When I work out with my trainer, I always ask him how many reps I have to do before I start. There’s something about knowing a definite number that helps me wrap my head around the exercise – regardless of how difficult it is – and successsfully complete it. I’m not one of those people who can do “as many as you can.” My brain doesn’t work that way. It’s not hard for me to be persistent and succeed when I know what the end looks like. “Do 12 repetitions and you’re done.” Life doesn’t always look like that though. Sometimes, success isn’t so clear cut. Success looks like “do whatever is necessary to survive,” and that’s harder for most people to grasp.
Knowing the obstacle is one thing, but how do we persevere against the unknown?
Here are a few things I do when I don’t have a complete understanding of what the end looks like:
- Define what I can. If I can’t get all the way to the end, but I can name the next few benchmarks, I do that. I then chisel away at those, hoping the rest will get clearer as I go. Sometimes I just need to get my head going in the right direction for the rest of the plan to fall into place. I often refer to this as doing the next right thing. If I focus on making sure I do the next right thing – not all of the things – I remain relatively certain I’ll arrive at an end that I really like.
- Find things that are similar. When I start to feel as though I don’t know where I’m headed, I reflect on things I’ve done before that might be similar. Compare and contrast are skills we start using as a pre-schooler. “Which of these objects is not like the other?” We continue them throughout the rest of our lives. “Compare and contrast these candidates.” How is the thing you’re attempting – that appears unknown – similar and different from things you’ve done (or others have done) previously? Use that knowledge to develop your approach. Chances are you have already taken on and conquered a similar challenge in the past.
- Ask for assistance from somebody you trust. Sometimes, my trainer assigns me an exercise that is just mentally overwhelming for me. It seems like there’s no way I could accomplish it. At that point, I have two options: a) ask for help or b) refuse to do the exercise. One of those options won’t get me closer to my goals, so I ask for help. Sometimes, it’s reassurance. “Can I really do this?” It’s amazing, but when David Smelker tells me I can do it, I trust him, and mentally, I get prepared to conquer the exercise. Sometimes, I ask for a spot. “Can you make sure I don’t drop this on my head?” I know he has my back and doesn’t want me to fail, so I know he will help me succeed along the way. Lastly, sometimes I ask him to help me get started. “Can you help me get the bar off the stand, so I can get situated?” That initial assistance to help orient myself and make sure my form is correct might be all I need to complete the rest of it. With any of these, I also know I have his words of encouragement along the way – which goes a long way in helping me be successful.
I know it sounds simple. There’s a reason why people don’t do it though. We’re afraid. All of us. Me, you, the person next to you in the coffee shop. If we can acknowledge that and find a group of people we trust to help us face the fear of the unknown, we significantly increase our chances of success.
What at do you do when you need to conquer something that really isn’t clearly defined? Share your ideas and help us all learn.