Big or little, sometimes it helps to keep a mental tally of the ways you have survived a challenge, persevered through the worst, made an observable impact, channeled your curiosity into knowledge, or exhibited a certain unprecedented mental or physical toughness.
I think of these as Personal Strength Touchstones, and they are important talismans to have on hand when you are grappling with something that feels monumentally difficult - if not impossible.
Hey - If I survived X last year, then I will get through Y now.
I was able to do X, so there's no reason I can't do Y.
I taught myself X, so I can make myself understand Y.
X wasn't the end of me, so there's no reason Y will be either.
And these touchstones don't have to make sense to anyone but you.
Here are some of mine:
My first time traveling alone was in 2007 to Russia. I didn't know the language very well, and they have an entirely different set of rules over there for some things. But I made it. I learned how to get through Russian customs, to carry my passport everywhere, how to exchange money, and how to navigate a Russian grocery store.
I learned that last one the hard way. How was I supposed to know you weigh the produce before taking it to the register?!
Now when I get lost or am having a hard time getting around I can say to myself, hey, at least this is all in English! If I figured it out in Russia, I can definitely figure it out in Seattle.
I started lifting free weights in 2010 because I knew it was good for bone health and I was tired of trying to make myself like running. I progressed steadily, but after two years, found that I only really liked a few exercises: deadlifts, squats, and dumbbell shoulder presses. No thank you to bicep curls and calf raises.
Well, what do you know? It turns out there was an entire category of lifting dedicated to just deadlifts, squats, and bench press, a close-enough cousin to presses. It seemed impossible, but I really, really wanted to try it.
I found my trainer, a seven-time world champion, and worked with him for seven months leading up to my first competition in June 2013.
Now when I'm struggling with a tough schedule or physical exertion, I just remind myself, hey, you deadlifted twice your bodyweight last year. You woke up early, including weekends, to train five days a week. You flipped a log in your coach's backyard while his little dog chased after you. You've got this - just show up.
It's a long story how someone like me ended up a business owner. But the short version is that it was a lot of frickin' work (like anything else in life) to get this thing off the ground and keep it trucking along. But I made it happen because I wanted it to work.
So when I'm having self-defeating thoughts like How come I can't produce an edible chocolate chip cookie to save my life? or Why didn't that opportunity work out? I give myself a reality check. If I'm motivated to do something, I get it DONE.
If I'm not meeting a goal, maybe it's not that I can't, but more that I don't actually want it as bad as I thought.
Your Personal Strength Touchstones can include whatever skills, behaviors, and memories are meaningful to you, as long as they help spur you on when the going gets tough.
You have plenty of toughness to keep going.