On Labor Day 64-year-old Diana Nyad completed one of the most intense athletic feats in history. Nyad swam a mere 110 miles from Cuba to Key West without a shark tank and with an indomitable spirit to achieve her life long dream. She had attempted this feat four previous times and failed to reach the end each time. What held her up? Incessant stings by jellyfish, outrageously rough and cold waters, sharks, and you thought you had rough days at work. The former professional swimmer captured hearts around the world when she staggered onto the beach without assistance after her world record-breaking swim. What can those of us whose dreams never seem to be reached learn from this fearless role model? Here are three that stand out.
1) Don’t just try and try again. Instead try, figure out what went wrong, change it, and then try again. Nyad learned something different from each failed attempt. She and her team analyzed these mistakes and then readapted for her next attempt. The dreaded jellyfish problem was almost solved with a special suit that Nyad wore on her fourth attempt but the pesky, and poisonous jellyfish, targeted Nyad’s lips instead. Jellyfish stings would send most of us to the shore for the rest of our lives yet Nyad and team found a spray and a very uncomfortable mask that blocked the jellyfish for her fifth and ultimately successful swim.
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If your dream is to quit smoking, yet every year you go cold turkey for two weeks and then go right back to smoking, you probably haven’t analyzed what isn’t working when you try to quit. Maybe going cold turkey isn’t right for you or maybe you need to stay away from other smokers for a few months. It’s key to learn why your attempt failed, change that for your next attempt, and then try again. Trying the same thing again and again and then feeling like a failure isn’t really the best of plans. Try something different next time.
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2) Get clear on exactly what your dream is and why you want to accomplish it. Nyad didn’t just want to swim 110 miles, she wanted to swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark tank. Why did she spend 35 years of her life pursuing this dream? She was quoted as saying it was her own personal Olympics and a challenge that made her feel alive. It was the ultimate challenge for an elite athlete who had something to prove – to herself. Her mantras while swimming, “Never, ever give up” and “find a way.”
So do you have a clear dream and do you know why it’s your dream? I used to think that running a marathon was a dream of mine until I realized that it was on my to do list year after year with me running an average of uner 10 miles a year. The problem? It was only a dream because it sounded like something I should want to do but ultimately turned out to be something that I didn’t care much about. Once I let go of that “dream” I had room and time for my real dreams.