Pain is Temporary — Here’s How to Fight Through It
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up…”
Over 6000 participants showed up to take on the 13-mile course of mountain terrain and obstacles. Several of which included carrying 60lb bags and buckets up extremely steep hills.
Being from Chicago — where it is completely flat — my body was not prepared to climb up and down a mountain. Let alone do it with a 60lb sandbag on my shoulders!
As I passed mile marker 11, my body told me it had enough.
I felt nauseous, my legs felt hollow, and I felt there was no way I’d be able to keep pace with the top California athletes who were able to actually train on these mountains. Especially for another 2 miles and even more obstacles!
Then a thought occurred to me — no matter what, in 30 minutes I will be finished with this race. I will be comfortable, relaxed, and enjoying the beautiful day in California.
At that time, I can either be proud of my effort on these last 2 miles, or I can regret it.
That thought kept me going. It kept me mentally strong. It helped me understand that the pain I was feeling was temporary. It is only going to be for 30 more minutes at most, and if I do my best, I will be proud of myself.
Understanding that, I fought through those last 2 miles, giving my best effort and finishing 14th — my first time ever in the Top 15.
PAIN IS TEMPORARY
“Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, it may last for an hour, it may last for a year. But eventually, it will subside. Success, however, lasts forever.” — Eric Thomas
The pain I endured that day was excruciating. I hated every single minute of those last 2 miles until I crossed the finish line. But once I crossed it, the pain was over and I placed 14th out of over 6000.
That place will last forever.
In our lives, we can get so caught up in the present moment that we lose sight of the fact that pain is only temporary. The success that we are fighting for, however, will last far longer.
When your alarm clock goes off at 6 in the morning, reminding you to get up and go to the gym, the pain of getting out of bed can seem too much to handle. It is so much easier to simply turn the alarm off, roll over, and get an extra hour of sleep.
But the pain of going through a morning workout is only temporary.
The person who hears that alarm, gets out of bed, and goes to the gym will be in the same relaxed, comfortable position at 8am as the person who rolled over and skipped his workout.
The difference is the one who got up and worked out will be proud of himself.
He will have taken another step towards making exercise a habit. While the one who rolled over will continue to languish; feeling like he will never be able to get into shape.
The same goes for the student who chooses to spend her night studying while her friend goes out to party. The pain of missing out on fun is temporary, but the grade she gets on her exam is permanent.
The key is to simply embrace the pain.
HOW TO EMBRACE THE PAIN
Make no mistake about it, embracing the pain of going through a morning workout, or spending a night studying over hanging out with friends is not easy.
However, once you recognize that embracing the pain will be worth it, there are several things you can do to summon the willpower to fight through it.
I knew the pain I was feeling on the course was temporary, but it was still hard to fathom enduring it for 2 more miles plus obstacles. So I didn’t focus on that. I focused on giving my absolute best effort until I made it to the next obstacle (there are about 2 obstacles per mile).
Then when I completed that obstacle, it became a small win. I felt more confident and I realized I could give my best effort until I completed the next obstacle too. Soon enough, I saw the finish line and my adrenaline took me the rest of the way.
Your willpower is much stronger when you focus on a task that is attainable. 
If your muscles are sore on a treadmill, you may not be able to fathom spending another 20 minutes on it. But can you make it another 5?
When your alarm clock goes off and you’re in your nice warm bed, you may not be able to fathom getting up and working out. But can you just eat your pre-workout breakfast?
When you “chunk” up your overall goal in this way, not only does the task seem more attainable, but you achieve a small win with every step. With this, you gain confidence that you can take the next step. And the next one after that.
Eventually, you make it through each step of the pain to achieve your success.
2. DON’T LET QUITTING BE AN OPTION
When I made the decision to give my best possible effort until I reached the next obstacle, I left myself no retreat. Anything other than my best effort was no longer an option.
When I did that, all of the sudden my willpower increased.
When you are going through pain, your brain will waste precious energy trying to motivate you to stop. It will actually expend glucose — what the brain uses to fuel your willpower — to stop you, rather than push you. 
If you make your goal the only option, however, your brain will focus all of your mental energy on pushing you through the pain to achieve it.
So once you have broken up your larger goal into manageable chunks, do not let quitting be an option. Have the strength to push yourself to achieve your chunk, because it is the only option.
3. REMEMBER YOUR PURPOSE
The final thing that helped me push myself through those last 2 miles was my higher purpose. My life’s task is to learn what it takes to have complete mastery over self, and to use that knowledge to help strengthen the willpower of the world.
In those moments of pain, I remembered that I was fighting for something more important than the pain I was feeling, or even my ranking in the Spartan Race. I was fighting for understanding about how the science of willpower actually works in practice.
It was this higher purpose that kept me mentally strong and willing to endure. 
When your choices are to go through pain or to choose the easier option, it can be easy to forget your higher purpose.
After all, in the grand scheme of things, one workout probably isn’t going to make a difference. Nor is one grade on a test, eating one extra helping of dessert, or one session of meditation.
But each one of these little things adds up to you actually achieving your higher purpose. And if you are not willing to endure the pain to achieve the little things, then you may never see the larger purpose you are fighting for come to fruition.
Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, it may last for an hour, it may last for a year. But eventually, it will subside. If you are willing to endure the pain that it takes to reach your goal, that success will last forever.
Enduring pain is not easy. It requires the mental strength to focus on chunking up your larger goal, not letting quitting be an option, and remembering the higher purpose you are fighting for.
If you can do that, you may just be able to fight through your pain and truly reach that higher purpose.
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- Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. (1981). Cultivating Competence, Self-efficacy, And Intrinsic Interest Through Proximal Self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,586–598.
- Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press.
- Segerstrom, Suzanne C.; Hardy, Jaime K.; Evans, Daniel R.; Winters, Natalie F. Wright, Rex A. (Ed); Gendolla, Guido H. E. (Ed), (2012). How motivation affects cardiovascular response: Mechanisms and applications. , (pp. 181–198). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, xiv, 424