Go Until You Break

endurance exercise limits relationships training warrior spirit

When I ran cross country in high school, the races got pretty intense, and I often found myself obliged to push myself to run faster and faster in order to stay ahead of other competitors. I remember during one of our most significant meets I came up on another runner from a school that regularly beat us. As I came up behind him, he started to run faster, and so did I. When he realized I wasn't going to let him just get away, he picked up his pace even more. I followed. Soon we were practically sprinting, and I started to feel that I might throw up.

Normally, that was the point where I would slow down. I didn't want the embarrasement of vomitting during the race, and I feared that if I went that far, the rest of my run would be ruined. The voice in my head said, "Better let this guy have it. Otherwise I'll throw up."

Today, however, I answered that voice: "So what? So what if I throw up? I can run right now, at this instant. Nothing is physically preventing me from going, just this discomfort in my belly. Let me just keep going until I actually stop, until something actually changes. Instead of stopping at the threat of breaking, I'm going to keep going until something actually does break."

And so I kept up my pace. My running partner fell back, and while my pace did slow after that duel, I did not fall apart and I managed a very good time.

The Fear of Failure

In sports there is a saying that people are afraid of failing and messing up. The belief is that we want to avoid the blow to our ego that comes with not succeeding.

I think this is true to an extent, but I believe that a great deal of that avoidance of failure comes from the fear of breaking or hurting ourselves. In sports this is especially true. In social and intellectual endeavors, it can refer to damaging our reputations or wasting our time.

Physically, our bodies have built in mechanisms to keep us from hurting ourselves. Usually, we pass out throw up, or collapse before anything truly breaks. We are afraid of getting to that point, however. We don't want our bodies to have to resort to those kind of measures, largely because they are extremely uncomfortable.

However, the threat of collapsing is a very different thing from actual collapse. If you feel yourself actually falling apart, then by all means take a rest. But if you are merely afraid of getting to that point, I say test the limits of your body's patience. See how far you can push it before it actually decides to break out the punishment. In the same way a child might fear the parent's punishment long, long before the parent is actually willing to unleash it, our minds are afraid to push our bodies to the point of anger.

A Healthy Curiosity

The truth is, I have never actually thrown up during a race. Nor have I ever passed out. Maybe I just never held to my own philosophy of pushing to my limits, though I'd like to think it is due to me taking care of my health generally. Because I have never actually seen what my body threatens, I always wonder what might actually happen.

During exercise in which I have to push to myself, I might feel sick or tired or weak, and I might start worrying about all the horrible things that might happen. I think, "I'd better stop in case I vomit, or pass out." But then I remember that I've never gotten to that point, so I can't really be sure of what will happen, if anything.

This curiosity has enabled me to push the envelope in so many things that I do, from fitness to professional and academic pursuits, to my emotional life. What will happen if I keep running this fast? What will happen if I apply for this job? What will happen if I let myself fall in love totally?

You may answer that you have been burned in these situations, and so you are prudent in your hesitation to take the risks and push your limits. But I reply that you can never know what will happen in every situation. I've had my heart broken many, many times, but each time I met someone new, the situation was different, and I could justifiably wonder what might happen if I let myself trust this particular person. And each time things did turn out differently. A few times ended in heartbreak again, but by maintaining a healthy curiosity (and a touch of masochistic willingness to test the waters again) I was able to open my heart and find myself safe in love.

Learn from Your Mistakes, but Don't Shy Away from Them

Obviously, we should learn from our failures. I did learn a few things about love in my first few relationships that enabled me to succeed in my latest. We are presented with a series of choices, like a road that forks many times. Each time we go down the road, we can choose to go left or right. Each time, we get a little farther along. If you keep going right and you keep failing, turn left next time. Then you'll have another fork to test.

Too often, people mess up once, try the same thing a second time, and then never venture down that road again, unaware that they have other options to get where they want to go. Instead they think that they simply cannot go down that road, even if millions of others have done so before.

Don't Make Assumptions About Your Limits

The whole point of this post is to remind Warriors not to prescribe limits to themselves, especially when those limits are fear-based. Don't assume you are weaker than everyone else, or not as smart. Go out and actually test it. (I don't recommend assuming abilities beyond your limits either. In both cases, go out and test what you are actually capable of instead of leaving it to conjecture). In any case, it is better to try, over and over, for what you want rather than to simply give up on yourself before you've actually experienced total failure.

Don't stop for fear of failing. Go until you actually do fail, until your body gives out on you, until all of your resources have been exhausted. You'll often find that point is much, much further away than you initially imagined, and you may never even get there.

And if you do fail, get up, recover yourself, and try again, taking the other choices and learning from your mistakes. There is only one ultimate failure. Everything else is just a speed bump.


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