“Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
— Muhammad Ali
How do you do something that you previously thought to be impossible for you?
What is something that you always really wanted to do and thought that you could never do, whether because you thought it was too hard or you were too scared? Visualize it. Why do you think it is impossible to do? Has someone else done it?
I bet that if you think about it a bit, you will realize that the things you think are impossible aren’t that impossible after all. Some things will require a lot of intense preparation, while some things are as easy as booking a flight. However they all require determination and actually taking action.
Five years ago, I came back from a trip to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. A year before that, I would have thought this feat impossible. Yet now after having done it, I have memories to last a lifetime and a feeling of accomplishment which is priceless.
It is amazing how much you can do if you put your mind to it. The key to my conquering of Mt. Kilimanjaro was the fact that I had been working on my mental toughness.
Mental toughness, resilience and resolve are the keys to overcoming impossible challenges. Things that I would have thought impossible only recently are now quite possible.
Change your mindset
I used to be a quitter. I would quit whenever the going got tough. This was something that persistently followed me throughout my life. At crucial moments, I just gave up.
A breakthrough in mindset came to me after watching movies and documentaries on the training of MMA fighters and also the grueling selection process that potential special forces recruits have to go through.
It had been my dream to be a pro fighter or join the special forces. I had never actually set out to do this for real, but I often imagine what would it be like had I decided to go on that path.
However I thought to myself, would I be able to do this with my quitter mentality? No, I would not. From that point I decided not to be a quitter anymore.
Whenever the going gets tough, I think about what a Navy SEAL would do. I imagine myself in their place. This gives me the mental strength not to quit at the first signs of pain, but to push on through.
This type of little visualization exercise has tremendous positive effects on my resolve and my ability to finish things. It gives me the motivation of proving to myself that I can achieve what I set out to achieve.
It was behind me gritting my teeth and pushing through when I felt like I had nothing left in one of my initial training hikes and it also helped me persevere on the final leg of the ascent to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at night in the freezing cold, in altitudes above 5 000 meters and when I was getting dizzy and my head was spinning.
I made it to the top.
Push yourself when the going gets tough
In times of severe exhaustion and pain, when your body is telling you to quit, your mind often gets filled with negative self-talk. This negative self-talk then overwhelms you and you stop.
This is a crucial moment that you need to handle. Don’t let this happen. Visualize success to help push yourself through. Imagine how you will feel after you have finished the task. Pain is temporary, glory is forever.
Use those visualizations to turn all that negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Let your mind focus on success.
Many times when you feel like you have nothing left, when your body seems to be on the verge of collapse, you are capable of performing incredible feats.
Mind over matter is a powerful principle that allows you to do this. Not giving up in the face of adversity and pain can lead you to accomplish great things.
Your mind can alter your perceptions of pain. Research shows that “the perception of pain is sensitive to various mental processes such as the feelings and beliefs that someone has about pain.”
If you believe you are hurting then you really are hurting. If you believe you are not hurting, then your mind will alter its state. Your mind even has the ability to act on individual mental neurons. You can choose what to focus on and what to discard.
Practice your resilience
You can practice how to do this and thereby increase your resilience. Willpower is a key component of resilience and just like you can train your willpower, you can train your resilience in order to be able to persevere in the face of adversity longer.
Tim Noakes, author of the book “Lore of Running”, believes that this is a basic prerequisite to becoming competitive in any type of activity:
“If you want to be competitive, you have to learn how to deal with the discomfort. A lot of the heavy, good physical training is about training the brain to cope with discomfort.”
There are different types of exercises that you can do. One example of this type of training is called Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, which was developed for the US military. The basis of this type of training is learning how to focus on the different sensations that your body gives out.
There are several exercises involved in this and they teach how to be nonjudgmental to feelings that you are feeling in the given moment. Psychiatrist at the University of California- San Diego, Martin Paulus, has a theory on this:
“By monitoring your feelings without judgment you achieve detachment from them, which allows you to soldier through difficult moments without letting discomfort disrupt your focus.“
The fact that we can will ourselves through states of extreme hurt, is because of the role that pain is designed to play in the body. Pain is a mechanism that your body uses to tell you that there is a potential for you to hurt yourself and that you should stop what you are doing in order for this not to happen.
It is sort of like a warning light in your car which flashes when you are about to run out of gas. If the light comes on, that doesn’t mean that you will run out of gas at that exact moment, but in a certain while.
Your body is the same way. The fact that you are hurting doesn’t mean that you will break down at that exact moment. This means that when you start hurting, you still have a hidden reserve left.
It is exactly this hidden reserve that you are accessing when you tell your mind to persevere and push through.
You can probably go back to memories of moments when you felt like you had nothing left, but pushed yourself through and suddenly got a gush of “second wind” and managed to finish up the race or whatever other physically-challenging activity you were doing.
So you see, you have already willed yourself through moments of pain and instead of giving up, went on to achieve your goal. You have something to build on.
Learn to go beyond your comfort zone
You need to learn how to go beyond your comfort zone on a regular basis, how to handle pain and not let it stop you. This is the basis behind being able to do the impossible.
This type of mental toughness is what divides success from failure. Once you know how to do this, all doors are open to you and you can achieve anything that you set out your mind to.
However you cannot forget that things won’t come free to you, but will require a lot of hard work.
You also need to realize that not all challenges are the same. There are significant differences, even between things that seem very similar.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro requires good stamina, a few months of preparation, some previous acclimatization and a whole lot of mental toughness.
Climbing Mt. Everest is a whole different animal, requiring years of preparation and deliberate practice to get many different skills and a whole different level of acclimatization.
There is a huge difference between climbing the highest mountain of Africa and the highest mountain of Asia. Never underestimate the effort it takes to get to the top.
Everything in life that is worth something requires hard work to achieve it. However many things seem impossible to people, when in fact they are not. Sure, you might have to extend a lot of effort to do it, but it can be done.
It is about pushing through your mental boundaries and going beyond your former comfort zone. If you believe it, then you can achieve it.
Now go out and do the impossible!
Note: I had previously posted an earlier version of this article on my blog.