Endurance is the ability to face adversity to reach thrivability.
Adversity can be physical, like the last exhausting miles a triathlete must run on the way to the Ironman finish line. The adversity can be mental, like the shards of self-doubt and -criticism that rain down just prior to completing a book. The adversity can be emotional, like the evidence of indiscretions found while coming to terms with the end of a long relationship.
But endurance, at its core, is built upon the twin resources of hope and optimism. It’s based on an unshaken belief there’s something better just ahead, just across the finish line, just beyond those moments of doubt, just after the next sunrise. And endurance increases by working hard to get to where things are imagined to be better.
The key to building endurance is to constantly find inspiration to continue on from ever-changing sources. You’ve got to distract your mind from the unpleasantness at hand: the miles to go, the doubts looming large, the pains of betrayal, and put your focus on anything but what troubles you presently. What got you to the last corner or over the next hump isn’t necessarily what’ll get you to the next.
Some choose mantras; some choose math problems; some choose meditation; some choose therapy. All choose to endure. As Bengali poet Rabindrinath Tagore wrote, "Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it."
For the mental skills you use to convince yourself to go just a little bit farther, to hold space a little bit longer, to believe a little bit deeper are those same skills that will propel you to greatness when the burden eases… when the adversity passes and it’s time to thrive.
The human brain is pre-programmed to pull you up short before your reserves are tapped. Your brain wants you to survive. When you’re suffering, your brain isn’t interested in thriving, it simply wants to keep firing to live another day.
But by building up your endurance, by pushing beyond where your brain tells you to stop, you can explore just how much farther you can go. We’re all good at self-limiting, at playing it safe, at taking less risk purely as a matter of survival.
The attitude of endurance is a matter of pushing through the adversity and realizing what our true potential is. Because when the load is lifted, and eventually it always is lifted, we’ll know what it means to thrive.