Yesterday morning, like I do 3-4 times a week, I went paddling on the San Francisco Bay.
When my paddling friends and I met on the Sausalito dock, we all said the same thing: “What a gorgeous, pleasant, nice day!”. The sky was wearing its best sunrise colors, there was no wind, the water was mirror-like, there was no rain, it wasn’t too cold, there was plenty of wildlife. A perfect day! We were excited to go paddling!
For the past month, we had been paddling in quite unpleasant conditions: cold water, chilling wind, low grey clouds, choppy unstable waters, fog and rain. For our bodies, that meant cold hands and feet, wet bodies and soaked hair and skin. Not that nice! Not that enjoyable! (But we were still there! 😉)
As we started paddling this morning, it got me thinking: it’s really the contrast between the bad days and the good days that makes us enjoy even more the good days. Bad days are important in the mix, for without them we would not have that perspective! This means that we should now recognize the added value of those bad days: Kind of like night is making us appreciate daylight, injury is making us appreciate being healthy, loneliness is making us appreciate people, hunger makes us appreciate food, cold is making us appreciate warmth, and so forth.
In my mind, I started to extrapolate the idea to our lives: Do we think the same way? Meaning: Is our happiness only conditioned by the absence of pain and difficulties? Nowadays, “society” really seems to sell us that we should all search for a painless state, where it’s the removal of pain that would result in happiness. There’s some truth to that. But surely the search for happiness can’t be just about making it pain free, easy, fast, trouble free, not complicated! “The less friction, the better? Really?” That’s not the reality, is it? Life, in one moment or another, in always hard and painful, for everyone.
I think we should recognize the pain (physical, mental, psychological, or emotional) for what it can be: for the Ying that allows us to see the Yang. Instead of trying to remove it, we should just accept it, bear it if needed, but try to see its potential value. “A happy life is not the absence of pain. It’s the acceptance of pain”. It’s recognizing that life comes with suffering phases, and rather than try to avoid them at all costs, how about trying to “go through them” and try to see the silver lining in them.
“Change the way you see things. Change your mind. Reframe. And all will be okay”.
The best mindset, and we learn to do that in ultra-endurance, is to start to appreciate the pain and the bad days. For with the right mindset, even they can be a source of pleasure and happiness. What a crazy idea….
In the 91 days, there were always new reasons to want to complain, to be negative, to despair, to fear, to think it wasn’t fair, to think it was too much, too far, too wet, too cold, too slow, too windy…
Most times I could deal with them efficiently. Other times, Although I knew I couldn’t procrastinate and focus on these thoughts, it was hard to “snap” out of them.
You mind can be so powerful, in both positive and negative ways, helpful and detrimental ways.
Dave my land support was always in tune with my thoughts, he could “feel” them even when I didn’t say them, and helped me tremendously going through them.
Our mind is the one creating these perceptions, so the mind is the one we have to work on to deal with them.
In general, “reframing” was my best tool to cope with all of that. Try to see the reality and facts through another angle, another filter, another “reality” if you wish. I got better at it each time. Past experiences help for sure, it’s a skill developed over time.
Easier said than done. Each time, you have to prove yourself you are in control of your own thoughts. It’s like asking a kid having a temper tantrum to smile again. Or asking him/her to kiss the other kid they were fighting with. Or us adults to make peace with our other half when we have an argument….
Here are a few positive thoughts I was using: - focus on the now, take it all in - this too will pass - you’re doing great, just keep at it - every mile forward is one less mile to paddle - tomorrow will be better - this is so funny! - turn on the “problem solving” mode - I’ve done it before, I’ve got this one too - I can solve this, can’t be that hard to figure it out - Sometimes just saying: “don’t think about it, you’ll deal with this tomorrow” was the best
The most interesting thing I’ve learned, I think, was that sometimes you MUSN’T listen to your own thoughts. They are pollution and can paralyze you. They are going round and round in your head and won’t leave you at peace.
If the negative thoughts are coming back over and over, and you seem not to be able to deal with them, they are of NO use anymore. For instance: fear is a survival emotion, warning you of danger. It should trigger an appropriate response saving you from the situation. If instead it paralyzes you, you NEED to be aware of it and react swiftly. Again, easier said than done.
Here is the process: 1- be self aware of your own thoughts 2- acknowledge them for what they are (discarding them doesn’t help) 3- reframe and re-filter 4- if needed, ask for a third party’s opinion and consider it deeply 5- decide, adapt and execute 6- move on.
Cyril Derreumaux, the founder and only employee of On The Water 360, just finished his amazing ocean adventure:paddleon a solo and unsupported kayak expedition, 100% human powered, from California to Hawaii.
Find out more about his journey on www.SoloKayakToHawaii.com
Cyril crossed the ocean in a record breaking 91 days and 9 hours!
In the months leading to my ocean crossing, I have come to realize that the most important is self-motivation: to do, to think, to act, to contact, to call, to make, to train, to rest, to work, to prepare, to make happen…. Nobody is going to do it for me. If I want it, I have to do it myself, no matter what needs to be done.
The most important word here is “SELF”.
In my kayak, I will be alone. For SE-VEN-TY days, every day, I will be alone. That’s just the cold hard truth. Just myself. Alone. Every decision will be mine. Every move will be my choice. Every consequence will be my making. I have to be ok with that. My life depends on it.
Crossing the ocean solo is SO different than going at it as a team, like I did in 2016. These 1,000 decisions to make can be shared, and it’s so much easier on the mental. When you are solo, you have to own your decisions. “Me, myself and I, will decide what to do. I will OWN what I do.”
For the preparation, that means that I need to do my homework and decide on: electricity set up, paddling intensity, weather patterns, current forces, best gear to use from head to toes, solar panels and power capacity of the batteries, shape of the boat, survival in storms, size of the sea-anchor, navigation at night, food quality and quantity, repairing and fixing the water producing equipment, curing wounds, regulating the mental and the emotional, …. Etc.
I came to realize that, if I were to be successful, I would have to find my own fire. I would have to be able to initiate the spark from WITHIN, with MY own thoughts and ideas, MY own desires and wishes, and then convert in MY own actions and moves. It all starts from WITHIN, or with the SELF.
Basically, I had to teach myself the art of deciding on my own, or SELF-decision. Again, the crucial word here is SELF, because it means that the subject is taking control.
“If I succeed, success will be mine. If I fail, failure will be mine too. I am ok with that!”
As the months went by thinking like this, I started to realize what a drive that is, and how it is key to being successful, in LIFE. I started to notice that all people that I consider successful had that trait! They were entrepreneurs, leaders, visionaries, adventurers… They traced their own path!
Why don’t you do the same exercise: find the person you consider the most SUCCESSFUL. For this, you can take the definition of success that you prefer.
Now, tell me if he is not a CHAMPION in the art of those following SELF-actions:
It is amazing what you can achieve once you have no choice.
Many people in the world act bravely, courageously, and surmount extreme difficulties with strength and endurance, simply because they do not have the choice to do otherwise. That’s what we must do when we have to mourn the loss of a dear one for instance. In many other poor countries, the most simple and basic needs require the same kind of strength. In our modern lives where almost everything is available and customized to our choosing, most of us barely know what “not being able to choose” means.
We need to change that.
“Not having the choice” is a powerful source of making things happen.
Why would one willingly put themselves in conditions where there is no choice? The answer is simple:“In order to achieve a preset target. Big targets, small targets, ANY targets.”
Recently I was taking a flight from San Francisco to New York and had to be at the airport at 6:15 am. It was surprisingly easy to get up at 5am, right at the buzzer of my alarm clock. Why? I think it’s because I wasn’t given the choice. I had to do it. My will of staying in bed had no power against the fact that the plane was going to take off without me.
The odd thing is that my alarm goes off around the same time every day, yet other days it’s much harder to get out of bed then. Why? That’s because on a daily basis, I always have the choice of either going to my morning workout or not going (deciding to stay in bed). It basically comes down to my will battling against my laziness. Those 10 to 15 seconds are the hardest, as my mind will try to find all the reasons to “not go.” It’s cold outside, it’s dark, you already worked out yesterday, you have a long day ahead, you deserve to rest a little, you are in a rush… etc. etc. It is a matter of self-discipline to make the right choice and go.
The easiest solution is to remove the “choice making” step of any action we want to do,PURPOSEFULLY.This is what we already do for brushing our teeth, for going to the bathroom, for eating, for going to work, etc. We’re not questioning whether we want to do it or not, we have to do it, that’s it!
So, what if we just remove the “choice” factor from the equation and put yourself in conditions where you cannot decide the outcome of the moment, but for targets of our own choosing. For instance, “Every morning, I will go work out,” no matter what.
We can take the decision on our own, but that does take a big amount of will and mental disciple. An easier way is to make sure the decision is taken by someone or something else, but affects us:
Option 1: A higher authority decides for you: Just like in the military, you have no choice whether you want to train or not, you have to. If you hire a coach, you have no choice to quit, he or she will always be here to make you do that extra rep. If you are at work and have a deadline, you just have to do it.
Option 2: Join a group: If you are part of a team, you have no choice whether to go, because the team depends on you. The weight of the “will” of the group is stronger that your own “will”. That works too.
Option 3: You put some skin in the game and you “pay” for the service. For instance, you are part of weight loss program and you pay a monthly fee for it. Since you paid for it, you “have” to do it, or it would be wasting money. That solution meets the coach option.
Option 4: Take a one-way route. Go on a run that is a circle rather than a back and forth on the same road, that way you won’t be pushed in turning around earlier than the point you have set. It happened to me actually, when I rowed across the mid-Pacific Ocean: there was just one direction: all the way to Hawaii, there was no turning back. The current was too strong to turn around in our row boat, so you just have to keep going until you get there. No Matter what.
Option 5: You make yourself accountable to the public, by declaring your goal to everyone you meet, and on all social media. That’s my specialty: everyone knows I want to cycle across the US in an unsupported race in June 2019. That puts pressure on me to make it happen, as I don’t want to be seen as a “says it but doesn’t make it happen”.
Option 6: Use a negative incentive. Commit to giving a certain amount of money to a cause that you strongly dislike if you fail to meet your goal. (Or have a friend do it: one of my friends pledged to give $100 to a certain politician’s re-election campaign if her friend did not complete her project as promised.) Ouch!!
The whole thing is a four-step process:
First, decide on your goals ahead of time. For instance: “I will go run tomorrow morning at 6am,” “I will run a marathon this year,” “I will lose 20 pounds,” “I will learn to play the guitar.” When you are not under the pressure of making a decision, that’s when it’s BEST to make plans.
Reflect on your weaknesses and recognize them. For instance: A. I don’t like to work out when it’s cold, early in the morning, or alone. B. I am feeling tired, so I am usually lazy to do the dishes just before going to bed when my show is over. C. I can’t stop myself from buying and eating chips when I’m hungry. Etc. etc.
You are preparing the environment, so you don’t have any chance to make a decision when you’re at your weakest. Answers from above’s points: A. I have coffee is ready the day before, so I can just press the button and have a warm coffee before going, my warm running clothes are ready. B. I am making it mandatory upon myself to do the dishes right after dinner, and obviously before TV. C. I make sure I have healthy snacks always available when I am hungry, and I don’t go to any grocery store when I am hungry. I also train myself to look at the chips as “dead food”, detrimental for my health.
Execution: Not think. Just do. Roll out the plan you intended to do. No time for a choice. The choice has been made. Now just do it.
Sometimes you have to act in new ways to discover new ways of functioning. Not giving yourself the choice is definitely a new way of thinking and acting.
When I was preparing for the Ocean Row, I really was thinking on how to get best prepared, and that included being prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. That entailed a lot of parameters. So many it is overwhelming. Where do I start? Who do I ask? What questions do I even have to ask?
I knew I had to be ok being tired, being salty wet, being hungry, being hurt, being in a confined environment, being exhausted, being frustrated, being injured maybe, being helpless, being…. All these are not comfortable, I think you would agree. They have physical, mental and emotional triggers. To get prepared for the row, I had to find a way toget comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Getting comfortable with discomfort was vital to the success of this expedition. To get there, I had to ask myself many question: What does it mean to be uncomfortable? What does it mean to be comfortable? Why are we as humans searching for comfort? What do we consider comfortable, and is it good or is it bad?
I believe there are good things in being comfortable. But I also believe there are good things in beinguncomfortable. I think our perception of both feelings has a lot must do with our immediate environment, our own perspective on things and how we can trick our mind as we try to classify on things being one or the other.
For instance, when you work on something you are passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work, right? What some people could consider uncomfortable, you don’t see it as such, for some reason. At the same time, it still takes you effort, and patience, and determination, and drive. It’s not easy so I guess it must be uncomfortable in some ways. But it is still comfortable in other ways because your mind knowswhyyou do it. So, I guess that’s it, it’s all a question of what happens in our mind when we do something, and if it makes sense for us or not, according to our own parameters and judgment.Making the uncomfortable comfortable…
Let’s not think about a crazy endeavor for a moment, let’s just take a random daily activity: vacuuming the house. You could approach it in a few diverse ways:1.Do it with anegativeenergy: You do not want to do it and it’s a hassle. You’re dragging your feet to do it. (that was me when I had to do my chores as a kid…)2.Do it with aneutralenergy: you do it because it has to be done. It doesn’t bring nor pain nor pleasure.3.Do it with apositiveenergy: It’s still not pleasurable, but your trick your mind in such a way that the experience becomes positive. For instance, you focus your thoughts on how youwill feelwhen you’ll be done. Or how someone you love will feel once the house is clean. You can see that, for both 1. and 2., you will gain the comfort of having a clean house, but you will struggle for it. For 3., you will gain comfort, but you will like the process.Making the uncomfortable comfortable…
But then I started to think that instead of just tryingto make the uncomfortable comfortable, I just had tostart embracing discomfortas a whole.
When I am competing in a canoe race. It is long, it is hard, I push myself and I push the team, I breathe hard and I pant, I clinch my teeth and I grind, I push and I push, I resist and I struggle, I thrive and I go, I push but I fail, I come back and I breathe through it, I push and do it, I cheer and I hope, I push and I push. And I finally make it. Happy. It was not comfortable in some ways. It was effort. But it was pleasurable. And the result is pleasurable because I surpassed my pains and my discomforts so I feel good about myself. And it was pleasurable because I shared the experience with a team and we felt united in the effort. And I’ll do it again because the overall reward is awesome.Embracing discomfort…
Let’s take another look at the power of mental perspective. When you are running in the sun, it is comfortable because the sun rays are warm. We think it is positive energy and it’s easy to do. When you are running in the rain and it’s cold outside, it is uncomfortable because the signals in our body tells us it is. But I have found that I actually feel more energized after a run in the cold rather than in the hot. Cold temperatures trigger something in my cells that feels so good. Once I’m back home after that cold rainy run, I feel so pumped. Kinda like when you swim in that cold ocean. Don’t you feel like superman when you walk toward your towel? I guess it’s a question of perspective, and how one is able to trick his own mind. What if we consider hot and cold as energy rather than comfort and discomfort. Hot is energy. Cold is energy. When I run in the hot I feel energized. When I run in the cold Iwillfeel energized. Maybe not at the beginning for sure, but we have to be strong in our mind to know that the end result is what matters. We have to sacrifice the harshness of the moment for the result. Do something we don’t want to do to feel like we want to feel, or go where we want to go.Embracing discomfort…
The problem is that we get used to comfort. And there are many types of comfort. It depends on our standards, wherever we are in life: in our personal history, in our education, in our culture…. In poor countries, washing yourself from a bucket of clear water is much better than a cold bath in a muddy river, so that’s comfort to them. For me, a warm shower with potable water is a standard and I sometime forget that it is a comfort. I feel so thankful to be reminded of this. When I did my trip around the world, I could see that my standards growing up in France were not shared with 80% of the world’s population. I felt thankful for that and it made me appreciate how lucky I was. When I did my ocean row and didn’t shower for 40 days, I felt thankful for the hot shower I took back on land, which I had taken for granted before. I like to put myself in hard conditions, just as a reminder that I have to be thankful for what I have. And how lucky I am.Embracing discomfort…
It’s in the nature of the human being to be constantly looking for comfort. I guess it is in our roots and back in the early ages of mankind, it was more comfortable to live in a safe cave, away from rough climate and danger, rather than in the wild outside where life is miserable and a lion could eat you up. Searching for comfort is good, but until what point? Here is what I believe: I think that too much comfort will lead to weakness and to laziness. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to feel weak and lazy, I like to feel strong. And to be strong you have to embrace discomfort. That’s probably why the army creates toughness in soldiers by training them to be accustomed and even embrace discomfort. Training hard to be hard. Personally, I really feel the “need” to embrace discomfort every once in a while, to oblige myself to do things “I don’t feel like doing”, in order to wake myself up from the lethargic state that life in my comfort zone could put me in. Nothing better that signing up for a race or a challenge that I feel I can’t do, and that will make it mandatory for me to bring up my game.Embracing discomfort…
Now how far should this idea of embracing discomfort go? We still have the chance of living in a developed society and there are some advantages to that. It’s ok to use a washing machine instead of washing your cloth by hands. It’s ok to use a car instead of riding a bike. But I think using the drive-in instead of walking to the bank is ridiculous. I think using your car instead of walking 10 minutes is silly. And I do it myself. I’m lazy to cook my food so I go out to eat, or I even order food to be delivered to me…. And if I do it, my kids will see it. I can’t stand the thought that I am teaching that to them. Am I teaching them to be lazy? Noooo! From being comfortable, we are going to easiness, and then crossing that subtle line to laziness. Too much comfort brings numbness, physical and mental numbness. And again, I admit that I might be guilty of crossing that line myself of course. But as a father, I have to make sure the education I give my kids, and the example I give them, helps them understand that there is satisfaction to be found in effort, and occasional discomfort. But how do I teach my kidsnotto be lazy. How do I teach them resilience? How did my parents do? Since I find so much reward combatting my own laziness, with the feeling that I am back in control of my own fate, I need to give this to my kids as well. Leading by example, that’s the way, so I have to be tough on myself.Embracing discomfort…
I better stop or I would start to be too philosophical about this whole idea…. To conclude this blog post, let’s read a few quotes from much smarter and experience people than me…:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ―Theodore Roosevelt
“Discomfort is very much part of my master plan” — Jonathan Lethem
“I feel like every five to seven years I really need to put myself in this position of discomfort and exploration, just to survive. Otherwise I feel like I’m falling asleep, like I’ll go crazy if I don’t do it” — Karen O
“Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort” — Peter McWilliams
“Buddhist practices offer a way of saying, ‘Hey, come back over here, reconnect.’ The only way that you’ll actually wake up and have some freedom is if you have the capacity and courage to stay with the vulnerability and the discomfort” — Tara Brach
“Sometimes, discomfort is very uncomfortable. Anybody can get occasionally tired of it, and then it can change fast, where it’s comfort that disturbs you” — Jim Harrison
Google play: https://play.google.com/music/listen?u=0#/ps/Iamxcdhixiadqrcdoehpnmbclpi
On the Orange Mud website: https://www.orangemud.com/pages/episode-20-cyril-derreumaux-a-guiness-world-record-holder-endurance-paddler-motivator-and-overall-wild-man
Orange Mud Adventure Channel
Episode 20: Cyril Derreumaux, a Guiness World Record holder, endurance paddler, motivator, and overall wild man!
Released: Jun 27, 2017
The man who believes and proves there are no limits!
In this episode we dig into the passion and focus of Cyril Derreumaux, a Guiness World Record holder for endurance paddling. Last year he and his team set the record for the shortest time to paddle from California to Hawaii. They paddled in teams of 2 for 1 1/2 hours on, 1 1/2 hours off, for over 40 days. It's an amazing accomplishment and his energy is simply infectious!