Photo: Hurricane Irma by Jan Bill
Getting through each day parallels participating in a combative sport. We train for what is expected and invest into preparations for the worst. As I write, the state of Florida is in lockdown, preparing for a hurricane that will pass through by September 11th. Power outages are certain, water lines are sure to be turned off, massive trees always destroy houses and block roads. This is followed by flooding, inhabitable housing, and the inability of emergency vehicles to reach those in need. Interestingly, the strongest hurricane on record revolves around 9/11, which is also an emergency phone number.
To understand perseverance, I compare Tom Brady, Rafael Nadal, and Michael Jordan.
A common thread is their perceiving each baby step toward their completed goal as an accomplishment. Nadal ignores the scoreboard during a match, explaining, “You just try to play tough and focus point for point.” His “motivation is tomorrow, just one day at a time….” Jordan focuses on the next play, saying, “I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot…. When you think about the consequences you always think of a negative result.”
Studies show we release a feel-good chemical when we reach our goals. The more often we complete an objective, the higher the levels of dopamine are in a particular area of our brains. Those increased levels provide a sense of accomplishment, inspiring us to take the next step.
We have the ability to increase our dopamine by mentally rewarding ourselves for doing a good job before reaching our final objective. Brady credits himself with an accomplishment for daily workouts. “I just love working hard. I love being part of a team. I love working toward a common goal.” Nadal enjoys the daily grind, explaining, “The glory is being happy. The glory is not winning here or winning there. The glory is enjoying practicing, enjoy every day, enjoying to work hard, trying to be a better player than before.”
Hard work earns respect from peers. Emotional support boosts dopamine levels. Jordan states, “I want to be perceived as a guy who played his best in all facets, not just scoring. A guy who loved challenges.” Brady says, “My job is to play quarterback, and I’m going to do that the best way I know how, because I owe that to my teammates regardless of who is out there on the field with me.”
A confident winner is unmoved by lack of support. Jordan is inspired by defeatist. “If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.” Nadal dismisses criticism, stating, “No one is perfect. Everybody does stupid things.”
Joy comes from finding a purpose in the effort. “I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat,” says Jordan. “Mentally, the only players who survive in the pros are the ones able to manage all their responsibilities,” provides Brady. Nadal “always work[s] with a goal and the goal is to improve as a player and a person. That finally, is the most important thing of all.”
They ignore their personal needs. “When you’re one of the leaders of the team, there are no days off,” says Brady. With regard to physical discomfort, Nadal explains, “I learned during all my career to enjoy suffering.”
These athletes use failures to demonstrate how high they’ve risen. Jordan counts every glitch in his career to motivate himself to improve. “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them, everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” According to Brady, “I’ve never gotten over one loss I’ve had in my career. They always stick with me.” He describes himself as “the kid that was the one hundred ninety-ninth pick that never had the body for it. People didn’t think I’d play one year in the NFL, and now I’m going on my seventeenth year.”
With perseverance, milestones exist each day. After losing, Nadal states, “I will do as I usually do. Tomorrow is going to be a day like any other day.” “I’ve never been afraid to fail,” says Jordan.
Dopamine fuels them with enthusiasm. Nadal says, “I am a guy who likes to do what I am doing with passion….” Brady likewise says, “I always try to do as much as I can do. I’m never a person that does not enough, because I’d regret not doing enough and think I probably could have done more. I probably go too far and have to reel myself back in….” Jordan “always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.”
Throughout history, man is encouraged to invoke faith in perseverance. “Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere.” Qur’an AYAH al-Baqarah 2:153. According to James 1:12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Life is flavored with obstacles. Perseverance wins, every time.