Do you know what the hardest part of a marathon is? It’s the last mile. That’s the point where your body and more importantly your mind begin to work against you. Your confidence turns into negativity and you think, I can’t do this!
We find ourselves as a nation, as a world, deep into our COVID-19 marathon. As we struggle with the demands of sheltering-in-place, job losses, and everyday inconveniences, there’s a tendency to become numb to the staggering, upsetting number of deaths and new infections. This “numbing” is dangerous; it’s a form of denial capable of perpetuating short sightedness, if not recklessness. It’s also a form of what psychologists call derealization—a detachment from the reality and impact of what others are going through.
We’re approaching a critical point in our battle, a point where something in us wants to say, “Enough! I can’t do this!” And this is a dangerous point. A point where recklessness can begin to replace compliance, where defiance can replace cooperation, and where selfishness can replace a sense of community and country.
Tolerance and resilience—two closely related terms.
I think of tolerance as the capacity to endure continued hardship. Until now we’ve shown remarkable tolerance to the restrictive demands imposed on our lives. However, as weeks turn into months, as our sprint turns into a marathon, we find our resilience—the ability to adapt to ongoing challenges—beginning to wane. And herein lies a danger. If our esprit de corps is replaced with an abandonment of common sense and common purpose, then impulsivity will become a driving force. It’s crucial that we guard against allowing our emotions to overrun our practicality.
Realistically, we can’t afford to loosen—or lose—our emotional grip at this point. We can’t afford to panic. The key to our ongoing endurance is not to allow our insecurity to fill our heads with incessant doubt, fear, and negativity. Left unchecked, these thoughts will accumulate, producing a volatile state of mind—the very last thing you/we need right now.
I’m reminded of my first marathon. As I reached the end of my emotional and physical tolerance, I began fighting a litany of ongoing crippling and sabotaging thoughts that kept insisting, “I can’t do this.” At that very moment when I was about to pack it in, there, in front of me, draped across a building, was a two-story-high banner with the now famous Nike slogan, “Just do it!” (This was 1988 when Nike’s slogan was new.) I read those words, just do it, and something shifted in my mind. All the swirling, hysterical thoughts were replaced by those three words—just do it. And why not? It was that simple. Rather than giving up, why not make it simple, remove the negativity, and replace it with the other side of the coin—stop thinking, just do it.
Same with our COVID-19 situation. Yes, we need to just do it. We need to stop embracing doubt, fear, and negativity—those three words again—and do whatever it takes to get through this ordeal. Granted, a marathon has a discrete end, 26.2 miles, unlike our challenge, which has no one-size-fits-all ending. We humans do much better knowing when something will end. This makes our situation more difficult than a marathon! Having no end-date leaves us speculating. And when it comes to speculating, insecurity will always inject itself into that projection. In spite of the ambiguity of “when” this will end, we need to find our strength to do whatever it takes!