Are All Signs Telling You To STOP?

StopSignsMy knee hurts today. I mean, it really hurts. Recently, I decided to ramp up my fitness routine by incorporating some high-intensity cardio exercises designed by a Navy SEAL (no joke), and this morning, my knee was swollen, sore and stiff. I (barely) bent down to grab something, and my wife turned to me and asked, “What was that?”

“What was what?”

“That crunchy…sound?

“Oh…that was my knee..”

On Christmas Day, 2003, I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee in a pick-up game of touch football with some buddies while I was deployed overseas as a Naval Aviator. I’d love to tell you it happened diving for the game-winning touchdown, but it was far less heroic. (Trust me, you don’t want to know the details…but I digress…)

The point is that ever since the injury and subsequent reconstructive surgery (as well as months of torture, I mean, rehab that followed) my knee swells up and makes that crunchy sound after intense exercise. Ironically, I was thinking of going for a run today, but maybe I should kick back and relax.

Heck, maybe I should stop working out altogether.

I share this story with you because, while there is literal pain in my life right now, it serves as a great metaphor for any pain we feel when we start something new…especially if it is meaningful and big, and takes us outside our comfort zone.

Here’s the real pain, though: sometimes stop signs are there for a reason. Sometimes we are supposed to stop, look both ways and assess the situation before proceeding.

But how do you know? How can you tell whether the “stop signs” in life are warning you to pause, or just a cleverly disguised excuse to procrastinate and give in to resistance? Here are five things to remember the next time you’re debating whether to stop altogether, or push on in the face of resistance:

1. We’re eating elephants, not cashews.
Since you are reading this, taking bite-sized nibbles at success is probably not your thing. Those kind of pop-it-in-your mouth hobbies are like eating cashews; fun to eat, but not overly satisfying. But if you are going after you biggest, most audacious dreams, it can be as overwhelming as eating an elephant (and we both know it is damn difficult to eat and entire elephant in one meal, let alone one bite).

Be aware of that the initial jolt of adrenaline that comes from starting something new and exciting (the first couple of workouts, initial pages of the novel, love-at-first-sight emotions in a new relationship), and avoid overambitious first steps that can cause you to stumble as you begin your new venture.

Eat that elephant one bite at a time.

2. Novelty wears off. That’s when the real work starts.
Everything is fun in the beginning. If you’ve ever been on an extended road trip, you know what a blast the first 3 hours can be; the music is awesome, the snacks are abundant, you seem to have endless things to talk about with your travel companions.

But it’s the 13 hours that follow the departure that test your resolve (and your nerves). If you’re seeing ‘stop signs’ after the initial thrill wears off, be honest with yourself as to whether or not you are experiencing a true road block, or just a lull in enthusiasm. This is a great time to remind yourself what got you moving down the path in the first place (your WHY!) and all the reasons you’re committed to doing the work.

This is why being focused on process over result is so key to long-range success.

3. Even traffic stops are temporary.
It is so easy to hit a rough patch on the journey…and stay stopped. An injury during a workout, a project setback during a business startup, a financial squeeze can all mean a temporary stop. But just as you would behind the wheel, once you’ve hit your stop, the gas pedal becomes your best friend.

Be alert to prolonged stagnation. Procrastination and resistance are just like weeds; the longer they hang around, the deeper their roots grow and the more difficult they are to remove.

Notice the stop, assess the next step, them get moving again.

4. There’s a BIG difference between discomfort and injury.
Let’s face it; life is a full-contact sport. Everybody gets hurt, nicked, bruised and dinged up a little bit. And when it comes to doing the hard work—the significant work—fear can be a debilitating feeling. But there is a big difference between discomfort and serious injury.

Sore muscles, tired body and soul and early fatigue are sure signs of adaptation to growth. Growth and change can be scary, so hang in through the short-term discomfort, and adapt to the new disciple.

The reward for doing so is right around the corner.

5. Call for a tow.
If you absolutely, positively could not get out of neutral, you’d call a tow truck, right? So why should it be any different with your big missions and dreams in life?

When we feel stuck or lost it is, without a doubt, one of the crucial times to call for help. And it literally happens to everybody. Whether you are just getting started on your path, or you’ve plateaued and are finding it hard to shift the momentum, call a trusted friend, coach, mentor or colleague.

Do not try to go it alone for too long. Sometimes that third-party perspective is all we need to shift gears and get moving again.

There is a big difference between a serious stop and the misperceived sense of needing to halt our mission completely. It comes down to thinking critically about what the stop signs are telling us; it is either a temporary stop or serious need to pause and reflect.

And by the way, I decided to go for that run after all. It was short and s-l-o-w…but it was better than sitting in neutral at a stop sign that was never really there in the first place. I’m glad I went.

Fly High, Fly Fast, Fly Far.

~JT

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