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How to Enhance Our Persistence (Episode 8-39)

What I learnt from climbing Kilimanjaro

The quality to persist, to not give up on something that you have decided to commit to, is a valuable trait to have and to cultivate. As you could have read in my post on spontaneity, I had spontaneous decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with only one week of preparation. Climbing the mountain while physically experiencing increasingly extreme altitude sickness taught me a lot about persistence. It made me realize through physical experience that there are conditions we can influence which enhance our ability to persist. I’m grateful and happy to share these with you here.


Face our challenges, focus, and commit

As I personally learnt, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro came with a lot of challenges. It’s a long durational exercise which hopefully results in reaching the summit, at 5.895 meters above sea level. Persistence is the ability to endure challenges, as my guide Frank told me in our interview on persistence at the Mount Kilimanjaro Karanga Camp at 4.000 meters. For this ability to endure challenges we need a focused and committed mind. In case our mind is not committed, it’s easy to diverge our attention, get distracted, or give up. It’s about deciding and sticking with the thing we committed to. ‘The mind is everything. When you agree with your mind, and not listen to what your body says, you can accomplish anything. When your mind is strong, nothing is impossible and you can face any challenge’ (Mrewa, 2021). We need to learn to face our challenges, doubts, and uncertainties, instead of living a life of avoidance and fear. In turn, ‘strength will be the child of effort and pain’ (Marshall, 2006). We can strengthen our mind by doing what we say we will do, no matter how difficult or challenging. For that reason, I’m sitting here now in my hotel room in Nungwi, Zanzibar, writing, with a banging headache, a souvenir from the climb. I’ve committed to writing a post every nine days and am doing my best to deliver. As Frank rightfully said, ‘In every achievement there must be some pain’. And it’s better of course to pay the price for the pain from trying to win and overcome, then to be in pain because of not trying (Mrewa, 2021). Going through our challenges teaches us not to give up but instead persist. It teaches us that we are capable to overcome. From this, we can continue to aim higher and achieve more. Facing our challenges helps us grow.


Get out of our comfort zone

When we get out of our comfort zone, we learn new things about ourselves and our abilities. Outside of our comfort zone is where growth happens. ‘Great things are never achieved in our comfort zone’ (Mrewa, 2021). Ericsson and Pool recommend getting out of our comfort zone in a focused way, with clear goals and a plan for reaching those goals and a way to monitor progress (Ericsson and Pool, 2016). As they articulate, it’s about creating a new comfort zone, and from there pushing further to the next domain, right outside of your comfort zone, again and again. Both my Kilimanjaro guide Frank and porter Iddy spoke about this during my interview with them. By building challenge on top of challenge, and persisting to overcome them, we enhance our abilities. This is not a one-time thing. It requires tremendous amounts of practice and dedication. Iddy, who has worked as a porter on Kilimanjaro for the last seven years, shared that by pushing through the hard challenges on the mountain, his life outside of the mountain also began to change. He told me he now established a family, got a wife, child, and moved from one goal to the next. Overcoming the hard challenges in his work on the mountain helped a lot with that he told me. As Frank shared, ‘when we sacrifice something, and through that achieve something, this builds our courage to go even further next time (Mrewa, 2021). Persistence therefore is a never-ending practice that self-enforces. Success never comes easy. You must be strong enough to fight for it (Mrewa, 2021). By persisting through challenges, instead of evading them, we become stronger. Persistence therefore enhances persistence.


Examples and teachers

When we learn about how others overcame similar challenges we face, we can draw courage and inspiration from this. Examples and teachers therefore are important for us. Examples of success and persistence help us endure and persist (Mrewa, 2021). However, similarly as with our ever-expanding comfort zone as mentioned above, we also need to expand on our examples, teachers and inspiration. Therefore, change teachers as you grow (Ericsson and Pool, 2016). In that way, we can keep learning and keep adding to our skills and abilities. So, when you grow, move up to new teachers, join new circles, and build new relationships.


Rest

On Mount Kilimanjaro, in the course of seven days, we climbed and descended 3.510 meters in altitude and covered a distance of 63 kilometers by foot to and from the summit at 5.895 meters above sea level. The distance covered was over rough, uneven and at times slippery terrain. During this time, I carried my backpack, weighing around 11 kilograms. On the second night, it was excruciatingly cold. Inexperienced as I was, I hadn’t put on enough layers when going to sleep and I ended up lying awake the entire night. As you can imagine, the next day was very hard. Both in terms of the hiking, but also in terms of keeping myself warm. Hiking and climbing the difficult and uneven terrain took its toll. That next night, I borrowed an additional liner for my sleeping bag and wore every item of clothing in my backpack. I slept. The next day was a completely different experience. Hiking went well and I was able to experience and enjoy the stunning scenery while feeling strong and energetic. Having experienced the importance of rest so physically and directly made me aware of its importance for persistence. For us to persist with something that challenges us, it is so valuable and important to ensure sufficient rest. This is true when hiking and climbing a mountain. But it is of equal importance when working on tight deadlines or under stressful circumstances. Allowing for sufficient rest is critical. Without it, our bodies and minds simply function sub-optimal, or even poorly.


Nutrition and hydration

When doing my endurance training, for example biking for sometimes six hours straight without getting off the bike, I’ve had experiences where I didn’t eat enough. This directly impacts my performance. I’ve had similar experiences ascending Mount Kilimanjaro. When I ate and drank regularly and enough, the climb and hike went well. In the cases I didn’t, my experience and physical strength immediately changed for the worse. For us to be able and stay able to persist in something we’ve committed to, we must care for our physical body. A healthy and balanced diet therefore is of critical importance for our ability to persist. Especially at high altitude it’s amazing how significant nutrition and hydration impact our performance.


Breathing

When preparing for the climb, I’ve read and spoke about the possibility of altitude sickness. Due to the increasing height, available oxygen levels decrease significantly, and can result in headaches, confusion, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sleepiness, and shortness of breath. However, I’m a fit person and I assumed my ability to process oxygen wouldn’t affect me much when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. How wrong I was.


In preparation, I’d tied a blue bracelet around my right wrist to remind me to breath deep and steadily; go slow in ascending; and drink enough water. All would help me prevent altitude sickness, I hoped. As I learnt later, this worked until around 4.600 meters, but thereafter it became so much harder. What I learnt however, is that my breathing did have a positive altering effect on the eventually excruciating experience of altitude sickness. Upon my ascent, I started to experience first light, and later stronger headaches. Then, when taking conscious deep and consecutive breaths, I was able to limit the severity of the headaches. When finally going up from Kosovo Camp to the summit, it was the conscious breathing that enabled me to deal with the excruciating symptoms of altitude sickness. Not only does a deep breath provide the urgently necessary oxygen, it also brings us back into our body and helps us take step, after step, onwards to the summit.


Keep learning and reflecting

As mentioned above, it’s important to be focused on our endeavors and set clear goals. However, we should always stay open to change and alteration of our focus. Relentless pursuing a goal does not guarantee success. Also, sometimes our goals are not complete, or too simple in focus. For example, as discussed in the book Destructive Goal Pursuit by Christopher Kayes, mountaineers climbing the Mount Everest focusing on reaching the summit tended to forget the important part of also safely coming down again. ‘Reaching the summit of Everest seemed like a clear goal, but the actual, more precise and ‘complex’ goal was to reach the summit and then descend alive’ (Kayes, 2006). ‘Goal-setting, despite its many benefits, has a troubling side. Goals [can] become difficult to abandon, provide a handy language to justify undesirable action, lead to unintended consequences and, under some conditions, lead to unethical behavior’ (Kayes, 2006). This means that when we’re persisting and are pushing something through, we should remain open to new information and changing circumstances. We should keep learning and reflecting. This might provide information that suggests a change of focus or alteration of course. As Ericsson and Pool suggest, ‘keep in mind three F’s: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break [things] down into components that you can […] analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them’ (Ericsson and Pool, 2016). This applies to both the cultivation of our skills and abilities, and our focus.


Keep at it

Finally, of course, we need to not give up. We need to literally persist and push on. If we don’t use it, we lose it. But if we keep using our abilities and skills, we can keep expanding them. With regard to physical training for instance, ‘people can train effectively well into their eighties. Much of the age-related deterioration in various skills happens because people decrease or stop their training; older people who continue to train regularly see their performance decrease much less’ (Ericsson and Pool, 2016). It’s about repeated practice. What we do more becomes habit. Doing more of the things we don’t like doing builds our character and ability to persist. What we do every day, determines our lives. ‘Success depends on what you do, and how you do it, every day. Winning requires the accumulation of positive habits’ (Stein Jr., and Sternfeld, 2019). Pushing through the challenges helps us build these positive habits, therefore, keep at it.


Always take one more step

Finally, as I learnt while climbing the Kilimanjaro, it’s a matter of step after step, after step. We can and must always muster to take one more step. Doing that enough finally got me to the summit. In spite of the severe altitude sickness, with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a raging headache, and such a feeling of imminent weakness, dizziness and sleepiness, taking one step after the other finally got me to the top. We can always take one more step. Try it, and find out for yourself what changes in your life.


Header photo by Julius de Jong, shadow of Kilimanjaro from morning sun, 6:40AM, 24 August 2021.

 

Interview:


As you could have read in my last post on spontaneity, I had spontaneous decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with only one week of preparation. The extreme altitude, 5.895 meters above sea level, limited oxygen levels and a severe experience of altitude sickness made it one of the hardest and strangest physical endeavors I’ve undertook thus far. It created a whole new experience when it comes to persistence.


Prior to my personal summit experience, I’ve recorded this interview on persistence with my guide, Frank William Mrewa and porter Iddy Huessn while at Karanga Camp at 4.000 meters on route to the summit. During this interview, Frank told me that on his last trip to the summit, a fellow guide had passed away on the mountain due to the consequences of altitude sickness. Wow.

Both Frank and Iddy are extremely strong of both mind and body. Their energy, experience and especially their singing to motivate us and keep us from falling asleep, ultimately helped me and my newfound German friends to reach the summit two days later. It was an incredible experience. Enjoy the interview!


The company Frank and Iddy work for: https://www.topclimbersexpedition.com



 

Sources:


Duckworth, Angela, 2017, Grit. https://amzn.to/3ynr3tc


Ericsson, Anderson and Pool, Robert, 2016, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. https://amzn.to/3mAIF2s


Kayes, Christopher, 2006, Destructive Goal Pursuit. https://amzn.to/3Bd7h5B


Marshal, Joseph, 2006, Keep Going: The Art of Perserverance. https://amzn.to/3DdeFj8


Stein Jr., Alan, and Jon Sternfeld, 2019, Raise Your Game. https://amzn.to/2Y3BPbT


Tillisch, Nicolai and Nielsen, Nicolai Chen, 2021, Return on Ambition. https://amzn.to/3gTkdWL

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