by Dr. Norah Joslin
Resilience. Perseverance. Sticktoitiveness. Discipline.
I never thought I had any of these. Until I started running marathons. It’s something most people don’t do. Why? They see the impossible distance. They see the grueling hours. They see the commitment. And they never start because they don’t believe they can do any of it.
The thing is, they’re focusing on the wrong target. They’re looking at the end point, the finish line, which seems so far away. The gap between where they are and where they want to be feels too big. So they give up before they even start.
It’s okay to not run a marathon - it’s not for everyone. The training can be hard on the body and mind. But confidence comes through doing hard stuff.
The same applies to earning your black belt.
Earning a black belt is not a sprint. It’s just like running a marathon. You have to be willing to go the distance. There are hours of practice. There is discipline of the mind. And it can feel like a huge commitment to get through all of that to the end.
That’s exactly how I felt when I started on my black belt journey.
I took my first Taekwondo class just after I turned 49. My son had already been taking classes for three months so I started as a way to share time and a positive activity with him. We took a family class together. I committed to becoming a black belt, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure I would make it. Three and a half years seemed like such a long time. And there was so much to do between where I was and the end goal. But just like marathon training, you can’t focus on the gap - you have to focus on the smaller steps. In martial arts, it’s the next belt level.
I won’t lie. Some days it was hard to get myself, or my son, to class. I didn’t want to, or couldn’t, go. Then he wouldn’t want to, or couldn’t, go. But class by class, belt by belt, we both made it. We had discussions along the way as a way to refocus on our goal. The question we returned to was this: Are you still interested in getting your black belt? The answer remained “Yes”, so we continued.
Somewhere along the way, my focus shifted. It became more about who I was becoming instead of what I was achieving. This was true when I was training to run a marathon and became especially true as I was earning my black belt. I believe this is one of the best things we can teach our children: How to see challenge and growth as a good thing instead of an insurmountable task.
When you, or your child, is ready to quit before achieving a goal, answer these questions:
They are in no particular order, but need to be answered honestly.
Having an open discussion is key to hearing the real reason why you, or they, want to quit. Most of the time it comes down to lack of belief that the goal can actually be accomplished - finishing the marathon, earning the black belt - because you’re focusing on the gap instead of the next smaller step.
If, after answering the above questions, there’s still a spark of interest, use these questions to refocus on your goal:
About a year after my son and I earned our black belts, I was ready to quit. I had missed a lot of classes. I didn’t feel I was making progress. I was too busy to put in the time. Life was in the way. But at the bottom of everything was lack of belief that I had what it took to keep going. I was focused on the negatives. I was looking at how long it would take to get to second degree and the skills I lacked to get there. I was seeing the marathon.
In the end, I didn’t quit. Here’s what changed for me: I took adult only classes at times that fit my schedule and belt level instead of the classes my son and his friends took. These classes challenged me in a different way. They helped me refocus on different shorter-term goals.
I was open to a solution that looked different from what I had been doing and it made all the difference.
Together, my son and I have experienced the ups and downs of achieving a long-term goal but by taking the time to answer the questions honestly and openly, and being open to possible solutions, we continue toward our next goal of second degree black belt. In the process, we both have learned mental flexibility, perseverance, and commitment. And while I had some of these qualities already from marathon training, I have been able to guide my son as he develops them, too.
I believe these skills of mental flexibility, perseverance, and commitment will serve him well through the course of his life by giving him the confidence to set lofty goals that feel difficult to achieve. I believe they will serve him most when he is ready to quit before he reaches his goal because he has learned a way to work through the low points. And that is worth ALL the training in the world.
Why a father of two and medical school student recently began his journey to black belt.
It isn’t failure. It’s learning what doesn’t work so you can figure out what does work.