Weakness, Wisdom and Finishing Strong
By Stacie Prada, Keep Doing What You’re Doing
August 17, 2018
Can I do it? Should I do it?
In each moment I start to struggle, I think about pushing and accepting my limits, and I think about whether I’m coming from a place of weakness or wisdom. Everyone has limits, and people with chronic illnesses have an added layer of issues to consider. I think it pushes us to be experts at monitoring our health, considering all of the risks and gains, and making wise decisions about doing what we think is best for us in each moment.
If I go for a jog, I’ll monitor my body to see if I can do what I set out to do. If I struggle too much, I’ll debate with myself as to whether I need to change the plan. If I feel awful when I wake up in the morning, I’ll tell myself that if I just take a shower I can see how I feel and adjust my day if needed. When I plan for my future, I consider what’s likely, what I’m afraid may happen, and whether I’ll be able to live well emotionally and financially for anything within the range of possibilities, good or bad.
Just thinking about my options and spending time weighing what’s best in the moment takes energy. My self-talk includes asking myself what would make me feel stronger in this moment. If I realize that the words I’m saying to myself are making me feel weak, I try to think about what I need to hear to feel stronger. How can I frame this situation into feeling like I’m deciding from a place of strength and wisdom?
I might find myself thinking, “this is hard, why am I pushing myself, and all of these (fill in the blank) reasons make it silly for me to try.”
I don’t want to be stubborn or expect too much, but I also don’t want to sell myself short. If I do less than I anticipated, it can feel like I’m succumbing to weakness. Yet I think it’s important to consider that I may be exercising wisdom.
It’s moments of weakness that push us to gain wisdom. When things are easy, we don’t need to work smarter or get wiser. We can muscle our way through them without much thought. When things are tough, we can do without, find a new way, or change our expectations. When I realize I may not be able to do what I set out to do, I can tell myself I’m sick, I’m weak, and my future is going to be worse. I might accurately tell myself that continuing to push myself will cause consequences not worth the gain. That if I do less today, it may help me avoid injury and it may help me be able to do more tomorrow.
I can be both weak and wise, and it can help me do better in the long run.
I ran a race after a really low point physically due to my Multiple Sclerosis. A few weeks prior, my fitness ability was compromised by my MS fatigue to the point where walking half a mile was taxing and caused me to suffer. I debated whether I’d need to call a friend to come pick me up and drive me home. It was a new low point for me physically, and I wanted to cry. It startled me and depressed me. I chose to push myself to walk home, and I gave myself permission to go as slowly as I needed to get there. I also gave myself permission to change my mind and change the plan at any moment along the way. I made it through, and looking back I think either decision would have been right for me.
I had a friend once say out loud at lunch, “I’m debating whether to have dessert.” A few minutes later, she took a piece of cake and said, “I won.” I think either decision in a lot of situations could be judged as winning. There’s almost never a clearly right or wrong decision. It’s just a million little decisions that add up to good or bad judgment overall.
In the moment of any struggle, the decision may be the same whether it’s made from a place of weakness or wisdom. What really matters is where my head is when I decide. When I’m struggling and not sure what’s best for me in the moment, it helps me to ask myself these questions:
If I slow down or quit, will it help me in another way? Will it maintain my health, my relationships or avoid injury? Will it accomplish another goal I have? Will it build strength, help with recovery, improve my relationships or save my sanity? Will I have regrets if I stop now? Can I slow down and still accomplish the goal? Might I achieve the main reason for the goal another way?
During the race I did, I asked myself a lot of questions. I weighed how hard it was in the moment, and I assessed how much farther I had to go to the finish line. I asked if continuing would cause injury. I decided that I could alternate between jogging, walking and running without hurting myself. I focused on what I could do so that it drowned out the negative, demotivating thoughts swirling in my head. I asked myself what I needed to hear in that moment to make me feel strong and wise. The questions turned to a mantra, “You can do it…stride, stride, stride…good form…breathe in, breathe out…you got this…pace to finish strong…”
It wasn’t all talk, and it wasn’t denial. I felt stronger, and I became stronger. I ran with purpose, and I slowed down when it felt right. I felt powerful both physically and emotionally.
With both the one-mile walk where I barely made it home without help and during the race where I found my stride, I asked the same questions of myself. My performance was drastically different, and my ability dictated both experiences. For the disheartening walk, I decided it was good that I tried to do it. Even though it was too much, I decided it was better that I tried and faced my limits than if I’d stayed home and not exerted any energy at all. With the race I pushed up against my limits, backed off and pushed them again. On that day, my body was ready to do more. These two moments of weakness and strength were only weeks apart. In both of them I believe I practiced wisdom and poised myself to finish strong sooner or later.
These questions work for me with any decision I’m facing. When I look within myself and am honest about the possibility that I’m acting from a place of fear and weakness, it helps me find my path to deciding from a place of genuine strength and wisdom.
Doing something or not doing it can come from any mindset, and it really matters what I believe to be true when I decide. To someone else, the decision and outcome they perceive may be the same, but the intent behind it will determine whether I feel defeated or victorious.