Go to Exhaustion, then Hold Fast — Part 2
It occurred to me while making the 80/20 workout video (see part 1) that mindset can be either a super-charger or a constraint on all kinds of growth. Your mindset determines whether you quit at the first sign of resistance, or embrace the difficulty and double down.
The part of our subconscious that Freud called it the “Id” basically lives in a constant state of revolt against our best efforts at self-improvement. When the “Ego” wants something — say, a better, stronger body, the Id is there with the counter-argument.
The Id is that small voice inside you asking, ‘Do you really want that?’
If it weren’t for Id we’d all be constantly outdoing each other in everything. It would be exhausting and counter-productive.
But there are also valid reasons to want to become better at things, which means shoving the Id deeper into the subconscious — suppressing our narcissistic rage until it reaches a boiling point, and then venting it in inappropriate ways in front of our friends and colleagues.
The best athletes have always recognized that mind over matter is the truth of the matter when it comes to performance. Michael Jordan shot an insane number of baskets to become the greatest. Most people would get bored and burn out, but Jordan powered through.
By keeping his eye on the prize of his childhood dream. To persevere, you need to find something that naturally draws you out of your comfort zone — something you want so bad that it’s uncomfortable not to do it.
Like Mike, I had a childhood dream to be a professional basketball player. The only problem was that I was about 3 feet too short. Most problematically, however, I didn’t have the desire or motivation to put in the hours to get good enough to compensate for my lack of skills and stature. Maybe I knew deep down that I could never be like Mike on the basketball court.
Since then, I’ve found a few ways to channel that original desire into things that I could conceivably be good at. Now sailing has replaced basketball as my dream, and primary motivator to improve.
Currently, I’m not a particularly good sailor. It took an outside observer to reveal to me that I am pretty good at getting myself out of scrapes. I’ve accumulated a long and growing list of unflattering incidents involving sunken dinghies, loosened anchors, near collisions with seawalls, untold outboard motor problems, and failures to launch from my slip into the fairway. My theory is that most people too risk averse to get into scrapes in the first place. They take multiple lessons before getting behind the tiller themselves, and require an outboard motor that works all of the time. My mindset, on the other hand is “Ready, FIRE! …aim.”
This mentality has been less conducive to graceful sailing in the early stages, but I’ve gradually gotten better by going into the most challenging possible situations, dealing with the difficulties, and emerging on the other side a stronger, more capable mariner. All thanks to the dream of one day being a graceful sailor.
I just got my boat back from the Delta — a 150-mile round trip, which had its share of incidents.
There was the near collision with the seawall in Richmond when I tried to get around without tacking and then lost wind/helm (steerage). I ended up jibing to get all the way around, but not without paddling as fast as I could to complete the turn without hitting the rocks.
Next was running aground on the mud flat near the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay. Whose idea was it to put a big mud flat in the middle of a wide open bay? I will never understand that, but I will also never make the mistake of exiting the shipping channel while catching up on text messages. I somehow managed to make it exactly halfway across the 300 foot-wide shallows, meaning I’d had to heave my way half a football field in any direction. And it was already high tide, meaning I was racing against the clock of ever-more-shallow water.
First I tried reversing the motor. Then forward again. Then I took the motor off the boat and put it on my dingy; hooked the dingy up to the bow of the sailboat and tried towing. I almost lost the dinghy, but the boat didn’t budge. I frantically called my friend John who advised me to put the anchor out so that I wouldn’t slide further into shallow waters, but upon jumping out and running around (water up to my navel) it seemed to be uniform depth in every direction.
Just before calling the coast guard, I said a few Hail Marys (yes — really) and tried hoisting the sails back up, trimming them in as much as possible to get the boat to “heel” or tilt over the side a bit more. I put the motor on full throttle and got out of the boat to push it forward, while simultaneously leaning off the side to give it an extra couple of inches of tilt. I felt it move a few inches, then a few more. By the time it broke free and started moving along at a good clip, it took my last bits of strength pull myself up out of the water. It was an extremely stressful situation that could have entailed a total loss of the boat, or worse. The stress gave me adrenaline and a level of strength that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d been trying to max out any other way.
By the time I stepped back onto the dock that evening I was a different person at a psychological level — having achieved greater composure under stress — and at a physical, cellular level. I might add that I was changed on a spiritual level as well, having had my faith in the power of prayer affirmed.
Maybe we should all adopt a more risk-loving attitude that will occasionally put us in situations that demand harder work (Id be damned). Of course, the Id may resist this suggestion, but from what I know about the little bugger, he probably relishes the excitement. Excitement, after all, is a basic human need.
I would never suggest intentionally getting into dangerous situations just to produce this outcome. For it is written, “Do not put your God to the test.” However, I think humans have an inherent ability titrate, or dole out our own risk. Needless to say, I stopped texting-and-sailing after that, and only did so when I knew the depth chart with certainty.
It was pretty smooth sailing from the first run-aground until I tried to take a short cut in my dinghy through some thick reeds en route to picking someone up from shore. I was already late.
Predictably, my motor got so tangled up in the weeds that I had to jump out and swim the boat it to shore. At this point, none of my options for getting the remainder of the distance were good. Rather than troubleshoot the motor and continue the last half mile by boat, I decided to put my barefoot running technique into practice on the levee road. I arrived panting and looking like a fool, but I think I probably boosted my lung capacity more in that 20-minute biathlon than any track workout I’ve done this year.
Finally, the return trip had its rough moments — mainly on the last leg from Benicia to Berkeley, across the vast but shallow San Pablo Bay, where longer swells mixed with short wave chopping made the bow thud against the water every few seconds when tacking into weather. There was sheer chaos in the cabin, and a growing puddle in the dinghy I was towing behind me.
By the time the winds calmed down near the Richmond Bridge, I noticed my speed had significantly declined from the extra weight I was towing. Most of the dingy was underwater, and the front of it was only being buoyed by the towline. Sadly, I had to let it sink (again, you’ve got titrate your risks). Sadder but freer, and now moving close to my boat’s maximum speed, I could practically make out the lights of the Berkeley shoreline. I just had to make it past a few more obstacles like the seawall in Richmond that had originally caused me problems.
By this point my phone was dead and there was no moonlight or sunlight to give clues about what the various blinking markers were. I was fairly confident I had passed the seawall when all of a sudden I noticed a funny looking silhouette straight ahead. I had not passed the seawall, and it now loomed just yards away. I quickly veered, but I was too late to avoid another mud trap. This was starting to feel old hat. I knew I just needed to heel the boat over far enough and it would slide free, but this time it was a) dark, b) cold, and c) at the end of an all-nighter in some of the roughest waters I’ve ever sailed. I took the plunge, and got to work pulling and pushing various stanchions and sections of the boat — to no avail. I trimmed the main in a bit more and leaned out as far as I could in the way that had previously set me free, but still… no luck.
Finally, I just got behind the old gal and started pushing, like you would a car with a dead battery. Miraculously, she started moving. Again, pulling myself up into the moving boat was beyond exhausting and I still had the task ahead of me of finding my way back out from behind the seawall. The motor had come dislodged from its bracing in an attempt to “back the boat up” and out of the mud.
Now it was triage time. Glasses first. Then I put my warmest life jacket on — no time for a shirt. My pants were already soaked so I stayed in my underwear. Wearing shoes felt like ridiculousness at this point. Thankfully, I had pulled a sleeping bag from out of its cubby when grabbing my foul weather gear a few hours earlier. Sliding my wet bottom half into the bag kept me warm enough to keep a straight course (sail only) all the way back to Berkeley on sail only, letting the motor remain 45 degrees off it’s normal bearing.
The sun came up for the last 45 minutes of the journey, revealing a thick blanket of fog to the east, and haze from the Northern California fires to the west. The rising sun was blood red. An omen? Perhaps. But having found my limit, and staying there for a while out of necessity, I feel more ready for whatever is coming next.