Determination – Finding the Strength to Keep Going When We Want to Give Up

This post is more personal for me today.  Although personal to me today, everyone will relate to the struggles spoken about in this post.  Your situation will be different so apply that situation to this post.  Think about that ONE thing that frustrates the heck out you.  That ONE thing you cannot master.  That ONE thing that is holding you back from what, where, who, and what you wanna be.  

I am working on my PhD in Health Psychology and have been working on this for close to 4 years now.  I have spent WAY too much money, time, energy, and sacrifice to complete this degree.  I have neglected social commitments, family, and even workouts to write papers and complete research.  There is ONE thing that stands between me and the PhD, my dissertation.  

A dissertation is the marathon of all marathons.  At this point my research proposal is 3 chapters and about 150 pages long.  I have spent hundreds of hours on this and really poured all my knowledge, passion, assertions, and education into this document.  I feel proud of the work I have done.  If it were up to me, I would have been Dr. Stephanie months ago!  A dissertation committee consists of my chair, who is my mentor, my cheerleader, and an expert, and another committee member who is also an expert in the field.  Together they remind how little I actually know.  I take this personally because I scarified family fun time to waste weekends reading, writing, reviewing, and editing.  My ideas must go through them and be approved before moving on to the University to be reviewed, analyzed, and approved.  Once this step is completed I can start my actual research.  This research is exciting, novel, and ground-breaking.  It is the thing that keeps me reading and writing away.  This stage of the process causes me to be at the mercy of other people.  I must wait on others to agree to volunteer, complete measures, and comply with research instructions.  People are unpredictable so it is not guaranteed my research sample will be a smooth and easy process.  There are many more steps to complete before I must humbly ask my committee to once again review, approve, and accept my research data.  Do you have a situation, person, obstacle in your life similar to this?  I am confident I am not the only one.  Maybe there is a relationship that is complicated, financial and professional conflicts, family priorities,  or physical expectations and limitations.

The common factor is that there is something, an obstacle, a person, a situation, a limitation that is keeping your from attaining your goals.  We have all heard that all things that are worth anything are worth working for.  This implies there is struggle, there is a fight, there is a conflict, and that it is not easy to get what we want.  These obstacles throw us off our game, distract us, and frustrate us.  I hope there are obstacles in your life that you have easily overcome, but then I know there are other obstacles that truly are a burden.  

The burden and the fight gets harder and harder to bare.  We get tired.  We get frustrated.  When nothing changes, we want to quit.  I see this happen all the time with fitness and healthy eating.  Someone starts out strong, excited, and motivated and they make many changes in their life to get to the gym or deny that piece of pizza at lunch.  As a society we want immediate results.  We want to see our reward and have a reminder for what we are working for.  Fitness and physical changes do not come this way (neither does my dissertation).  As progress becomes slower, things become inconvenient and uncomfortable, and our excitement settle the motivation to keep going diminishes.  Some will quit.  Others don’t.  

What is it that keeps us determined?  What is it that keeps some able to continue to fight with tooth and nail to achieve their goals?  I do not think genetics play a factor.  Sure some people have higher IQ’s and are more intelligent than me.  Sure there are people that are skinner, leaner, and more coordinated.  But if things were a matter of natural selection, I would be a 300 pound stoner in my parents basement.  

Sure our environment also has a little to do with our ability to achieve our goals.  Children born into wealthy families have greater resources.  They are less limited in that they did not have spend extra time and energy finding a way to pay for things.  But what I know is that (A) money can be earned, (B) people can go from rags to riches (I know many that have), and (C) there are many that have come from abusive, traumatic, neglectful, and dire situations and have found peace, fame, glory, riches, and success.   Our past does not have write our futures!

I personally believe “We an do ALL things” and believe that if you put your mind to something it can be done.  But as a human I am limited, you are limited, we are limited.  What keeps us going for that prize we desire is our determination.  

The factor that keeps us determined and pushing toward goals even when every thing else screams “QUIT! GIVE UP!” is YOU!  That is right; you are the variable.  I am the variable between me and my PhD.

It is easy to look at obstacles and get frustrated.  It is “easier” to quit.  Easier for now. But I believe that all of us are strong enough to keep going.  There are things that help us stay motivated when we face obstacles.

  •  Find and Seek Support – Tell your friends and family about your goals.  Tell them what you want to accomplish.  Ask them to support you and to hold you accountable.  Ask them to encourage you even when you can no longer encourage yourself.  My husband, my family, and my friends keep me motivated.  At times they are the reason I have not given up!
  • Find a mentor – Find someone who who look up to, someone that has accomplished what you are working to, and then ask them to help you as well.  This support should look different than personal support however.  My chair and committee member push me.  They make me so angry I cannot think straight.  That is a mentor’s job.  They are there to give you a dose of reality, but also support you to use your skills and knowledge to keep going.
  • Get frustrated!  Do it!  Throw a fit! – Get upset, express yourself.  I scream, I cry, and I yell when I get frustrated. Keeping your frustrations inside is not healthy.  However not being able to control emotions is not healthy either.  I support a moment of throwing a fit and acting like a child.  Get out all that emotion.  Now proceed to the next step.
  • Relax – We can get so focused on our goals that we push and push and push and push and push.  If your goal is to lose weight or attain a body building goal you may work super duper hard in the gym.  But without any rest and relaxation we are at increased risk for injury and illness.  If you are focused on professional and educational goals and you do not take a break you WILL mentally break.  Find time each day to put down the weights, put down the books, and put down the computer and relax.  
  • Think about how things would be if you gave up – If I quit working on my dissertation nothing would ever change.  I would be a little smarter, yes, but I would not have my degree and I would not have opportunities open to me.  What if you stopped working out?  What if you stopped eating healthy?  Your body and your health will never change.  You will be exactly where you are right now.  What if you stopped saving money or stopped working?  You will never find financial freedom, and your financial future will be exactly as it is today. 
  • Look back where you came from – This can hard if you are currently in a very difficult place and you have recently had some setbacks.  But evaluate how you have matured, grown, learned, and experienced more today then 5 years ago.  The breath you are breathing means you have courage to face today and strength to continue to fight and survive.  Love yourself for that ability to survive and your ability to grow.  You do not have accept things the way they are now, if that is not how you want things to be.  

Change takes work.  Change takes daily steps toward a goal.  Change requires the determination to wake up and put one foot in front of the other, despite whether we want to our not.  I want to change, I want my PhD, so I will type one word at a time.  That is one word closer to my goal.  

I use the following analogy a lot with my kiddos that I counsel.  Life is like the yellow brick road that Dorothy finds herself on after the devastation of the tornado.  She is in a foreign land, things are uncertain, confusing, and complicated.  She must walk on the yellow brick road to get home again.  Along her journey she meets friends.  Along this journey she faces fear, adversity, and it looked as if she would never get home.  Dorothy used her courage, her “shoes” and her friends to get home again.  This analogy explains that to get to our goals we have to go on a journey and we need to use all available resources to get there. It will not be easy and there will be obstacles that get in the way, but at the end awaits your destiny.    

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