In 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California coastline. As she began, she was flanked by small boats that watched for sharks and were prepared to help her if she got hurt or grew tired. After about 15 hours a thick fog set in. Florence began to doubt her ability, and she told her mother, who was in one of the boats, that she didn’t think she could make it. She swam for another hour before asking to be pulled out, unable to see the coastline due to the fog. As she sat in the boat, she found out she had stopped swimming just one mile away from her destination. (-via Wikipedia)
This story says so much about the human condition and our inability to endure if we don’t realize the situation is finite or we can’t literally see the end in sight. Introduce ambiguity into the equation and our fortitude crumbles pretty rapidly.
Another example would be the classic electric shock experiment. One half of the participants were told a shock would last just ten seconds and if they couldn’t take it to hit a kill switch, the other half were not given a duration. Sure enough the half told it would only last ten seconds never hit the kill switch, the other half never made it the full ten seconds. Remarkable, but not surprising.
Not “knowing” is hard on most people. Doubt is a powerful force that mercilessly sucks precious resources. As Lili and I ponder the future about things like where will we live? What school should Emma go to? What’s the future of Pegg? The not knowing takes it toll. It stresses you out. You are tired a lot. And worse you can’t see the finish so you just want to give up. Like Florence.
But there’s a happy ending to her story. Two months after her first failed attempt, Florence tried again. Sure enough the same thick fog set in, but this time she succeeded. Asked what was different this time she said, “I kept a mental image of the shoreline in my mind when I swam. Picturing the finish helped me reach the finish”. Remarkable, but not surprising.
It’s fantastic advice from Florence whether you are trying to swim to Catalina Island, endure a shock, or get through a period of your life filled with uncertainty. There is always a finish. Nothing lasts forever. Picture the finish, don’t give up, and you’ll make it.