Recently I had the opportunity to meet Chris Sharma. If you’re not sure who this is, think Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan for rock climbing. Sharma is one of the best climbers in the world and has been for many years. Meeting someone who performs at this level, one is immediately struck by something unique about his or her presence. Perhaps it is the confidence that comes with great achievements or the quiet assurance and belief in their own abilities; more than anything, however, I believe that the unique quality possessed by top performers stems from their insights into personal power and resiliency. These individuals have pushed the human body and mind to the brinks of possibility and have emerged fundamentally changed.
The evening I met Sharma he was giving a short presentation on his recent completion of a route he put up in Spain called “La Dura Dura” (translation: “The Hard Hard”). As far as anyone knows, this is the most difficult sport climb that has ever been completed. Sharma himself did not think it was possible when he first imagined the route, and he has been working on it for years. What struck me most during his talk was a moment when he stated simply, “If you want to do something harder than you’ve ever done before, you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.”
The truth of this statement reaches far beyond rock climbing. People often look to athletes and high-performers wondering what their secret is or how to gain that elusive “edge.” The answer, more often than not, is simple: hard work. While most of us are not concerned with monumental feats of strength, the challenges and struggles of our daily lives can feel daunting at times.
Take depression, for instance; negative self-talk, seemingly inescapable patterns of thought, a loss of the joy and fullness that you once knew in life, and one of the more common reasons that people seek counseling. Overcoming depression may very well feel like “the hard hard” of your life, and the key may be more straightforward than you think.
I do not mean to suggest that one can simply “will” themselves out of depression – medication and psychotherapy may be necessary steps in the process. Nor do I mean to imply that one can overcome negative thoughts by trying harder to think positive thoughts – this would be analogous to trying to extinguish a fire by adding more wood. What I am suggesting, on the other hand, is that personal responsibility and good ol’ fashioned hard work are key factors in working through our struggles.
Whether you are facing down depression, trying to improve the quality of your relationships, seeking a promotion at work, or trying to send the hardest climb in the world, chances are pretty good that some sincere effort will be involved. Since effort is most easily measured by action, our most effective route to change is through behavior.
If depression is your challenge, start by modifying your daily routine and behaviors – you may find that your thoughts and emotions follow suit. If you are undertaking an athletic endeavor, you can be certain that not only the time you spend at the gym but the quality of your effort there will determine your success. If you really want to work on your relationship, the time you spend together, both enjoying the ease of each other’s company and working through difficult conflicts together, will likely be predictive of the outcome.
Try as we might to find the easy way out, there comes a point where we must buckle down and embrace the challenge. The concept is simple, but real change might be the hardest thing you ever do.