Let’s be real. Life isn’t always fun and games, and there are times when you find yourself under a lot of pressure, struggling to meet your goals. It could be something as simple as learning a new skill or something far more complex such as trying to get promoted at work. The fact is, these are all goals that we set for ourselves. Yet most of the time, we find ourselves giving up on them all too easily.

We generally chalk this up to a lack of motivation and blame ourselves for our inability to go out and just get the work done. When I gave up on doing regular exercise for the umpteenth time, I began to ask myself, “How do I find myself in this position again and again? Do I just not have the motivation to persevere? I set out to look for ways to keep myself motivated, and more importantly, push against the mental resistance that inevitably sets in when one tries to stick to a goal. 

So what can you do to avoid giving up?

One way to start is to dip into your Cookie Jar. No, I’m not talking about actual cookies! Proposed by ultramarathon runner and former Navy SEAL, David Goggins, in his book Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, the Cookie Jar method can help you tap into a source of strength you previously didn’t know existed. It’s especially useful in those moments when the task feels impossible and it becomes hard to find the motivation to continue.

The 100-Mile Marathon

The Cookie Jar concept comes from a time when David set a goal for himself and found himself at the point of giving up. The goal was to run a 100-mile marathon. David wanted to raise funds for children of deceased US soldiers by participating in the Blackwater 135 Ultramarathon, regarded as the toughest race in the world. 

However, there was a catch. To even apply for the Ultramarathon, David had to complete one 100-mile marathon first. David had three days left to apply but he was determined to help out the children of his deceased friends. So he set out to prepare himself to run 100 miles within the next three days.

The problem was that David had not run more than one mile at a stretch for the past six months. While David, as a former US Navy Seal, wasn’t unfit by any measure, this was still a tremendous challenge.  People around him went so far as to call it “impossible”. But David was undeterred. And he started running the 100-mile marathon.

As a former military man, David got through the first few miles with relative ease. But about 25 miles in exhaustion began to set in. 

David wondered if this was how he felt so early on, how would he complete the remainder of the marathon? But he put these concerns aside and kept running. That he was running for a noble cause became a source of strength. He continued running.

Halfway through the marathon, David was truly exhausted. His body had stopped cooperating. His ankles and knees felt like they were weighed down by sacks of bricks. Each step he took sent a shockwave of pain through his body. He wasn’t moving fast, but he was still moving. 

David kept going.

At the 70-mile mark, David couldn’t continue anymore. He sat down to catch his breath and rest his sore body.  He looked down at his knees and saw blood, urine and diarrhea dripping from his legs. This was truly the lowest of lows. David badly wanted to give up on his goal. 

Maybe he had bitten off more than he could chew. Maybe his friends were right: this task was truly “impossible” and he had been crazy to even think he could do it. 

“Why am I doing this to myself? Why should I keep going?” David asked himself. 

The Cookie Jar Method

As he was contemplating giving up on his goal, David dipped into his Cookie Jar to gain strength. 

The Cookie Jar is essentially a collection of all your past achievements as well as the failures you have overcome. It could be a  simple achievement like a time you did the dishes even though you didn’t feel like it. It could also be something as monumental, such as overcoming a fear that held you back. Each of these experiences is a cookie that you can add to a mental cookie jar. These memories serve as a source of inspiration when you’re feeling particularly low and unmotivated.

David realized that in the past, too, he had tried to do things that others had thought “impossible”. This attempt to run  100 miles was similar, wasn’t it? 

Fueled by the power of his memories of achievement, David slowly stood up. He began to remember his battle with obesity, his struggle to join the Navy Seals and other moments in his life when he had persevered and gotten through. 

He used these memories to slowly take one step forward, and then another, and then another. 

David’s feet were filled with blisters and were swollen with pain. His body was close to completely giving up. 

Yet, step by step, David edged closer to the finish line. He ended up completing the race in 19 hours and 6 minutes. He not only proved all of his friends wrong, but he proved himself wrong too. 

How To use The Cookie Jar Method To Overcome Mental Resistance

While you or I don’t intend on completing a 100-mile marathon in the next three days, David’s journey is a good example of how to persevere in any stressful situation. 

David’s mind told him as early as 25 miles into the race to give up, but he challenged his mind, pushed through, and made it to the finish line.
While pursuing our goals, a lot of us tend to struggle at the 25-mile equivalent, the first major mental hurdle we face. With just a quarter of the journey done, we begin to question whether it’s worth it to continue for the remainder of the “goal”. This is the point at which the small negative voice in the back of your head is awakened. It begins to urge you to quit.

It’s in times like these that the Cookie Jar method comes in handy. Whenever you face a challenge and feel like giving up, remember to reach out into your cookie jar and pick out a cookie. The cookie serves as a reminder of the challenges that you have successfully overcome before. It also allows you to access that extra bit of fuel that you might need to push through and complete the task. After all, if you did it before, you can certainly do it again! 

The cookie helps you reframe an otherwise negative situation positively. And it goes to show that even when your mind is telling you to give up, you always have some extra fuel in the tank.

In life, we are often presented with opportunities. Many people don’t end up seizing them because of their underlying assumption that it’s impossible to build new skills or change old behaviors. They let go of such opportunities because they fear failure. 

The ability to push through your barriers of mental resistance and continue despite the challenges you face is one of the main aspects of leading yourself.

Personal leadership is about grabbing these opportunities and using them for growth and success. It’s about being more self-aware so that you can build on your potential, remove the obstacles in your way, and improve your performance. Dip into your Cookie Jar to find the strength to carry on, and meet your goals. 

Harappa’s Leading Self course will equip you with the tools to build on your potential and remove any obstacles in your path. Sign up today and take the first step towards maximizing your potential.

Shubhayan is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum Team. A graduate of the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Shubhayan enjoys laughing at his own jokes and playing the bass guitar.

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