Traversing Your Personal Hell

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“If you’re going through hell, keep going” – Winston Churchill

I’ve heard that quote by Winston Churchill about a thousand times. I don’t know whether that’s just by coincidence or whether there’s some sort of higher being out there that really wants to ingrain a particular message into my head, but if it’s the latter, it’s starting to work.

You see, I never really believed in the quote for a long time – surely if you find yourself going through hell, you turn around and retrace your footsteps until you’re safely out of there … I mean, that makes more sense than blindly traversing a terrifying unknown world without the knowledge of when such an ordeal might be over, right?

Well yes, actually – in the literal sense it does, but if you’ve somehow managed to wrangle your way into the real hell your problems are slightly more convoluted than this post can help you with.

I am in fact referencing the metaphorical hell we are forced to traverse at various points in our lives – the kind of hell that accompanies finding a new job, moving house, having a child, and losing a loved one. These are situations we have no choice but to face head-on, battle through, and come out the other side – better off for the experience, I might add.

But what of the hells we do have a choice of shying away from? Losing weight for example, or learning a new skill? That sad fact of the matter is that for the majority of us, the easiest option is the most frequented one – we quit after a few days and the pounds start to pile on again, guitars sit in the corner collecting dust, and your ‘Spanish for Beginners’ textbook gets lost under the hoard of John Grisham novels. Of course, things are easier because we don’t have to worry about adhering to the regime that allowed us to lose that weight, or learn that skill – but are our lives really better for it?

We clearly attempted such feats for a reason – be it self-esteem, fitness, or simply the desire to better ourselves – and now we’re right back where we were, just slightly less fulfilled and slightly more used to failure. So the answer is no, our lives are not better for it – and if you can accept that fact then fine, but do remember our time on Earth greatly revolves around self-improvement in the grand scheme of things, and eventually your mind will torture you over why you never managed to achieve what you set out to achieve.

One hell in my life at the moment is the effort to become fit. I’m of average weight so I don’t want to lose any, but taking part in physical sports like football or tennis takes its toll very early on, and I find myself panting and out of breath after just a few minutes.

A couple of months ago I started jogging daily to remedy the situation – only my allotted half an hour was split up into jogging, walking, and crouching to the ground whilst my unfit life passed before my eyes. This was hell, and I was very aware of it, so every time my energy dipped slightly below the tolerable level, I stopped jogging and walked for a couple of minutes. I didn’t even dread the exercise because I knew that when things became difficult, I could just take the pain away – simple.

Imagine my surprise when I realised my fitness levels were going nowhere. I thought there must be something wrong with me – how could I be putting myself through such physical exertion without reward?

And then, I understood. I wasn’t pushing myself – I was accepting my limitations and actively preventing myself from breaking past them. I was traversing my metaphorical hell, turning back as soon as I realised where I was, and returning the very next day to repeat the process. The only way to get through this slump was to go straight through hell and stay on the other side.

And that’s what I did. From that day on, I ruthlessly forced myself to ignore the pain and charge straight past it. I go through hell every day for half an hour but this time, after that half an hour I can look back on upon an achievement rather than a failure, and it feels great – I’ve actually become pretty fast as well.

Slowly, hell is becoming a less intimidating place – making it easier to get by and providing me with new opportunities to become better and better. I’ve even applied this lesson to learning the guitar now!

Which personal hell have you been avoiding in your life? Do you have a good reason for failing to push through it?

Photo by Paul Chaloner