In March of 2006, I entered the Ultimate Florida Challenge, a 1200 mile small boat race coursing through the waterways and swamps of Florida. It also included a 40 mile portage. An article in The London Times described it as the most dangerous small boat race in the world. I finished it in just under 27 days. All participants are required to have unique identifiers for these races, and mine is Pelican. Hence, the title of this collection of essays.
Training and participating in an event of this type is not just physical. Hours on the water can lead to industrial-strength boredom unless steps are taken to occupy the mind. What follows is my personal approach to balancing the physical with the mental. I think about things. And those thoughts will cover a variety of topics –- some of personal interest, and others related to my professional endeavors. Regardless, embodying the mind is of equal importance to minding the body if you want to avoid losing it. I call it Pelican’s Poop since one meaning of the word is ‘information.’ There’s another meaning, but I’ll let you be the judge in determining whether it’s more appropriate.
Even though its still nearly thirty weeks until the launch, that’s not too soon to begin training for the Ultimate Florida Challenge. 1200 miles on the water with a 40-mile portage is going to require some serious conditioning. And I’m not talking about spending an afternoon creating waves on a mirror-smooth lake. Training must be done under conditions that closely resemble what is likely to be encountered during the month-long race. In March, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean can dish up just about every type of condition imaginable. That’s when we’re transitioning from winter to spring in Florida and the weather patterns can be unpredictable and severe. During the 2002 Everglades Challenge, freezing temperatures reached all the way to the Everglades. Add into the mix powerboats, dangerous critters, and currents and you get the idea. But let’s start with the question I’m asked more than any other. Why would a grown, married man with two adult children, and enjoying a comfortable lifestyle voluntarily participate in an event described as follows in the legal release:
The WaterTribe Challenges are long, grueling races that are extremely demanding, both physically and mentally. Entrants are encouraged to consult a physician to ensure that they are in good health and can withstand the rigors that participation entails. The physical demands of the race, combined with sleep deprivation, heat, cold, water, dehydration, and exhaustion, often cause participants to become disoriented. Amnesia, hallucinations, hypothermia, and other debilitating conditions are not uncommon.
I’m doing it for several reasons, one of which is to instill a sense of optimism. My first adventure race was in 1967 when at the age of 19, I completed the grueling Baja 1000 off-road race on a bicycle. I’m now 57 and still benefiting from what I learned nearly 40 years ago. No matter how bad things get, they will eventually get better. During that month long trek through the Mexican desert, I experienced every GI symptom in the book. That’s because I had no choice but to drink from whatever scarce source of water I could find, no matter how foul smelling or contaminated. Dust storms, sidewinder rattlesnakes and dehydration were my other traveling companions. Yet after each close call, I realized that no matter how bad things got, the adversity applied only to that set of circumstances and would eventually get better. Recognizing that bad things do happen, but when they do it is not the end of the world is what Dr. Martin Seligman calls the optimistic explanatory style. It’s also the approach associated with feeling good and being healthy. After years of challenging pursuits, I’ve learned that the best way to cope with adversity is to be optimistic. And the best way to learn optimism is to experience adversity. When the going gets tough, you get instant relief when you remember that you have successfully overcome something worse. Or to paraphrase the country western song, to enjoy the rainbow, you must put up with the rain. That’s why I’m doing the UFC – I’m collecting rainbows.
ADVERSITY: A PATH TO TRANQUILITY
Stress is not the problem. The problem is failure to counter stress with recovery. Sound familiar? It should because it’s nothing more than a basic law of physics applied to life; for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Too much stress without recovery can lead to anxiety while too much recovery without excitement can lead to boredom. We all need a certain amount of emotional excitement and each of us seeks it in different ways. For me, WaterTribe Challenges are a form of both stress and recovery.
My occupation is advising people and organizations how to better manage their health. I discuss clients’ needs, propose solutions and implement the one’s they choose. I conduct seminars, write books, and design team-building programs. Hence, the opposite for me is getting on the water, away from people and surrounded by creatures that couldn’t understand even if I did feel like speaking. WaterTribe challenges represent a complete departure from my normal routine. Instead of a stage, I’m on the water. Instead of a watch, the weather determines my schedule. And a compass, not a computer, keeps me on track. Even meals and sleep patterns are a drastic departure from my normal routine. For me, these opposites constitute episodes of healthy recovery. The Ultimate Florida Challenge will be a month’s worth. What could be a better antidote for coping with bumps in the road of life?
Of course there are moments of uncertainty when storms suddenly appear, equipment breaks, or I find myself in a bad situation due to poor judgment – a common occurrence when in a state of sleep deprivation. Yet these adverse experiences are also beneficial. They provide perspective. Later in the year when things are not going well, I can reflect and be grateful that I don’t have waves washing over me. Or when I find myself in the middle seat of a cross-country flight wedged between two passengers wearing XXL clothes, I can say to myself, “At least I’m dry and don’t have to paddle”.
As noted by the 19th century theologian, Charles H. Spurgeon, “….. he grows rich by his losses, he rises by his falls, he lives by dying, and becomes full by being emptied. No calm is more deep than that which succeeds a storm. Adversity is the path to tranquility. Some of the hardiest people I’ve met have become that way because of adversity. My mother lived in London during the blitz. Now, at 92 she’s still going strong and nothing gets her down. When living in Grenada during the Marxist revolution, I observed the retirees going about their lives as though nothing was amiss, while many of the young medical students became unglued. Unlike the previous generation, the students had no point of reference. When I asked the legendary Verlen Kruger how he handled stress during his 28,000-mile canoe adventure, he said growing up in the depression as a sharecropper’s son with 8 siblings enabled him to overcome anything. WaterTribe Challenges provide perspective. When they’re over, I’ve been reminded that things are seldom as bad as they seem and that there is, indeed, no calm more deep than that which succeeds a storm.
KNOWING FOR THE FIRST TIME
And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S. Eliot recognized what many WaterTribers have come to learn. It is during explorations that we experience the contrasts which enable us to know and appreciate the richness of those places, which we only believe, are familiar. The noon sky is aglow with stars. Yet they can’t be seen until surrounded by the contrast of darkness. That is true of all things in life. As a teenager, my summer job included hunting rattlesnakes in South Dakota. Hours would be spent hiking through the Badlands finding few signs of life. But when I happened upon an arroyo, there I would find all manner of animals or their spoor. It was always at the edge where the parched earth contrasted with water that life was abundant. The same is true where the sand meets the ocean. In the tidal pools is where we will find a cross section of coastal life. That principle of contrasts creating awareness applies to our own life.
Research delving into the phenomena of spontaneous remission has revealed that it is often an acute awareness of death that enables us to approach life with renewed vigor and hope. Elizabeth Taylor had her awakening with the diagnosis of a brain tumor. She declared it to be one of the best things to have happened for it made her aware of the richness of life without stage lights and audiences. For her, it was observing her life against the backdrop of death that enabled her to know herself for the first time. Sadly, such awareness came too late for Erma Bombeck as she reflected upon her imminent death from cancer;..but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute…look at it and really see it…. live it….and never give it back.
YOU MAY DIE is a warning printed in the WaterTribe release form that all racers must sign. But because you may die, YOU WILL LIVE. The prospect of death makes us aware of the scarcity of life. And it is that contrast of loss vs. gain that is such a powerful path to self-discovery. An accomplished salesman will tell you there is nothing more effective than scarcity to increase an object’s value. When fumbling in a tent for a flashlight, you appreciate all the more the inventions of Thomas Edison. Or after bathing in a cold river, how much greater the pleasure when you once again experience a hot shower. Poets through the ages acknowledge the ability of deprivation to enhance relationships when they explore in their poetry the romantic paradox that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Enhancing my appreciation of all life has to offer is not the reason I’m doing the Ultimate Florida Challenge. However, it is why I’m looking forward to a month of uncertainty and deprivation. When I return to where I started, I most assuredly will have a deeper appreciation of the things I take for granted. But more importantly, I will know something about myself - and for the first time.
We all have a need for emotional excitement. Some people use bungee cords to satisfy that urge while others can get all the adrenaline they desire by simply reading a Steven King novel. There are three things that will keep excitement from becoming anxiety: control, predictability, and optimism. As long as we perceive some measure of control, just about any event can be endured. When I wrestled alligators at the Black Hills Reptile Gardens in South Dakota, I had a great deal of control despite the audience’s perception to the contrary. For one thing, no one forced me to accept the job. Then, before each show, I selected from more than a dozen reptiles which one I would take on. Over time, I learned to predict what each would do when I jumped on its back or opened its mouth. Sure, there was some inherent risk. There always is. Even walking is a process of constant falling. We must fall to make forward progress and then trust our reflexes to remain upright. But it’s controlled falling with practiced ability to predict since we’ve automatically been doing this since childhood. By being prepared, we can mitigate virtually any risk. That was the advice of the famous adventurer, Verlen Kruger, when I inquired what he would tell a young Verlen just starting out, “Be prepared for anything.”
Yes, WaterTribe races are inherently risky. However, by following Verlen’s advice, contestants can maintain sufficient control to keep the excitement from escalating to anxiety. No, we can’t control the weather or the unexpected. However, by being aware of all the risks, we can be prepared and, thereby, can better control our responses. Furthermore, by training under all the conditions we may experience, we can learn to predict what is likely to happen should it occur during the race. Even when we may lack control, just knowing what may happen next can enable us to endure. Throw in an optimistic attitude that even the worst conditions eventually will get better, and the anxiety is kept at bay. However, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes being prepared is not enough. There are times when, despite the efforts of the mind, our body’s reaction to stress is so overwhelming that it clouds our judgment. This phenomenon is what the renowned physiologist, Walter Canon, called the fight/flight response, which can short-circuit the reasoning part of the brain. Or, as the satirist Karl Kraus remarked, “What good is speed if the brain has oozed out on the way?” That’s when we may need something extra to keep us on an even keel.
MIND YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
It’s not mentioned in the written warning, nor has there been a discussion about it on the WaterTribe web site. Yet it’s a formidable obstacle any competitor in a Challenge will face. To make matters worse, you can’t see it coming, and there’s little you can do after it takes hold. ‘It’ is a virus. Unfortunately, the training required to optimize performance has the potential to impair white cells just when we need them – at the end of flu season. That’s why training must include a protocol to preserve these mainstays of the immune system.
Susceptibility to any infection depends upon the ratio between factors which suppress the immune system and those which enhance it. Unfortunately, the suppressive elements are in abundance during the races. These are dehydration, sleep deprivation, and less than optimal nutrition. Add to the mix stress hormones aroused by long days on the water, and your viral fate may well be sealed – unless you take steps to minimize their impact. Over the next several weeks, I will be reviewing the steps I’m taking to insure that my immune system is there when I need it. I’ll start with taming the stress response.
Cortisol is the energy steroid. It’s called a glucocorticoid because its main mission in life is to convert stored energy into usable glucose, especially during stress. Excessive exercise requires extra energy, resulting in larger than normal amounts of cortisol. The good news is that we have the glucose needed to plod on hour after hour to reach the next checkpoint. The bad news is that many of the cells we need to fight infection become sluggish when soaked in large amounts of cortisol. That’s why some folks get colds when they experience emotional upheaval, and why ultra-marathon runners are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections following a race. Research with athletes has resulted in a simple way to keep cortisol out of the immunosuppressive range without interfering with energy management. Consume carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are more rapidly converted into sugar than other food groups – especially those that have a high glycemic index. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates when you need a boost will take care of your energy needs without having to turn on cortisol production. Because you’re elevating blood sugar through food, there’s no need to put cortisol production into overdrive. A study of endurance runners revealed that consuming a solution comprised of 5-6 percent carbohydrate blunted the normal rise in cortisol (Nieman, 1997. J. Applied Physiology 82: 1385). In addition, many of the immune system changes observed following strenuous exercise did not occur. Many sport-drinks contain carbohydrates, or you can buy carbohydrate powder in health food stores and create your own concoction. Since one size never fits all, my recommendation is to experiment to determine what’s best for you. You’ll have extra energy, and you may never know what virus didn’t hit you.
PLAY TO WIN, NOT TO AVOID LOSING
March 4th and the annual gathering of WaterTribers at Ft. Desoto will soon be upon us. With fewer training days left, I’m finding myself engaging in more negative thoughts than when I first committed to the Ultimate Florida Challenge (UFC). I suppose that when the launch date was still many months away, it was more fun to concentrate on the big picture instead of the details. Now, I’m finding myself going over mental lists of things remaining on the ‘to do’ list and adding items that probably have no business being there. A post on a contestant’s website will mention something they’re doing that’s not on my agenda and, suddenly, I find myself contemplating doing the same thing to be successful in this grueling race. A case in point is whether to use roller blades instead of a bike for the portage. I have the ideal bike, have trained with it, and can make just about any repair to keep it going. Yet I find myself considering a system that I have no business using because not only do I not own a pair of roller blades, I don’t even know how to use them. What this process really represents is a shift in attitude.
Over the course of several days, I had formulated a training schedule suitable for my abilities and skills. Furthermore, during the summer, I had made a decision about what equipment I would use during all phases of the challenge. That strategy had been arrived at with the primary goal of finishing and with the secondary goal of doing so with everyone else behind me. Now, I’m evaluating what others are doing, and, in the process, I realize that my goal is no longer to win, but to avoid losing. It’s a subtle difference, and, at first glance, either approach should result in the same outcome. It’s not that simple.
When the goal is to avoid losing, your focus is upon those things that can go wrong. Fear of failure sets in and with it, a tendency to hold back because fear is an emotion that triggers withdrawal behaviors. “Better safe than sorry” is the mantra of those with this attitude. However, when the focus is upon victory, it’s easier to maintain a high level of confidence and to remain committed to your original plan. Instead of replacing a sound approach with one that arose during the eleventh hour, the winning attitude is to look for ways to make a good plan better rather than replace it. With a focus upon positive outcomes, the associated emotions are more likely to help you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities rather than pondering all the things that could go wrong.
Everyone on the UFC roster has individual strengths and weaknesses; however, by using appropriate equipment to match our skills, the playing field is fairly even. It’s the reason all four classes are represented. Favorable winds will definitely favor the sailors in classes 3 and 4. However, dead calm will shift the advantage to the paddlers. We have no control over the weather, and our choices for equipment will already have been made well in advance, no matter what we encounter. What we do have control over is our attitude and the things we choose to focus upon. For me, it means tweaking the systems and equipment I have already decided upon. I’m going to win instead of avoid losing, which (regrettably) I’m afraid everyone else will probably be planning as well.YOU ARE FREE TO GO“You are free to go,” I was told by the deputy as I checked out of the O’Neil, Nebraska, jail. It was the fall of 1965, and, while cycling across the United States, I had discovered that, at no cost, I could lodge in jails. This meant a warm, dry cell and breakfast in preparation for the next day’s ride. But those words bothered me. Being told, “You are free to go,” implied that, up until then, the freedom to leave had not been an option. This was a jolting realization for a kid who was growing up in the socially unrestrained 60’s, in a country that was founded upon the principle of freedom, and having nearly reached the point of having all the liberties conferred upon those who make it to adulthood. After all, I was not a criminal — just a teenager on a very slim budget needing to get home for the start of my senior year in high school.
I spent that night, as well as many others, under similar circumstances, always believing that I could resume my journey whenever I felt the urge. Yet, it was just an illusion of freedom. In actuality, I was not free to go. Neither are many others whose choices inadvertently imprison them. We pretend we are free to go while voluntarily locking ourselves into restrictive cells and, thereby, sacrificing the freedom we might have otherwise enjoyed. Just as our perceived freedom is an illusion, so are the circumstances that take it from us. The cell might be a stifling relationship, which, despite its unhealthy nature, gives rise to a form of dependency we cannot shake. Or, it might be a job. Now the bars preventing our departure are comprised of a pension plan or health benefits. Recently, a friend experienced a grave injustice in the workplace. When I suggested that he should quit, he told me he couldn’t – because he needed the health benefits! I almost laughed. How ironic, since it was stress in the workplace, which was creating the need for those benefits. Had he exercised his freedom, he would have discovered that the anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure would have soon been left behind once he changed jobs.
Ever since I discovered WaterTribe, I’ve felt a kinship with the other members, many of whom I barely know. I believe it’s because we all have claimed the freedom to follow our bliss. Despite having an assortment of backgrounds and lifestyles, we all somehow find a way to cast our fate to the winds and tides as we make our way to a distant destination. The freedom is seized the moment it arrives, instead of waiting for that raise, empty nest, or retirement party. For some, when the clarion call, “You are free to go,” is finally heard, the opportunity may no longer exist. Mark Twain was right. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor: Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.” This humorist, who immortalized the carefree life of youngsters, did so against the backdrop of the Mississippi River. During the dawn of our history, other authors have used oceans as the portal for mythical heroes, such as Beowulf and Ulysses, to pursue their passion for adventure and discovery.
Like all rivers, the Mississippi is constantly changing, as are the oceans. In 2005, the Everglades Challenge took WaterTribers past a new, storm-carved island along Florida’s west coast. 2006 has even more surprises. And all we know for sure is that the most recent hurricanes have blocked some waterways and have opened others. The lesson of rivers and oceans is that nothing is permanent. We must have freedom to adapt, and it is only through successful adaptation that we can ever realize the richness of being free.
WANTING MORE OR CHOOSING LESSOpulence is the word that came to mind last week while visiting Naples, Florida, where many homes resemble hotels, and the gift shops on Fifth Avenue have the ambiance of museums. It’s a community where the parking spaces showcase the flagships of the international automotive industry, and many of the private vessels have the adornments of small cruise ships. Yes, it would be wonderful to possess some of these luxuries, and I won’t deny that I found myself imagining the pleasure to be derived from having them. Nonetheless, the grandeur seems to present a barrier to the little things — a form of wealth-induced deprivation.
There’s no denying that watching the Gulf of Mexico through the plate-glass windows of a luxury yacht may provide temperature and humidity-controlled comfort. However, it denies the experience of feeling the salt spray and the hot, languid air, just as the insulated cabin of a Bentley tunes out the auditory trademarks of civilization. Some of the homes harbor such valuable possessions that elaborate security systems are used to supplement the surrounding walls and gates. Those barriers intended to protect also serve to insulate the person within. There are, I’m sure, many who enjoy the best of both worlds. However, I wonder about those who may possess more, but really have less. The Young Presidents’ Organization has amongst its ranks some of the most successful business people in America; and, on several occasions, I have been invited to speak at their gatherings. At those and other venues attended by successful business leaders, I’ve lost track of the number of people who have shared their regret over not having taken more time to enjoy the little things life has to offer. The need to sustain their high standard of living seemingly imprisons them to a life of hard work. I recall a story that circulated on the Internet several years ago. Here’s a condensed version:
A highly skilled, Mexican fisherman was able to catch fish at will. He earned a meager living catching enough to feed his family and selling the rest to pay his bills. Once he had what he needed, he spent the remainder of the day relaxing with friends. Recognizing an investment opportunity, a businessman offered to finance a fleet of vessels and provide him with the opportunity to catch enough fish to market them overseas. “By fishing all day, you’ll be able to manage a highly successful business, live in a large city, and become a very wealthy man,” the entrepreneur explained.
“And why would I want to do that?” the fisherman asked.
“So you can sell the business for a huge profit and then be able to come back to this village where you’ll be able to fish and relax with your friends!”
There’s nothing wrong with valuing power and wealth. Indeed, I’ve been most appreciative of high quality, pool furniture at beachfront mansions when I’ve needed to stealth-camp during past Everglades Challenges. And on stormy nights, I’ve longed to be on the inside of the walls looking out, instead of outside wishing I were in. But that desire evaporates with the rising sun and the resumption of my journey. Yes, all the power to those who want to become rich by having more. As for me, I’ll be just as rich by wanting less.
RISE AND SHINE
Seldom do I have problems sleeping during WaterTribe events. After hours of energy expenditure, a respite of recovery is craved by my weary body, and, within minutes of crawling into my sleeping bag, I’m in a semi-comatose state. The problem isn’t falling asleep; the difficulty is awakening with the motivation to push on. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve turned off the alarm, intending to snooze for just a couple of minutes only to awaken hours later with the sun beating down on the tent or hammock. Precious time has been lost and, sometimes, the opportunity to catch a favorable tide.
SleepTracker is the name of an alarm watch that awakens you during the stage of sleep when you are most alert. It’s known as the REM stage and is characterized by dreaming and movement. During this stage of sleep, brain waves are almost indistinguishable from those of a person who is wide-awake. Imagine being able to routinely awaken during one of those stages! Well, that’s what this incredible device does. In 2005, Time magazine recognized it as one of the year’s top innovations. Most mornings, I awaken before the alarm sounds, which prevents me from properly evaluating the manufacturer’s claims. However, I now have enough earlier-than-usual awakenings to conclude that it will be a part of my sleep system. No, I’m not raring to go after just 3 or 4 hours of sleep. However, the urge to resume sleeping is greatly reduced, as is the interval between the alarm sounding and my standing.
How well it will work under race conditions remains to be seen. Exercise induces a chemical called IL-1, increasing the ratio of non-REM sleep and, thereby, lessening the chances of having one of those episodes around the time awakening is desired. Plus, after the first night, my sleep debt will be gradually accumulating, further influencing this ratio of REM and non-REM stages. Nonetheless, its benefits during training are clearly being experienced. Indirectly, more time training will result in more efficient paddling, which, in turn, may permit more recovery time during the race. In addition, with the launch less than 4 weeks away, I’ll be stepping up the training with daily/nightly excursions on the river or Gulf. I’m sure the SleepTracker will help me make it to work on time, and, possibly, in a more alert state.
There’s one more application for which I plan to use it. When a virus or bacteria enters the body, one of the first things it does is stimulate white cells to produce a chemical which induces non-REM or Slow-Wave sleep. Thus, when you begin to get sick, your body responds by spending more time in the cycles of sleep optimal for fighting an infection. Since the SleepTracker records the number of REM cycles during the night, a reduction could mean an increase in the amount of non-REM sleep possibly in response to immune system activation. I’d want a couple of other bits of evidence, such as recent exposure and an increase in resting heart rate, to change my ways. But, if it’s likely I’m coming down with something, that’s when I’ll make sure I’m getting all the CyberWize ingredients, which, thus far, have kept me symptom-free since I began taking them nearly 30 weeks ago. It’s always easier to shake an infection before it takes hold. Now, I may have a means to determine when that is.
JUST FOR THE HECK OF IT
Either as a private reflection or in response to a query, I’m sure most WaterTribers have pondered the question, “Why?” I know I have; and, on more than one occasion, I’ve tried to arrive at a sensible answer. But there is none. Weeks of training, time away from family and work, plus voluntarily taking on the inherent risks of a WaterTribe Challenge defy both logic and common sense. Yet, not long from now, a motley group of adventurers will set out for a far-off destination, with no way of predicting with certainty if they’ll even make it. As part of this series, I’ve written about the various reasons I’m doing it, and I believed them when they were penned. But now, I’m taking it all back.
The reason has nothing to do with learning to recover from adversity or with adding excitement to my life. I’ve had a lifetime of training in both arenas, and I don’t need any more lessons. Neither is the reason linked with a desire to personally evaluate stress-recovery strategies that I may later recommend to clients (although I must admit that it’s my favorite answer since it transforms an otherwise reckless and irresponsible pursuit into a self-sacrificing, work-related undertaking.) These explanations came long after my decision to participate in the Ultimate Florida Challenge, which was made within days after the race was announced. I’m following my bliss, and I’m doing it just for the heck of it.
After making a presentation at the FBI Academy, I had the opportunity to hear another speaker during the week-long training program. While describing the characteristics of an effective leader, he concluded that it was someone others would follow “just for the heck of it,” a person who is able to instill such a high level of trust that there is no hesitation to follow his lead. The speaker was Colin Powell.
We are led by our values and beliefs. Yet, we may not trust our beliefs. Perhaps they were acquired at an early stage of development, upon hearing the comment of a parent or friend. Our choices are also influenced by advertised and cultural beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with acquiring beliefs from any source that might shape them. What is important is being sufficiently committed to that belief that you trust your judgment. Bob Dylan recognized the importance of listening to this same spiritually-centering, meaningful essence of one’s being when he wrote the lyrics to Trust Yourself: “Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best /Trust yourself to find the way that will prove true in the end.” And William Shakespeare poured a lifetime of insight into creating a play which examines the importance of “To thine own self be true” in living life authentically, what gives resonance to the “To be” in life for the Hamlets in us all.
I can only guess where my beliefs came from; however, I’m grateful for the wisdom of Joseph Campbell, whose insights made me aware of what I believe is important. Campbell argued that the path to happiness is that you travel while following your bliss. When you follow your bliss, you are pursuing a worthwhile goal that is congruent with your core values and beliefs. Doors open along the journey providing the opportunity to succeed. I trust that belief and myself and am following my bliss just for the heck of it.
There is precious little time to finish preparations since the number of days until the launch can now be counted on one hand. That shortened time span also is spawning an array of sometimes conflicting emotions. There is excitement that months of preparation are finally giving way to the opportunity to discover how successful my training has been. But it’s countered by an equal amount of fear that, perhaps, I have overlooked an important detail. There is anticipated exhilaration, driven by thoughts of finishing in the lead, along with images of despair, arising from concern that I may not finish at all. There is pride that I’m able to be amongst the ranks of such a worthy group of competitors, yet guilt over all the time I’ve taken from family and work.
While dealing with any negative emotion is disconcerting, perhaps this oscillation between positive and negative thoughts is ultimately good. It has been nearly 100 years since Yerkes and Dodson revealed through their research that optimal performance occurs when there’s a moderate amount of stress; too much results in anxiety, while too little allows for boredom. It’s when you find yourself at the fulcrum of emotions that a state of balance exists, and this is how I regard my mood-swings. Through the natural ebb and fall of the emotional tide, I’m learning to remain centered between confidence-fueled complacency and fear-driven despondency. It’s the hub of the medieval wheel of fortune, where there is minimal impact caused by the rise and fall of good and bad. I suppose it’s practice for what is to come. Through experience, I’ve learned that nothing is constant. Good times and bad are transitory states, eventually yielding to the dominance of the other. The ability to change with the fickle nature of fluctuating fortunes lies in the ability to remain insulated from extremes. That place is in the center. That doesn’t mean that you are unaware of your surroundings. The center is not a cave of refuge, where the senses are numbed. To the contrary, it is the awareness of good that serves to accentuate the bad, while it is the bad that provides the contrast to fully experience the good. Instead, being centered provides perspective. It increases your awareness that, as in the words of the Anglo-Saxon poem Deor, “This, too, shall pass.” The wheel of emotional-fortune that I currently am riding is an opportunity to train for the uncertainty of the challenge. There may be days of pure bliss and days of sheer terror. Yet, it is not the circumstance that drives your response. Instead, it is the perception and forthcoming emotion. In a sense, I’m preparing in advance for those inevitable events. It’s a form of mental preparation. What I do know is that at 0700 on March 4th, there will be just one emotion – the fear of regret if I fail to do my best.
ULTIMATE FLORIDA CHALLENGE SYNOPSIS
My overall goal was always to finish this grueling, 1200 mile race around Florida. As a relative newcomer to kayaking and at nearly 58, the oldest contestant, I made no assumptions. A sensible training schedule commencing 30 weeks before the start, along with superior equipment and supplies provided by sponsors, enabled me not only to complete my primary goal of finishing, but to finish in a respectable manner. I was second in my class and fourth overall amongst the 7 finishers. Ten people started. I also posted the fastest time during the 40 mile portage.
Another goal was to remain injury-free and healthy. This, too, was accomplished. Despite being severely sleep deprived for most of the 27 days on the water and unable to keep up with the huge energy demands I was placing upon myself, I remained symptom-free not only during the 30 weeks of training, but also during the race itself. This accomplishment is even more impressive when taking into account that the training and the race took place during flu season. Furthermore, during the weeks leading up to the start, both co-workers and family members were suffering from upper-respiratory symptoms. In addition, I flew nearly six thousand miles during the course of multiple business trips less than a month prior to the March 4th launch. Hence, my exposure to microbes was certainly above the norm and at a time when my immune system might reasonably have been expected to be functioning at a sub-optimal level.
Could I have finished sooner and still have remained healthy? It’s impossible to say with certainty, but I suspect that the answer is ‘yes.’ I experienced several serious delays due to mechanical failure. On the first day, my hand-steering system broke, forcing me to abandon the ideal conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and to use the slower Intracoastal Waterway. Eventually, I limped into the first checkpoint 5.5 hours after my earlier projected arrival. Then, there was an additional delay of nearly 4 hours the following day while I made the necessary repairs. During the second stage, my rudder broke, necessitating a similar abandonment of the fast pace I had been setting in the Atlantic Ocean in favor of the tide-prone, congested waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. Later, my outrigger broke, robbing me of a sailing option. In addition to the actual time spent making repairs, it is impossible to know for sure the time lost due to missing favorable tides or encountering headwinds, which might otherwise have been avoided.
I can’t blame the delays entirely upon equipment failures. Manitou Cruiser (Mark P.) also sustained mechanical problems and left the first checkpoint at about the same time that I did. We both were aware of a forecasted wind shift that would be very detrimental to anyone still making his way east to Key Largo. However, for those who had reached that point, the wind shift from the west to the southeast would serve to catapult them up the Atlantic coast. Mark chose to sprint so that he could get to Key Largo before the shift. It was a huge gamble. Later, he told me that he had less than 5 hours of sleep over the 3 days that it took to get there. Had he been harboring a latent virus, it could have been a race-ending decision. I chose to paddle longer than intended into each night, but I wanted to still get a few hours of sleep. My reasoning was that it would preserve my health; and, perhaps, later during the race, conditions would be more favorable for those who chose to pace themselves instead of sprint. As it turned out, those who made the Key Largo turn prior to the wind shift had many more favorable days than those who didn’t. Indeed, nearly a week eventually separated the first from the second group. In many respects, the course was so different for the different clusters of challengers that performance comparisons are invalid. Nonetheless, I chose not to gamble and ended up facing more headwinds and unfavorable tides than I would have if only I had opted to go through the night at the beginning. Now that it’s all over, I’m glad that I made the choice that I did for I had many more experiences.
As a result of being on the course longer, I was able to have more adventures and to experience a wider range of conditions. These included 30 degree temperatures on the Suwannee River, battling a rip-tide in the Boynton Beach Inlet, being able to do the portage in the rain, and learning how to make forward progress against a 30 knot headwind while paddling upstream in the St. Mary’s River. Since the equipment and supplies provided by my sponsors were intended to improve my endurance, not my speed, it provided a wonderful opportunity to test their products under a range of sometimes extreme conditions. All performed flawlessly. Furthermore, I earn a living as a personal coach and by advising large corporations on ways to optimize performance and health during change and under adverse conditions. What better way to enhance my credibility than to have experienced a few rapidly failing environments and to personally test the advice that I dispense! I now have a treasure chest of pragmatic solutions to help people remain sane and healthy when their circumstances may not be. Most importantly, I had a rare opportunity to test my inner resources and to learn ways to thrive in even rapidly failing environments.
Hobie Mirage Pedal Drive: I cannot imagine participating in an expedition kayak race without the use of this incredible invention. During the previous years’ races, I used the Hobie kayak for which the drive was designed. However, while the boat was superb, the limited space for provisions had me investigating other options. That’s when I turned to the Kruger Sea Wind, a boat designed and modified by a man who had logged over 100,000 miles in prototypes of this boat. It was missing just one item, the option for propulsion of using the largest muscle group we possess. It was a gamble and one the builder of Kruger boats strongly discouraged me not to pursue. After all, a hole in a brand-new boat is the realization of every sailor’s nightmare. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what was done. The leg-operated drive fit perfectly, and I soon discovered that under some conditions, I could attain speeds greater than with just the paddle. In addition, the pedals greatly enhanced the efficiency of both sailing and paddling when used in concert with these methods of propulsion.
When confronted with a headwind, I found that I could point much closer when I used the pedals in conjunction with the sail. Also, the pedal drive enabled me to remain on the crest of waves much longer than usual when running downwind with a following sea. Those were benefits above and beyond the primary advantage, which was having my hands available for reading charts, shining a spotlight in search of channel markers, or just wanting to rest my arms after several hours of paddling.
There were some drawbacks. The newly designed drive has sails (fins), which extend below the bottom of the boat. In the shallow waters of Florida Bay and in rivers with submerged trees and other storm-strewn debris, I did considerable damage to the drive. Mostly, I would strike bottom on a submerged object at night or when distracted. However, I also discovered what some other WaterTribers found. The hurricanes that churned up the waters during the 2005 season also caused some channels to fill in. One I remember vividly was the Twisty Mile approaching Key Largo. Despite being in the center of the channel, I still struck the bottom. In retrospect, I simply should have removed the drive and utilized paddle power. But I was spoiled and wanted the benefits of the pedal drive for as long as possible. The good news was the ease with which the drive could be repaired. With ample spare parts provided by Hobie, I always was able to rebuild the unit. However, this took time. While some repairs could be made afloat, others were safer to make on shore. This was especially true when conditions were rough or when I was facing the prospect of being blown far off course in strong winds. Making landfall took time, as did the repair. There were at least 5 separate occasions when I had to do this during the first stage of the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Consequently, the desire to continue to use this phenomenal device when operating in hazardous waters cost me considerable time. The ultimate cost cannot be calculated for the reasons discussed above. Nonetheless, while I probably could have finished sooner had I not needed to rebuild the drive on at least five occasions, it still would have taken me longer to finish had I not had the drive. In the future, I’ll exercise more prudence and remove the drive when the potential for damaging it is high. The problems were due to poor judgment, not to poor design.
Pacific Action Sail: My original intent was to use this simple device from New Zealand for the segments in the various rivers in which I would be traveling. With each bend of the river, I knew the wind direction would shift; so, having a sail that could be raised or stowed in seconds seemed an ideal solution to take full advantage of favorable winds, even for short intervals. It proved invaluable not only in the rivers, but also on the open stretches. After breaking the starboard aka on my larger Balogh system, I used only the PAS, and I discovered that it could add significantly to my speed not only when running downwind but also whenever a strong breeze was blowing steadily on a beam reach. Problems arose in light winds when I supplemented wind power with the pedal drive. Sometimes, my speed would exceed the velocity of the wind, and the sail would backfill. Within 10 seconds of this happening, though, the sail was stowed, and I resumed an optimal speed for conditions. In contrast, when the wind was blowing at 20 knots or more, the sail was phenomenal. Not only was there a significant boost in speed, but also there were no concerns about instability. When an unexpectedly strong gust hit, the cleverly designed sail simply spilled the excess wind with no threat of capsize. Yet, this is more than a stand-alone sail.
I discovered during training and then confirmed during the race that the PAS could be used as a foresail in combination with the larger Balogh sail. While duplicating comparable conditions as best I could, I determined that not only could I add an additional half to a full knot of speed when both sails were up, but also that I could point even closer when headed into the wind. This was especially true when I used the pedal drive as well. Progress was slower than when running downwind or on a reach, but it was better than just paddling or pedaling, not to mention considerably less tiring. I now regard the PAS, Balogh, and pedal drive as being a synergized system, providing far greater performance than each component alone. Nonetheless, each can be used alone when called for.
Kokatat: I still cringe with embarrassment when I recall setting out on the 2002 Everglades Challenge with daily changes of cotton tee and sweatshirts. Not only was the quantity of clothing excessive, but the choice of material was less than optimal – especially when it was cold, and the shirts got wet. Within a very short time after the race, I researched the various types of materials preferred by seasoned paddlers and the manufacturers of these high-tech garments. Whether I was shopping at REI, the local outfitter, or talking with those having extreme sports’ experience, the name Kokatat kept arising whenever the discussion turned to high quality products. That’s why I chose the Kokatat line for the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Before it was over, I had experienced temperatures ranging from the high 80’s in the waters of south Florida to 30 degrees on the Suwannee River up near the Georgia border. The waterproof bag labeled ‘clothes’ was one of the smallest on board, yet it provided comfortable options for virtually all the conditions I experienced.
Often, the InnerCore long-sleeved shirt was all I needed for a wide range of temperatures. Even when it was wet, it continued to feel comfortable. Slipping on the OuterCore layer was a quick way to adapt to falling temperatures at dusk or when the occasional cold front arrived. Both items were compact and extraordinarily comfortable. I also was amazed at the speed with which the InnerCore shirt would dry and how, even after days of wear, it never offended the sense of olfaction. The antibacterial formula used to impregnate the material clearly works and continues to do so. This is something I had discovered during the training phase, which is one of the reasons I wore it not just in the boat, but also on cycling trips. The InnerCore shirt also worked superbly beneath the Kokatat dry suit.
The bib overalls with the sewn-in socks were worth their weight in gold. Often, that extra layer was all I needed, even when the temperatures approached the 40’s. And how pleasant it was to launch even in cold water and to find that I was bone dry, despite having water up to my waist before jumping into the boat. The only mishap occurred when I once exited the boat to adjust my rudder, and I realized that I had neglected to close the relief zipper. When the top was added, I found myself feeling comfortable, despite temperatures in the low 30’s. Even the neck and wrist gaskets proved to be of no consequence after an entire night of use. On several occasions, I actually slept in the dry suit when, to save time, I decided to sleep directly on the ground without using a sleeping bag or tent. Indeed, it saved me from getting drenched one night near Jupiter when a torrential rain came in waves from what I had thought was to be a clear sky. It so happened I had picked a golf course for my bed, and what I initially thought was rain was the automated sprinkler system coming on in the middle of the night. It was an abrupt and unpleasant awakening; but, thanks to Kokatat, I remained dry. Best of all, the Inner and OuterCore shirts and dry suit not only were all I needed for comfort, but they also fit with ease into a 10 liter bag.
27 The number of days to complete the Ultimate Florida Challenge.
0 The number of illness or injury-related symptoms experienced.
1200 The number of miles over water.
40 The number of miles over land.
2 Number of beds slept in during challenge.
25 The number of pounds lost during the challenge.
40 The maximum number of hours paddling/pedaling without sleep.
30 The coldest temperature in Fahrenheit while underway.
168 Pounds of packed gear.
30 The highest headwind velocity in MPH.
4 The average amount (hours) of sleep each day.
30 The number of weeks spent training.
9.5 The fastest sustained speed in MPH
0.8 The slowest sustained speed in MPH
9.5 Average speed in MPH towing the Sea Wind on portage.
9 Number of valuable or necessary equipment items lost or broken.
5 Number of showers taken during 27-day challenge.
10 Furthest distance from shore in statute miles.
9 Number of times I ran aground.
3 Number of encounters with law enforcement agencies.
3 Number of times I got lost.
7 Number of alligators spotted.
12 Number of random acts of kindness experienced.
6 Race number
0 Number of capsizes
4 Number of times spent unpacking/repacking boat.
1 Number of times manatees swamped the boat.
BEST LAID SCHEMES
While conducting team building programs at Saddlebrook Resort, I often hear the expression, “paralysis through analysis” when groups explain why they weren’t able to complete the task at hand. So much time is spent in planning the solution that they never achieve the desired goal. That’s when I explain the value of collecting data. Instead of discussing what may or may not happen, experiment to see if a particular solution may be viable. If it is, continue. Otherwise, try something different. At the start of the Ultimate Florida Challenge, I realized I had failed to heed the advice I so often dispense to others.
During months of training, I had planned for every contingency. Broken rudder, damaged sails, practicing under a variety of conditions, plus noting alternate routes should changing course be required. I even gave considerable thought to the gear I would pack and where I would put it. However, while I contemplated the trees, I neglected to consider the forest. It soon became apparent that making things fit while the boat was in my garage was not the same as when the boat was on the beach. And things like spare batteries and extra water for the long runs were not part of the practice sessions. Nor did I do an overnight trip with every item I would be carrying. Instead, I had simulated the anticipated weight with my niece and nephew or jugs of water on board – but never with the bike, food, clothes, as well as the cooking and camping gear. Had I done so, I would have realized I was terribly overloaded.
Excess weight was just part of the problem. Accessing the tent required unpacking nearly the entire section of boat where it was stowed. Then, everything had to be repacked in the morning. Consequently, the arduous process of setting up and breaking camp added at least an hour to each overnight stop. In addition, the extra weight caused the boat to ride lower in the water, adding resistance, which, in turn, reduced my speed. Even a tenth of a knot multiplied by hours and days and then weeks can translate into additional days of travel. That’s exactly what happened. Instead of reaching the finish line in the 21 days my training runs had predicted was feasible, it took me 27 days.
There is a need to plan, but an even greater need to make sure that the plan is going to work. Mine did, in theory, and in the controlled conditions encountered during training. But, it proved to be flawed under the real conditions of the race and on sloping beaches in the dark. Sadly, I knew this in advance. SharkChow and Wizard had attributed their past successes to traveling lean and light, a strategy that previously had been emphasized by Chief in his postings on the WaterTribe website. Yet, I ignored them all. Why, I can’t say. I certainly knew better, having beaten all of the Krugers to the first check point the previous year when I had a fraction of the gear that I took this time. Perhaps, there’s a latent tendency always to want to tinker and to try something different despite having a proven strategy. Or, perhaps, it’s an optimistic bias, which encourages some people to downplay the negative. I can’t be certain, but I hope that finally I’ve learned my lesson. Planning for events is not enough. The plan must be tested and data collected under realistic conditions if the desired outcome is to be achieved. This is true not just for WaterTribe Challenges, but for all other personal and professional challenges that we choose to accept for even “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” (Robert Burns).
ADVERSITY: A PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT
One of the first preparation phase essays posted under Pelican’s Poop was entitled Adversity: A Path to Tranquility. Ways that adversity can enable us to reframe and view subsequent hardships as being less dire was the central theme. I then went on to quote my great-great-grandfather, Charles H. Spurgeon, and his observation that, “….. he grows rich by his losses, he rises by his falls, he lives by dying, and becomes full by being emptied. No calm is more deep than that which succeeds a storm.” However, a friend recently suggested that the ‘emptying’ Spurgeon refers to is a form of spiritual renewal. She remarked in an e-mail the following insight, “It is quite the way God designed us. To be emptied out of our self-absorption so that we can be filled with something finer. Staying contained in a safe, protective Nerfball environment only serves to make us comfortable, and then the comfort becomes a burden because we are not designed to have that as an objective in life. It requires too much preoccupation with ourselves as the center of the universe.” She’s right. And the 19th century poet Robert Browning, posing the rhetorical question, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” underscores the same universal dynamics of man’s questing, spiritual nature.
Often at night during the 27-day Ultimate Florida Challenge, I became acutely aware of how small I was in the large scheme of things. Above me were the same stars that guided ancient mariners and inspired a celestial mythology. To this day, it’s reflected in the names that we use to identify the constellations. Above me was the seemingly infinite universe, while below, an ocean, which still remains the last frontier on earth. It was then that I realized how insignificant I was. I was also aware of my vulnerability. It wasn’t until the rising sun blocked my awareness of the universe and enabled the ocean to once again be defined by its now visible surface that I assumed my position on center stage. Instead of wondering about nature’s vastness, I focused upon how its forces, such as wind and tide, would impact my journey. Instead of viewing myself as simply a part of something much larger, I now came to view myself as being central to all about me. My charts were folded in a manner to keep my position in the center as I plotted my course. Adjustments were automatically made by my GPS so that my location was always in the center of the screen. Often, I would measure my progress by comparing the distance that I had come with that remaining; it was a process that always kept me somewhat centered on the line connecting the start with the finish. And yet, it is at this interface, between the existential sense of being and nothingness, where our hard-won, spiritual realizations and Boethian enlightenment lie.
I’ve experienced the same post-Challenge blues described by others; and, like them, I have attributed them to a sense of sadness triggered by loss. With months of planning and training, the event becomes all-consuming and central to our lives. Then it’s over. But perhaps the blues are not due entirely to sadness that it’s now ended. Perhaps it’s because we have caught a glimpse of our true, insignificant place on this planet. A place incongruent with the much grander place we occupy on the limited map inscribed in our mind. That realization may well contribute to the post-challenge blues for it represents a conflict between what we are and what we think we are. Instead of being a pathway to tranquility, the WaterTribe challenges are really a process leading to enlightenment.
And it is from this third stage, enlightenment, of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth that we, like Theseus returning from out of the labyrinth with the aid of Ariadne’s thread, make our return, bringing with us deepened insights culled, perhaps, unintentionally but powerfully just the same from the mental and spiritual seascapes upon which we paddled. The blues are no more when we come to understand the Campbellian insight in the following passage from The Power of Myth:
“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.”
Rules are a part of our effort to predict human behavior. While there are always exceptions, the majority of people comply with laws, thereby, enabling us to predict that when the light changes to red, most drivers will stop. Eventually, we take it for granted, despite the lack of guarantees. How much greater is the emotion when an accident results from a person ignoring this rule. We feel doubly violated. Not only has bodily harm resulted, but our predictive powers have been weakened. The result is uncertainty and fear.
For some, the resultant fear may be so great that some of us stop driving. It’s not the injury holding us back. Instead, our sense of security has been taken away. Not until the ability to predict is at least partially restored do we feel safe resuming our previous routine. During that restoration process, we may attempt to regain our predictive powers by seeking some other explanation. Perhaps the driver was impaired, or a mechanical failure accounted for the mishap. Now we can do the math, work out the odds of the same combination of events re-occurring, and, if unlikely, resume our normal routine with minimal concern. We eventually regain confidence that we can do so with minimal fear of harmful consequences. There is once again trust in our ability to predict. When there is no explanation, we have no choice but to acknowledge a fundamental truth — we can never predict with certainty what another person will do, despite the illusion we create through carefully thought out laws.
When a person commits a grievous violation, we deal with the injustice by dehumanizing the criminal, sometimes comparing him to the devil or using words like evil. By semantically banishing him from the human race, we can preserve our illusion that it’s possible to at least predict the behavior of civilized people. And when that belief is challenged, we seek to categorize such transgressors as being impaired through drugs or through mental illness. Perhaps an inability to discern right from wrong was the root cause of the crime. Such an exercise does nothing to alter behavior statistics. However, it does serve to diminish the impact that a crime may have upon our perceptions and motivation. The rationale for believing we can predict behavior is as fragile as our confidence when we are bathed in fear. At the end of the day, we can no more predict human behavior than we can the forces of nature. What keeps us sane is the unrealistic expectation and hope that those around us will comply predictably with the same rules we do. When they don’t, we seek ways to characterize them as being less than human.
FOR EVERY ACTION THERE MUST BE AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE REACTION
It’s now been eight months since the end of the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Except for a couple of leisurely paddles on the local river and a 25 mile race in September, I’ve had little desire to spend time on the water. Even riding the bike has fallen a notch or two from its normal top billing on my healthy-pleasures priority list. There has been no physical reason. Nor has there been a mental let down. I’ve remained busy presenting lectures around the country and conducting team-building events at Saddlebrook Resort. I’ve also finished writing two books during that time. It was simply a lack of motivation to do much of anything similar to what I had been doing for 30 weeks of training and then during the month-long race. At last, I’m noticing a shift. I’m exercising because I want to, and my choice of activities is finding me back on the bike paths and river. Why now, as the days grow shorter, and conditions are not always optimal for being outdoors? The answer is reflected in a basic law of physics: for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Or, in the case of the Ultimate Florida Challenge, 34 weeks of largely physical activity has been replaced with about the same amount of time dedicated to mental activity. The past 28 weeks has found me writing and researching new lecture topics with about the same intensity as I paddled and pedaled during an almost equal time frame.
Recovery is a relative term. Too much boredom and tedium must be balanced with a recovery interval defined by challenge and uncertainty. But too much physical or emotional excitement must be balanced with an equal amount of relative calm. Without realizing it, my body was influenced by the same natural forces that predict the rise and fall of tides and the passing of the seasons. In all dimensions, there must be the balance described in Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. How true this was when I was a student preparing for an exam. There was always an interval following the exam during which I felt like doing nothing even remotely connected with the acquisition of knowledge. And the more time I spent preparing, the more time I spent procrastinating before once again opening a book. Experimental psychologists refer to this as the plateau. The harder an animal works to acquire a reward, the longer the time before it once again seeks the reinforcement. It’s why, when I trained dolphins, I always rewarded them after just a few trials. They were ready to resume the session sooner and had better scores. Eventually, though, a period of recovery is necessary and desirable.
Just as REM is a stage of sleep during which your brain processes and assimilates information into memory, so are other periods of recovery necessary for restoration and reflection. There are short recovery cycles represented by occasional breaks during the course of a day and are driven by the need for rest and conscious reflection. Then, there’s the daily cycle of wakefulness and sleep driven by the need for rest and subconscious reflection. Finally, there are the behavioral cycles driven by a need for balance. It’s the latter that tends to escape our awareness, and when we resist the need for balance, the mind and body will impose it through the symptoms of burnout. Burnout is the failure to balance action with recovery. Too much action without recovery equals anxiety, while too much recovery without action results in boredom. Each can be avoided with a lifestyle that accommodates both.
MAKING SUCCESS CAN MAKE YOU SUCCESSFUL
When I ask my audiences to define success, the answers I hear often pertain to the achievement of a goal or to those things that will occur once the goal has been reached, such as happiness, being rich, finishing the project, or landing the contract. While each of these is part of the definition of success, they omit an important part of the equation … the process.
Happiness should never be the goal. Instead, it’s the emotion likely to be experienced once the goal has been achieved. Whenever a person answers this way, my first question is always, “So what is it that will make you happy?” The answer will be the goal they ought to be striving towards. And wealth in the form of money, an expensive car, or a mansion is merely a symbol of success, not the actual success. Focusing upon these symbols may provide a short burst of motivation, but in the long run, thinking about them will doom you to failure. That’s because they’ll distract you from the goal that will give rise to the symbol, thereby causing you to miss opportunities. Furthermore, each day that passes without achieving these symbols will be seen as a failure in your mind’s eye. To guarantee success each day, establish sub-goals.
Whatever you are striving to achieve should be something that you are passionate about and that you are willing to make sacrifices to get. Your goal also needs to be tangible with clearly defined milestones. In turn, each of these milestones and the steps you take to reach these intermediate stages should be thought of as a part of your success. Yes, achieving the goal is important, but don’t deprive yourself of the pleasure associated with each step along the way. Establish sub-goals, but make sure that they are intermediate goals that you can control. If you are a salesperson, your daily goal might be to make 10 new prospective calls. It doesn’t matter if each person hangs up on you. You can’t control what another person does so don’t make your success contingent upon something that you can only indirectly influence. Making 10 calls is realistic and attainable. All it requires is for you to expend the necessary effort to pick up the phone or make a personal visit. In a month’s time, you will have placed 200 calls. In my consulting business, the research shows that you’ll get a 3 to 5 percent success rate from a marketing campaign targeting a random population of potential clients. That means 6 to 10 additional clients per month or 72 to 120 per year. But don’t confuse the signed contracts with the true success. Those signed contracts are merely the result of your success. Your success was in making the designated number of calls.
I apply this simple rule to WaterTribe Challenges. On a daily basis, my goal is never to reach a particular destination. For the Ultimate Florida Challenge, the destination was 1,200 miles away at the start, and nearly two weeks had passed before the remaining distance was less than what I had covered. The weather is the primary variable determining my rate of speed on the water, and that’s something I have no control over. I’m not going to gamble my sense of satisfaction on natural forces, which sometimes seem as variable as the toss of a coin. Instead, my goal always is to make forward progress for 18 hours each day. On a good day with favorable winds and tides, I may cover 60 miles. On a bad one, it may be less than 20. It doesn’t matter. I have control over the time I spend paddling, thereby giving me control over my measure of success. The slow days were frustrating, but not to the point of being demoralizing. Even during several days of headwinds, I always achieved my daily goal of paddling at least 18 hours. Those daily accomplishments made it that much easier to press on no matter how bad conditions were. Success is more than reaching a goal. Success is achieved every time you make progress towards a worthwhile objective. Each day, establish a realistic and worthwhile objective that is within your control. Then watch as you create your success. Before you know it, you’ll arrive at your destination wondering what all the fuss was about.
KNOW MORE AND FEAR LESS
In preparation for a challenge, adventure racers pour over charts and monitor weather forecasts. We also abide by the rules of the sponsors and with those statutes that govern the jurisdiction in which we find ourselves. Why? There are several reasons. Obviously, by gathering information and complying with rules, we optimize safety. But there’s another reason. Such preparations and adherence to laws serve to reduce fear.
Fear is the emotion of the future. We can be afraid only of those things that have not happened. If you have a fear of heights, you may avoid getting too close to the edge of a canyon. However, if you should unexpectedly find yourself there, you are no longer afraid of getting too close to the edge. Now, you’re afraid of falling. And, perchance you should lose your footing, you are no longer afraid of falling because it’s happening. Landing is what you are now afraid of. It’s a simplistic explanation, but one that illustrates the essence of fear. Once an event has transpired, we can feel angry, sad, or disgusted, but not afraid. That’s because fear is driven by the inability to predict. Theoretically, if we each had a crystal ball, fear could be removed from our vocabulary. Alas, no such device exists. Sometimes, fear becomes part of the threat as well as of the emotional consequence as noted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his First Inaugural Address: So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. The way to reduce that paralysis is by acquiring knowledge. Know more and fear less is the reason we study charts and stay glued to the weather channel. With knowledge comes the ability to predict, and, by extension, a reduction in fear.
THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING
Positive thinking is not about viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. Nor is it focusing upon only good things and shutting out the bad. Such interpretations are often unrealistic and potentially unhealthy. When bad things happen, it’s important to acknowledge them, but not to the extent that they blind you to opportunity. Positive thinking is acknowledging the negative, but in a manner that allows you to see the positive when it’s justified. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
We take steps to avoid perceived threats, and in so doing, we inadvertently avoid things that are not. That includes opportunities to proceed toward a goal. The avoidance signal becomes an alarm that sounds throughout the brain impacting nearly everything we do. Now, the tendency to avoid the things we should spills over and impedes the things we shouldn’t, and progress towards personal and professional goals is stalled. From the standpoint of the body, it makes sense. “Why build for the future if there’s to be no future?” is the message being transmitted from deep within our mind. All of our energy becomes focused upon the threat. Instead of taking new paths towards success, we stay the course. That’s because we lose some ability to predict whenever we change. The inability to predict drives the emotion of fear, which, in turn, triggers avoidance. Better safe than sorry becomes the subliminal mantra that now guides our choices. There’s a way that we can counter this natural tendency of the brain.
Begin by taking stock of everything that’s gone wrong. Write it down, or talk to someone. This simple act helps you shift your thoughts from brain areas governing emotions to those that mediate rational thought. Include everything, including the trivial. Now do the opposite. Make a list of all the resources you have. Now shift your focus from the lost assets to those you still have. This process turned things around for me almost instantly during the 2006 Ultimate Florida Challenge. My rudder had snapped in heavy seas, depriving me of both my foot and hand operated steering systems. In addition, the pole supporting my stabilizing outrigger had broken, taking away my sailing option. It was after midnight on wind-swept Boynton Beach along Florida’s Atlantic coast. Anger, triggered by these mishaps, was rapidly mixed with sadness that I would most likely be unable to finish the race in the allotted time, if at all. There was no way to repair the aluminum rudder, which had snapped in two. The same was true of the stabilizing system. In addition, the boat had filled with water while negotiating the rough surf. Despite claims of their being waterproof, both my light and VHF radio were no longer functioning. I concluded that I was out of the race, and I began thinking about the logistics of getting back across the state to my home in Tampa. Not only was I in avoidance mode, but I also wanted to withdraw to the familiar setting of home. While pacing the beach pondering my dilemma, I verbalized these thoughts to myself, and in so doing, I was able to hear my thoughts from a source other than from my brain’s emotion center. A new emotion emerged, which was fear of the regret that I would experience if I were to drop out of the race.
While fear is still an avoidance-inducing emotion, I had now framed the fear in a manner whereby the steps to avoid it would take me toward my goal. The next step was to replace thoughts of the broken rudder with the awareness that I could steer with a paddle and that I wouldn’t need the outrigger if I stayed in the protected waters of the intra-coastal waterway. Once underway, I was soon able to replace the radio and light. It was still a bad situation that I was fully aware of. Tidal influences were much more powerful along the in-shore route, which was also longer than following a straighter course out in the Atlantic. But I was making progress toward my goal, and I knew that if I paddled for longer days, I would still finish within the allotted time of 28 days. I made it just under the wire in 26 days and 16 hours.
Seldom is there no solution. The problem is invariably being unable to find it, which is made all the more difficult when you are blinded by the crisis-fueled emotions. Before beginning the search, make certain you identify and counter those emotions that will prevent you from finding the way. It’s a matter of identifying the negative and balancing it with something positive.