Pushing Through The Wall

(This is a guest post by Preston Cuer.)

How do you push through when you hit the wall?


Everyone reaches that point in the process of striving for his or her goals- whether you’re a software engineer working on a project, a filmmaker shooting a film, or an Olympic Athlete running to the finish line. There always comes that point, somewhere between halfway and seven-eighths, when you run out of that initial drive but you can’t see the finish line. It’s too late to give up- you’ve already invested tons of energy and commited yourself this far. You don’t want to finish- it’s just too much left to go.


There are, of course, several ways of achieving this- both specific to your goal and generally with goals. For a runner this may look like a swallow of gatorade. For the average employee in the course of the work day with the goal of reaching the end of their workday it may look like a break. For someone working on a novel it could mean revisiting work already accomplished or having coffee with a trusted friend so he or she might revitalize that idea and unlease a fresh wave of creativity. Maybe you just need coffee!


Generally speaking, though, I personally find several ways to push through that wall. The first (and often simplist) way is to stop looking at the distance between you and your goal. Stop it. Right now- put away the measuring tape, drop the watch, and get back to focusing on what you’re doing and where you’re going to end up. If you look at how much work you have left to do you’ll never do it. So stop- do what you need to do to remind yourself of the finish line and get back to work. I’m a software engineer, so this usually means closing the “to-do” list and just getting back to the current piece of code or problem that I’m working on.

Another way is to break down the project into smaller steps. Don’t look at it as a mile- look at it as 4 1/4 miles. A quarter mile isn’t too hard- and you only have 4 of them. I used this a lot in swimming. I often swam the 500 (in high school that’s a lot- 20 laps!). It generally takes 7-8 minutes for an average high school swimmer. I would break it down into 100’s. I could sprint a 100-yard race real quick. It doesn’t take much energy. And usually by the time I hit the way there were only 2 100’s to go! In Software we often break down projects into iterations- rather than delivering the entire application at one time, we deploy several features in steps that allow the customer to start testing and me to feel accomplished. Sometimes a “to-do” list is helpful because you can check things off as you go.

Look at how far you’ve come. This often puts that last bit into perspective. I’ve already written 10,000 lines of code- what’s a couple more features? You’ve already worked for 6 hours, what’s two more?

Find a fresh perspective. This means grabbing a buddy and going to coffee. Get excited about your idea again as if it’s the first time you’ve discovered it. Get charged up so that when it comes time to pick it back up you have energy and you’re ready to go. In racing we call them the audience.

Skip the hard stuff. Yeah I said it. Skip it- you don’t have to do it now. I understand, sometimes that’s not true. But it’s often better to be making progress somewhere than no progress where you’re at. In code this means skipping and working on iteration 6 before I’m done with 5. Yeah, 5 may have to be deployed first, but 6 may be more fun and if I’m at a roadblock with 5 then at least I’m not losing time on the project. Who knows? Maybe by the time you get back to that difficult point you’ll be on the home stretch and have the energy to push through until you’re done.

Last one I’m going to mention- Sleep on it. It’s amazing how a full night’s rest and a full stomach energize you to pick up fresh tomorrow. I often find that I unravel the solution to problems in my dreams. No lie. I’ve woken up the next morning to discover that I could fix the error from yesterday (6 hours of grinding) in 5 minutes. Sometimes the wall even removes itself! Nothing is more powerful than taking some time to take care of your body. In fact, this applies in all areas- if you are struggling physically with your goals, take a moment to refresh your spiritual and mental selfs. We as humans are body mind and spirit. If one is tired it’s going to drain on the others. So take care of yourself and remember that you need time to replenish.

So now it’s your turn- what’s your goal and how do you push through your wall?


Pushing Through The Wall — 2 Comments

  1. Awesome insight! Let me add another thought. Build in a reward system alongside of your goals. For example, I just had an amazing career opportunity fall into my lap, and realized I needed to act quickly on it. After I get home from my current physically exhausting job, care for my mother and cook dinner, how am I going to do this? It will easily be 8:00 by that time, and yeah, I’ll be exhausted! Well, I decided that I would not allow myself the typical “wind down beer” until after I had e-mailed all of the people on the contact list that I had received. There was my reward. And knowing that there was a reward at the completion of the goal pushed me forward to reaching that goal.

    Having said that, if it is a longer project that you are working on, write down your rewards at each checkpoint. Anything as simple as “go for a refreshing walk,” to “walk down to Starbucks, unplugged from everything, and sit and enjoy the accomplishment feeling,” to “book that flight to Vegas!” This is a great (and I dare say needed) tool for self motivation. Everyone likes to be rewarded for their work! Make yourself more productive by rewarding you acomplishments, be they “great” or “small,” a reward helps propelling you forward to the ultimate goal. There, now that I’ve finished wrting this, I can go get some more coffee!

  2. I highly encourage everyone to use trips to Vegas as an incentive! I think it is important to reward yourself and recognize your accomplishments as you go, and I for one am horrible at doing that for myself. Maybe if I did that more, I’d hit fewer walls….

    When I do hit a wall, I take some time to remember why I was excited about the project to begin with. Beyond just listing the reasons, I get back to the feeling place and the vibe I had when I first started…what was my vision? How did my goals contribute to my personal mission?

    More times that not, that will work to get me back to being in the flow with what I’m doing. Every once in a while, though, I’ll realize that I’ve hit the wall for another reason: Whatever I was working on has served its purpose, and that purpose wasn’t what I originally thought it was.

    At that point I realize it’s time to move along to something else….Clearly this last bit doesn’t help when you’re working for someone else and have a job you have to get done, but if it’s something you’ve set out to accomplish for yourself, and suddenly it brings no joy, it might be time to reevaluate why you did it to begin with. You might have been driven to the goal for a life lesson, for example, which you have now learned.