How not to quit when things are getting difficult

It’s easy to start a journey or brag about the next amazing thing you plan to do, but our true identity will show up when things get hard. Some choose the easy way out, some push through. Let me tell you how to stop bulls#!ting yourself and to never give up!

“Never Surrender”

My years in the army taught me a lot of things. One of the most powerful was developing my psychological discipline, my mental toughness. If you think about a commando-paratrooper, the image you have in your mind is probably a strong and muscular guy.

Indeed most soldiers in operational units did build a muscular body because military life usually requires more endurance and strength than a normal job. But in fact, what really makes a tough warrior is the mindset. You can have the strongest body but in the end, your mind will always prevail. What separates soldiers from the rest is their mental strength.

One of the dreaded final tests during the commando-paratrooper training is the 10 miles run that we call “speed march”. No, not the kind of run you have in mind.

Let’s dive into a bit of history to understand where this comes from. During World War II, an airborne unit received the mission to seize and protect a bridge to fight the German invasion. The mission was clear: jump, infiltrate, take the position, fight back the enemy.

After the drop-off, the brave men realized that they were not where they were supposed to be but 10 miles further away. There was no time to lose, the enemy was coming and the mission was crucial. So they decided to drop the heavy stuff, carry the essentials for combat and run the 10 miles to get to the designated bridge on time.

In memory of this act of courage, most paratrooper units adopted the 10 miles run as a part of their training.

We were already months in the training, completely exhausted and at the edge of the limits of our body and mind. It was the morning of the final test day. First, we would have to complete the rope parkour (3-meter height parkour in the trees with no safety line) then an obstacle run of 500m with about 20 obstacles within a certain time limit, which would be followed by a “one-man carry” (also within a certain time limit), and finally the 10 miles run.

Muddy arms climbing up military ex paracommando Francois de Neuville

I passed the first test successfully and I was getting ready to start the 10 miles run. The rule is simple, you are dressed in your combat uniform, military boots, chest webbing with basic gears: 3 magazines, canteen carry (1L of water + quart), helmet, shovel, rifle.

You have to run the 10 miles (16km) in under 100 minutes. Oh yes, and you cannot have a watch nor drink the water you are carrying. There is only one way to be sure to complete the run under 100 minutes without having a timer: to run as fast as you can, the whole time.

If you fail (even just by 5 seconds), you receive a second chance to complete the run. The day after in the morning! Needless to say that the day after you will feel even worse and the chances of success are slim. So there is only one way to do it: give it all, show up as your best, and don’t give up!

I started the run with a good speed, then after a few kilometers the pain in my feet, my back, and my knees was getting stronger and stronger. The voices in my head were getting louder too…

– Why do you do that to yourself?

– Common, just stop!

– Maybe it’s just not what you want.

– You’re hurting yourself, that’s not good.

– Ok, enough now! At least walk.

– You can stop, nobody is forcing you!

– Congratulations, at least you tried, now you can quit.

– It’s not quitting, you just make a new decision.

Did I want to stop? Yes, 100%! Every single part of me wanted to quit!

Did I quit? Of course not!

I came up with a lot of excuses to stop, some of them to be honest were even funny and slightly ridiculous. I started contemplating those excuses and realized that I was trying hard to make more sense out of them and persuade myself. When things are getting more challenging we are looking for an easy way out, consciously or not. 

I had to laugh out loud when I caught myself thinking that stopping was not really quitting, but simply making a new decision. I tried hard to believe that, but deep inside I knew it was a lie.

I kept on going because I know that the people who will succeed in life are the ones who push through when it’s getting tough. The fulfilled people are those who understood that an obstacle is temporary. The happy people are those who didn’t let themselves down when they wanted to quit.

I ran the 10 miles in 78 minutes. It was hard, it was rewarding and a lesson that will shape the rest of my life.

Here is what I learned to push through and never give up.

1. Connect to your goals

When things get hard we tend to disconnect from our objectives. Suddenly the past situation doesn’t seem that bad anymore. It seems that some amnesia occurs and we rationalize the way back.

When this happens, it is key to focus on your goal. Best way to do it? Visualization. I talked about how to tap into your feeling to set an objective in this blog.

Visualizing what you want to achieve and being very clear about the feeling you want to experience will give you a clear direction and a source of motivation.

What does it look like for you?

How does it sound? Smell? Feel? 

Why is that important to you?

Take the time to reflect on it, ideally, you would have started with this step. I recommend making a vision board or simply a postcard that represents where you want to go and why it is important to you.

2. Focus on the progress

I was climbing the Kilimanjaro, in full autonomy, carrying all my material and my food. Believe me, my bag was heavy. I didn’t want to have a porter, but a guide was mandatory. And the guide needed a porter and a cook. So we were our little expedition of 4 climbing up the summit of Africa.

This volcano is quite special because of its location, it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world: 5895m above sea level. It is a tall peak in flat land.

Mount Kilimanjaro view over the shape

When I started the hike on day 1, the summit looked far. Really far. 

Day 2: still far.

Day 3: felt like I was not getting any closer.

Then walking on day 4, I still felt that there was a looooong way to go to reach the summit. But then I turned back and I saw that I was above the clouds.

All this time I have been so focused on the goal that I forgot where I started from. Focus on the progress rather than on the destination. Celebrate every single step you take that brings you a little closer to your goals.

3. Hardship is temporary

Whatever we feel in the moment usually feels like it will last forever. We tend to have a hard time projecting ourselves beyond the challenges we are facing in the current moment.

During my para-commando training, we were usually on exercises from Monday to Friday. Not the traditional daily 9-5 PM. No, I mean literally from Monday 6 AM to Friday 5 PM.

It was tough. When you start the day exhausted, hungry, cold, in muscle pain, and under a tremendous amount of pressure and realize that it is only Tuesday, believe me, the voices in your head are begging you to quit. It feels like the hardship will never stop and you know so much more is coming.

That’s the moment where I was telling myself, “this is not forever”, “it is just for now”, in a few days you will be home, sleeping in your bed after taking a nice hot shower and having a nice meal.

When you realize that the difficulty is momentary and will stop, you feel relieved. When you know that one day it will be ok, it is just a matter of pushing yourself a little more until you get to this moment.

Every time I went on a hike in the jungle or the mountain, the moment it was getting more challenging I kept thinking to myself that soon it will be over. “Everything is gonna be ok at the end. If it is not ok, it is not the end” J. Lennon.

Whatever hardship you experience is temporary. 

4. Listen to your dialogue and laugh it off

It was the summit day to the Uhuru peak (Kilimanjaro), I decided to do the whole hike up and down in 4 days. Faster than what is recommended. I like challenges.

The morning before the summit, the altitude was hitting me, I threw up on the way, and to be honest I was not feeling amazing. We were in April, it was dark, -20 degrees, and walking in half a meter of snow. I was exhausted.

Suddenly I could hear this voice saying: “that’s ok, just stop and sit down for a while…” What here? 400m before the summit? Stop walking all sweaty by – 20°C? Sit in the snow and wait for what? I’m at 5800m altitude, on the top of a volcano in Tanzania, except with a magic wand, there is no way out than to keep walking.

I started laughing! The guide asked me what was so funny, I just said that my monkey mind was trying to make me quit.

Making fun of those voices gave me so much confidence and a huge boost of energy. I won the battle over my mind. I found it funny to observe the tricks and ruses my mind was coming up with to try to make me stop. I know it is to protect me. It is a survival mechanism.

So I told my mind that I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do. And that I absolutely loved it! (Read more about how to tell your mind what you really want it to do).

Mount Kilimanjaro, Uhuru peak, summit day

I felt powerful again. I reconnected to my goal, remember that the hardship was temporary, laugh at my self-talk, and visualize myself soon sitting on the summit with pride.

YOU can be stronger than this voice, YOU can choose long-term satisfaction over immediate pleasure. YOU can decide to be in control (really in control) rather than choosing the easy way out. YOU can choose the path of mastery instead of the path of mediocrity.

5. Surround yourself with people who pull you up

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” African Proverb.

It is not weak to look for support. Nobody ever made it completely alone. We are stronger together. No need to argue about this. When things get hard, you are your first help and support. But if you can’t get yourself through the difficulty, this is the moment when others enter the game.

Surround yourself with people who got your back, people who can support you and give you help and assistance when you need it. Friends, family, partner, professionals.

It is not a sign of weakness to seek support, it is a proof of wisdom.

6. How to fail at anything

Here is the perfect formula to make sure you will not reach your goal: 

Step 1: Make sure you don’t know what you want to achieve or pick up something you don’t really care about, something that others told you that you should go after.

Step 2: Stay completely focused on reaching the final destination and do not give a damn about anything else. Forget your health, your relationships, and everything else that is a “distraction”.

Step 3: Do it alone, don’t involve anybody else.

Step 4: Listen to the excuses you will make along the way and rationalize your way out.

Great! It got hard and you gave up! But you actually told yourself that you simply made a new decision and that it is fine because it is not something you really want to do anymore. You just changed your mind. Deep down, you know it’s not true but you try to convince yourself (and others) otherwise.

Secretly you are left with regrets, unfulfilled and even a bit shameful. You don’t want people (including yourself) to know that, so you wear your social mask. But you know that you let yourself down.

7. Failure is so, when you decide it is

Failing is a decision to stop trying. “I didn’t fail, I found 10.000 ways it won’t work” T. Edisson. It is all about mindset. The best way to look at it is to zoom out, increase the time frame.

When a toddler is trying to walk for the first time, he will fall. What happens if he thinks, “ok. I stop, that’s not for me!”? Now if we look at that specific moment, falling means failing to walk. But if we increase the time window, it is simply one of the steps in the process of learning to walk.

Baby learning to walk showing to never give up

You can either use a failure to keep learning (then it is not a failure anymore) or as an excuse to stop trying. In the end, it is only becoming a failure when you decide to stop there and give up.

Stop bulls#!ting yourself 

Don’t choose the easy way. It’s not the most rewarding one. Connect to your goals, focus on the progress, think of the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Tell your mind what you really want, observe your self-talk and choose the empowering pitch. It is only gonna be a failure when you decide to quit.

It doesn’t have to be hard. But be sure that we will face challenges. And if you don’t, it’s probably because you are not pushing yourself enough.

Set yourself up for success, don’t do it all alone, look for support. 


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