Have you ever felt like your lungs were going to explode?
That’s what it felt like during my hike up Machu Picchu.
The ancient city sits more than 2,400 meters above sea level and my group eagerly started climbing just after 5 a.m. I ended up alone, behind the group, with more than 1,100 meters left to go.
I never imagined the journey would be so difficult (evidenced by the shoes I chose to wear). I worked out regularly, but that didn’t prepare me for the altitude. I couldn’t seem to get enough air.
I wanted to give up. My body was begging me to stop. My weary mind wanted to follow suit.
But I persisted. And I made it to the top—lungs and heart intact.
Here are the seven things that helped me keep going that day, when everything in me wanted to quit. If you find yourself in a situation where you want to give up, these lessons can help you, too.
1. Ignore everyone else.
In the beginning of the climb, I only saw the people passing me. Every time I saw someone hiking with ease, I felt bad about myself. But when I stopped worrying and stopped comparing everyone else’s journey to my own, I began to focus on my own mission and how I was going to achieve it.
As you work toward your dream, it can be easy to get distracted when you see others achieving their goals easier, faster, better than you. It can make you feel inadequate and unsatisfied with your own progress. But when it comes to conquering a goal, what’s happening with others is irrelevant when it detracts from your ability to move forward.
When tackling a difficult task, you need every ounce of energy you can muster. Make sure to channel it to a place that will propel you forward.
2. Become your own biggest supporter.
When I started the hike, I wasn’t alone. But within 10 minutes, I was behind and alone. At first I was frustrated my companions abandoned me in my time of need. But then I realized my burden wasn’t theirs to bear.
Although it can be energizing to have others around to motivate and support you, having them there is a luxury, not a requirement. That lesson allowed me to turn inward and find in myself the strength and determination to keep going. I began to encourage and high-five myself with every step.
Sometimes on the road to success, you have to walk alone. If you find yourself in that position, find a way to give yourself what you need to continue.
3. Stop and appreciate the little things.
I began the hike before the sun was up. As I continued to climb, it started to peek around the mountain, giving glimpses of the beauty all around me. It was magical. During the catch-my-breath breaks, I marveled at the privilege of seeing nature in all her beauty. In those moments, I gave no thought to my struggle. I was too busy being grateful for being right there.
It can be easy to focus all your energy on reaching your ultimate goal. But if the only thing you can see is your end destination, you’ll miss the beauty of the journey along the way. The new experiences and welcome surprises provide much-needed fuel to keep going.
4. Focus on the next step.
It discouraged me to think how far away I was from the top. So I reframed my goal into mini-milestones that made the next steps more manageable. Just take one more step, I thought. OK, now just get over to those stones. Alright, once you get to that bench you can stop and rest for a few minutes.
When your goal seems too big, it can feel impossible, which opens the door for resistance to creep in. By breaking your target into bite-sized pieces, you can keep yourself in motion and build momentum.
5. Throw your watch out the window.
Before the trek, I read that most people make it to the top of Machu Picchu in about 45 to 60 minutes. It took me longer. When I focused on the time it was supposed to take, I was frustrated at myself for not being good enough or fast enough. But nobody cared how long it took me to get to the top and I shouldn’t have, either. All that mattered was completing my journey.
As you work on reaching your goals, stop looking at the clock. Stop measuring yourself against someone or something else. It will only serve to distract you from focusing on what you need to do right now to advance.
6. Stop looking for a way out.
Not everyone who goes to Machu Picchu hikes. You can take a bus straight to the top and save yourself the emotional and physical strain. Early on in my climb, I thought about retreating or waving down one of the buses on their way up.
When your pain is at the forefront, it is natural to want to make it go away. But when you invest time looking for a way to abort your journey, you waste precious energy that could be used to help you overcome momentary pain and discomfort for long-term growth.
7. Acknowledge your limitations.
I had to be honest with myself. I was having trouble getting air and I couldn’t keep the pace of the group. Pushing my body to the limit by trying to keep a faster pace wasn’t going to go well for me. My path needed to be different, and that’s OK. After implementing my new strategy, the journey was less grueling.
Your road to success might not look like everyone else’s. That’s OK. Everyone’s situation is different. Instead acknowledge where you are, so you can give yourself what you need to be successful.
As you work to achieve your goals, there will be obstacles, bumps and bruises along the way. When the journey becomes more uncomfortable than what you are used to, it can be easy to throw in the towel and retreat.
But if you follow these lessons, you can find the strength to keep going in the midst of difficulty. And when you persist, you’ll discover the reward was worth the effort.