Mind Battles in the Grand Canyon
“I have to be honest with you folks—I have 0% left to give.”
Julie and Ricky didn’t say anything; probably because they knew I had no other choice but to go on. As adventure guides, they probably hear exacerbated remarks like this all the time.
I looked to the others in our group. Amanda, Jason, and Kathleen all bore a striking resemblance to how I was feeling. Completely exhausted.
Julie finally spoke up. “Well, the good news is we’re already more than halfway there.”
She highlighted a great point, and it provided some valuable insight. About an hour earlier, after eight hours of walking, we had crossed the Colorado River—the halfway point in our traverse of the Grand Canyon.
“That is a very encouraging point,” I replied. Her comment reminded me of an article I read just before hopping on the flight to Arizona:
“I read a fascinating article recently that said after giving our all, when we think we have nothing more to give, we’ve actually only done 40% of what we’re capable of.”
“I’ve heard about this,” Ricky replied. Ricky’s done his fair share of ultra endurance challenges, so to hear his testimony was further encouragement.
“Yeah! And studies have even been done to demonstrate this,” I continued. “Scientists studying the neuromuscular system found that nerves will send signals to the brain signaling that we are tired—when in reality, what is actually tired is our nerves, not our muscles! We are literally stronger than we think!”
Ricky interjected, “Your body is an avatar and your mind is in control telling it what to do.”
Amanda, Jason, and Kathleen were now sitting and leaning on rocks themselves, nodding in mindless agreement. Julie was itching to keep moving forward.
“Don’t you see?” I continued, “This means we are surely capable of making it the rest of the way. We’re already more than halfway there, and I feel like I’m at 0%—but that means I actually still have 60% more to give! Therefore, I have more than enough strength to make it to the other side of the canyon!”
No one seemed nearly as excited about my science and math rationale as I was, but I didn’t care. I was armed with the confidence and motivation I needed to stay resilient and keep moving forward.
The whole conversation lasted no more than a minute or so before we all got up and pressed on. And after a total of 16 hours and 23.5 miles—climbing down the 4,380 foot wall of the south side of the canyon at sunrise, trekking through the scorching heat inside the canyon, and then climbing up the 5,781 foot north wall of the canyon after sunset—we finally made it to the other side of the Grand Canyon.
To this day, the experience of finally making it to the other side of the Grand Canyon, even after my body told me I couldn’t go another step, is one of the most remarkable and exhilarating moments of my life.
“What else am I capable of?” I wondered.
That night at camp my body let me know I had truly pushed the limits of my capacity, as my legs couldn’t move without cramping up. I couldn’t even take off my hiking boots! I felt helpless.
But there was little time to feel helpless, because before sunrise we were all dropping back into the canyon to hike back to the other side. Everything we had just done, we were going to retrace our steps and do it all again.
“How am I going to do this?” I wondered? “I can’t even move!”
But I already knew how I was going to do it. I had already done half of the double traverse and I felt like I was at 0%—but that meant I actually still have 60% more to give! Therefore, I had more than enough strength to make it to the other side of the canyon again.
After dinner, before quickly falling fast asleep in the tent, I wondered: “If I can be resilient and do what I just did today, what else am I capable of?”
When we choose resilience, by facing challenges rather than running away from discomfort and pain, we discover we are capable of far more than we realize.
Sometimes life throws us challenges and we have no choice but to deal with them: a broken down car, a break up, a lost job, the death of a loved one, and any number of other challenges we’d rather not face.
By occasionally putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations voluntarily when the stakes are low, we can effectively practice for facing uncomfortable situations that are forced upon us when the stakes are high.
Without resilience, even minor challenges can become roadblocks that discourage us from moving forward. And yet, when we are resilient, we become empowered to continue moving forward even in the most difficult of times.
In the words of T.S. Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Up until now, how have you demonstrated resilience? And what are you doing today to challenge your beliefs about yourself and what you’re truly capable of?
I'm a mirror (and so are you).