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Holding Your Breath

By: Michael Blankenship |

“Grit is not just simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again.” 

– Sarah Lewis

How long can you hold your breath? 

The world record is 24 minutes and 3 seconds.

But I’m only asking this question metaphorically. Much like we get a nearly undeniable urge to inhale after 30-90 seconds of denying our lungs, we also get an overwhelming urge to quit after pursuing a passion with too little progress.

It feels like we’re out of air. 

And yet, the instinct to inhale isn’t triggered by a lack of oxygen, but by a buildup of carbon dioxide. Our bodies can’t even measure oxygen levels and so they opt for measuring the opposite, assuming that if carbon dioxide levels are high, we must be in grave danger. 

But even the average person can increase their breath-holding time to 5 minutes with some practice. 

It’s not that you can’t hold your breath. 

It’s not that you aren’t making progress. 

It’s just an instinct — a knee-jerk reaction — triggered by fear that you might not succeed, that you might be wasting your time. 

I recently overheard two people in a coffee shop discussing a new business they were going to build. At one point, one of them said, “And we’ve got nothing to lose. We just try it out for three months and see how it goes.” I chuckled to myself. Three months isn’t enough time to gain meaningful ground on any pursuit.

This is how we typically think about our pursuits… not in terms of decades or lifetimes, but in terms of months or years.

But the person who can “hold their breath” long enough to see the fruit of their labors — which, as a good friend of mine recently said, is “always longer and harder than you expect” — is the one who will emerge to the surface victorious. 

Here are some ways to increase your breath-holding time.  

Work With a Partner — I used to try things on my own because I figured depending on someone else was a recipe for disaster. But I’ve now found the opposite to be true. When we do something alone, it’s much easier to quit. I currently have three different businesses… and all of them have a business partner. 

Don’t Make a Major Decision in a Valley — This is a rule I never break… perhaps the most important rule in my life. Because I have a fair amount of “down seasons”. But when I’m in those seasons, I know I’m not allowed to make major decisions. This means my lowest mode of being is at least maintaining the things I’ve got going. 

Accept The Possibility Of Failure — What you’re doing might fail… by that, I mean that it might not pan out how you originally intended. We often quit because we’re afraid of the possibility of failure and it’s less embarrassing to quit than it is to fail. But once you accept that you can give something your all and it still might not work out… you steal this fear of its power.

Believe in The Power of Time — Time is the most powerful contributor to success. I’m never the smartest person in the room… or even the most hard-working… but I’m determined to be the most resilient. And that resilience (I’ve found) pays off big. 

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