What to do when you hit 'The Wall'
In a series of wellbeing columns Karen Beaven offers advice to others in HR
I’ve recently started running again and it’s reminded me what it’s like to hit ‘The Wall’ – that moment your mind tells you to stop whatever it is you’re doing and find something easier. The first time it happened I’d decided on the route and set off at a fairly respectable pace. About 10 minutes in it felt like I’d been running for an hour and my brain started up with ‘let’s just walk for a bit’. So I did. Then when I felt ready I picked up the pace. This happened four or five times and the run took me an hour.
The second day I took the same route and set off at a slower pace with the aim of just getting round without stopping. It was all going well until I reached a steep hill. That day it took me 50 minutes to do the route.
The next day I did the same thing only this time when I got to the hill I forced myself to keep going. Everything was telling me to stop and as I hit The Wall I had to dig deep and find something else to think about. I found myself singing ‘Baby Shark’ (I have a three-year-old... this is the most annoying tune you’ll ever hear). When I got to the top I realised I’d hit The Wall and then gone right through it. Nothing bad had happened. I was still alive, I hadn’t collapsed and I was still running. The rest of the route felt easy. This time it took 45 minutes.
When I set off the next day I knew I could run the entire way round. I felt great. It was still tough running up the hill and ‘Baby Shark’ got stuck in my head again. But it didn’t cross my mind to stop. I now do the route in 30 minutes.
The interesting thing about The Wall is that it shows up in loads of different places: at the gym, studying, at work, at home… Anywhere that involves a learning curve.
So here’s what to do when you want to break through it and find out what life’s like on the other side (spoiler alert: a whole lot easier).
Start off slow and be kind to yourself. Figure out what it is that you want to achieve and put some parameters around it. For example, how long will it take you to complete the task? If it’s something big you need to chunk it up and deal with these as separate tasks in priority order.
The first time you attempt the task take your time. If it feels hard then slow down for a bit but keep moving forwards. Slow down as often as you need but keep going until you get the task done.
Then, next time, try the task again and aim to do it a little bit faster. Aim for fewer breaks and again keep moving forwards. Figure out the parts of the task where The Wall hits you.
Next find something you can get into your head that speaks louder than any negative self-talk (e.g. ‘Baby Shark’). It needs to be something that can disrupt your thought patterns just at the moment when The Wall tells you it’s time to quit. Then push through and see what happens.
If you do it and it feels good, celebrate. Then do it all over again and again until it becomes easy. In the words of Rocky Balboa: ‘That’s how winning is done!’