Perseverance – keeping going, not giving up – is one of the great secrets to success. I’m more and more convinced of it the more stories I hear about successful people.
Sometimes, in fact, keeping going, hanging in there during stressful times is the success. Sometimes, getting through tough times is the task in front of you, and success consists of still standing at the end.
I’ve done mostly project work for more than 20 years now, so I’m familiar with the “we just need to get through this” experience. And that’s standing me in good stead at the moment.
I’ve mentioned here before that my wife is currently having health problems. She’s had rheumatoid arthritis since the age of six, and has multiple joint replacements, and one of them got infected late last year and had to be removed. She’s now had it replaced, and is currently on five or six weeks of bed rest (that is, she can’t get out of bed) in hospital, after which they’ll probably keep her in for roughly as long again.
It’s a long, hard journey for both of us – her more than me, obviously, but me too. So I thought, while I’m still in the middle of it, I’d share with you some of what I’m doing to keep myself well and keep my spirits up so that I can continue to support her and do the other things that I’m committed to doing.
1. Eat well
I know that if I go the easy way and eat junk food at odd hours I’ll make myself ill and won’t be able to cope. So I’m going the other easy way.
My programme at the moment is that I go up to the hospital after work, spend a couple of hours with my wife, and then go home. At the weekends I spend most of the afternoons with her. There aren’t any facilities for me to heat food there or anything, so I’m living largely on sandwiches. But they’re good sandwiches.
I’ve noticed that I feel better after eating pesto, or anything with basil in. It’s probably because it’s high in iron. So what I do is, when I go shopping at the weekend, I buy the fixings for pita pockets: hummus, pesto, felafel mix, olives, cheese and of course pita bread (wholemeal). I spend about an hour cooking the felafels and assembling five days’ worth of sandwiches, and I put them in the fridge and pull one out each day.
At the hospital, if I haven’t brought food for whatever reason and I need to eat, there’s a Subway outlet. It’s fast food, but it has vegetables in it.
And with breakfast, I’ve started drinking vegetable juice (it’s not V8, but it’s a direct copy with the exact same ingredients).
Now, fresh vegetable juice is better than bought vegetable juice, and the vegetables themselves, unjuiced, are better still. Any nutritionist will tell you that. But fresh vegetable juice is not an option that’s on the table, in a time-pressed, stressed context. Bought vegetable juice is better than no vegetable juice, and those are my realistic options.
If I do get home at night in time to cook, I’m usually eating steamed frozen vegetables (a mix of broccoli, peas and beans that I buy packaged at the supermarket) and microwaved and then steamed frozen Chinese dumplings (wholemeal). Again, fresh stuff is nutritionally better than frozen, but when I don’t know how often or when I’ll be eating them, and I have limited prep time, fresh stuff is not much of an option. Frozen vegetables are better than no vegetables.
Canned vegetables are also better than no vegetables. I’ve made a very nice meal (or actually about four or five meals) by emptying two cans of lentils, a can of tomatoes with onions and garlic, a can of baby corn and some frozen chopped basil into a pot and simmering it for a quarter of an hour or so.
I feel much better for having some vitamins and minerals in my body, even if they’re less than I’d get from all fresh food that I spent hours preparing. I don’t have those hours, so quick and nutritious beats quick and non-nutritious.
I eat fruit – fresh and dried – too.
Question: What small things could you do to improve your nutrition within the time and money you already have?
I don’t have a lot of spare time or motivation at the moment, and injury issues have put paid to some of the exercises I used to do. But what I have done is structure my day so that exercise just happens.
The current project I’m on for the day job is located in the city. I park in a secure carpark (since my car was stolen a few months back from an insecure one) that’s a bit under 1km from where I work, and walk downhill through a park. I do this every day, regardless of the weather, because it’s easier to keep parking in the same place.
After work, I walk up to the hospital, which is about 1.7km including a steep hill. And after spending time with my wife, I walk back to where I parked, down the third side of a triangle, just under 1km again. That’s a total of around 3.5km (2.2 miles) every weekday. At the weekends I park in the same place, so it’s a bit under 2km.
At first I was tired, and sometimes I still am, but on the whole I feel really good on it. I just bought a new pair of walking shoes that also look OK at work (Rockports, if you’re wondering), because the old shoes were starting to hurt my feet. Expensive, but worth it. I enjoy the walking (apart from the passive smoking that walking down city streets involves), and it’s doing great things for my energy and ability to keep going through the stress.
Question: How can you structure your day to include moving your body more?
I’ve been meditating regularly for over a year now. It’s less impressive than it sounds. All I do is, before I get up in the morning I use a little app on my iPhone called Soto Timer to mark out a 10-minute period, during which I focus on my breath. The app makes a Tibetan bell sound at the start and end of the 10 minutes.
You’d think that would do nothing at all. But I definitely notice the difference if I miss a day, and I’ve been noticing the long-term difference from doing the regular practice.
So have other people. At work the other day, someone told me – not privately, but in a meeting – that I’d been assigned to support the more… challenging users of the system we’re implementing “because you don’t get upset easily”. People who knew me years ago would be surprised at that, I think.
Question: Will you trade 10 minutes a day of simple practice for the ability to stay calm?
4. Stay positive
There’s a lot around about positive mental attitude, and some of it is outright snake oil. If I see the word “manifest” being used I generally switch off immediately. But there’s also good research that says that what you think does influence the outcomes you get – and, of course, how much you enjoy the process of getting them.
In the midst of what isn’t a great situation, I don’t want to be Pollyanna, but I do want to look for a positive spin. I’m getting to spend a lot more time with my wife at the moment, under circumstances that strengthen the bond between us, for example. She’s alive, she’s recovering well, she’s (in general) being well looked after, and we don’t have money worries.
One of the most important things is to decide for yourself what are the most important things.
Question: In what way might the way that you think about your situation be making it harder than it needs to be?
5. Sleep well
I’m not always sleeping well at the moment, but I generally get a good sleep. The exercise, of course, helps with that. The good nutrition probably isn’t doing any harm either, or the meditation, or the positive attitude. I have plenty of stress management techniques that I can use if I need to. And I use the techniques in the Sleeper’s Checklist to make sure I get good, restorative rest.
I don’t operate well on poor sleep (I don’t think anyone does, really, but other people are better than me at pretending). I know I can’t get through this stressful time well without that resource.
Question: Can you find one thing on the Sleeper’s Checklist that you could implement to improve your sleep?
How to not give up
“But Mike,” you may be saying, if you’ve read much of my stuff, “these are the same things you always bang on about. Nutrition, exercise, meditation, getting your head on straight, sleeping well, managing your stress. That’s your answer to everything.”
Well, yes. Yes, it is. Because it works.
Look back over the questions I’ve scattered through today’s post, and find one thing you can implement today. It’ll help you keep going through the tough times.
Do you want to be amazing? Become an Amazing Member and get immediate access to member-only resources like the How to be Happy ebook.
(I naturally won't pass your email address on to anyone else.)