. Build rest into your plan.
At the half-way point, Hammer took a “Zero Day” – an entire day off with zero miles of hiking, his wife flew in to visit. They spent the day re-charging his mental batteries and reaffirming his “Why.”
How Not to Quit – The Takeaway
Hammer is hiking what is sometimes referred to as the “Long Green Tunnel” through the woods from Georgia to Maine. He’s been preparing for this challenge for years, and part of that preparation was a healthy appreciation for the challenges he would face along the way.
Some he expected. Others caught him by surprise. But by using the techniques he shared with me, he’s already made it a thousand miles, and he’s mentally ready for a thousand more.
I’m pretty sure he’s going to make it.
Whatever your “Long Green Tunnel” is, you can, too.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chewonki_mcs/4032062370/