BY: Stefan Danis
Most of us don’t make bold decisions until we are pushed to the wall. Mine came in October 2008. The severe economic crash had shattered our business and my confidence. I had to find a way to regain my health physically, emotionally and spiritually and went looking for a transformative project completely outside of my comfort zone. I started running. Five months after I took my first steps, I ran the 2009 Gobi March in China. “If I can run this I can handle anything including the recession,” I thought. My journey had similarities to some of the 300,000 Canadians who had just lost their jobs as they too embarked on their own challenge. I had never run 42 kilometres before. The race was 250 kilometres, running six marathons in five days in some of the world’s least hospitable terrain along with runners from 25 countries, each of us carrying all of our food and survival supplies on our back, unaided. I hoped to finish; I won the 40-50 age group.The experience was indeed transformative; I would write a book, join the speaking circuit, and ultimately help raise $175,000 for individuals in need. In the Gobi, I also raced against teams of three, where runners complete the full distance shoulder to shoulder. Curious to explore the team concept, we ran as a team in the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Sahara Race in Egypt, and The Last Desert in Antarctica. Next is Namibia in May 2016. Here, I share three lessons I learned running deserts. On the opposite page I invite you to find your own Gobi.
MAKE YOUR GOAL A PROMISE
When faced with a challenge, wanting to overcome it is a great start. The next and more difficult step is committing to that want.
Private goals we set for ourselves many times have a way of falling short, amounting to little more than good intentions. Initial excitement wears off, apathy sets in, self-doubt follows and ultimately we give in and our minds rationalize the decision.
As soon as I chose to tell everyone about the Gobi project I realized backing out would be impossible. Making such a public statement was in effect a declaration, and a declaration is the highest form of promise. The law of diminishing intentions may drain our willingness to go after goals, but rarely will it have the same effect on a promise we’ve made. Even today, for most people, giving their word still means something and breaking a promise is unacceptable. When you promise something, it serves to not only draw you closer to your goal, but also eliminates any escape mechanism.
FIRST TRAIN YOUR ATTITUDE
When facing a challenge, we typically dedicate the majority of our time focused on acquiring a new skill, rather than training our attitude so that the new skill can flourish.
After signing up for the Gobi, the best advice I got was that it wasn’t a marathon, but a race that was more mental than physical. That simple statement would drive everything I did. Yes, I had to learn to run half the distance. But I would need to rely on my mind for the other half. How should I train my attitude?
I decided to run ONLY when I didn’t want to.
I ran at midnight, after a meal when I felt full, during storms and blizzards, when I was ill, or whenever my voice inside said: “I’m tired.” If there was beautiful sunshine outside with perfect running conditions, I did strength training inside instead. My training would add up to less distance than most, but every time I ran I received the compound upshot of slowly building the mental attitude and immunity required to deal with the adverse conditions the desert would unleash.
Life hands us all opportunities yet we perceive most of them as outside our comfort zone. A big project comes up and the standard response is “no, this is not reasonable.” As we age, it gets worse as our risk tolerance decreases, and decision making hovers between protecting ourselves and what we have, and avoiding the sting of potentially failing at the expense of taking on something new. When faced with that decision, think of being unreasonable.
When the Gobi project appeared, my immediate response was obvious: I had no experience! And even if I thought I could, I didn’t have enough time to get ready. I had so many reasons not to do it. “Be unreasonable,” I thought. I stopped listening to the “voices” and went ahead. The rest is history.
Reasonableness is a standard against which we make most decisions. It typically yields a predictable outcome: playing the game of life not to lose. Being unreasonable opens up the option of playing to win.