Writers need a lot of persistence. “Work-life” balance? As a writer I’ve never managed it. Oh, I try. It just never seems to happen. There’s always something else to do: chores, work, cook, write, edit, chores, edit…maybe some sleep. Without persistence (and a hefty dose of caffeine), I’d fall behind on everything in life!
Writers also need a lot of endurance—specifically, emotional endurance. Dr. Spencer from Triathlete Magazine defines emotional endurance as “how clear someone’s mind is and how much space they have for physiologic stressors.” In other words, mental and emotional stressors can impact how much you can physically do.
In endurance sports, when your emotional tank is empty, whatever internal drive you have left to cross the finish line can suddenly run dry. What happens next? Athletes slow to a stop. In triathlon, we call this “hitting the wall.”
Even a professional athlete with an empty emotional tank can find the day ending early, as we saw with Simone Biles' unexpected early departure from the Tokyo Olympics. Clearly, she was physically ready to compete. Emotionally, her tank was running on empty.
Many endurance athletes take their tank to near empty before their races, a culmination of hours away from family, squeezing in ridiculous amounts of training around work and life, life events themselves, and fighting periodic setbacks from injury.
Stepping up to that starting line, whatever emotional reserve is left can make or break the day. I saw this firsthand at a recent Ironman triathlon. After the 2.4-mile swim, eager athletes headed out on the 112-mile bike course. But hours of exhaustive headwinds left many athletes on the side of the road crying, leaning over their bikes in defeat, unable to finish the race.
Personally, I think this quote sums up endurance training best:
“You’re training to get to that point of depletion and breaking, then finding a way to operate in that space for as long as you possibly can until you either pass out or get across the finish line.”(Dr. Spencer, Triathlete Magazine)
Notice I didn’t say it sums up endurance sport training the best. This quote also sums up the endurance lifestyle of working parents, full-time entrepreneurs, and yes…writers.
We often fit writing around already full lives, pushing to finish that screenplay or manuscript, despite the multitude of commitments that can’t wait. This can leave us emotionally fatigued, just when we need to push through those final edits, hit submit on that query, or handle critiques on our precious work.
We can hit the proverbial wall, with writer’s block, ambivalence toward our story, self-doubt, depression.
The best time to deal with your emotional endurance is before you get close to hitting that wall. But if you’re reading this today and had an “ah ha!” moment that your own tank is already running dangerously low, it’s not too late to dig in and start refilling the tank.
With a few assessments and targeted behavioral changes, you can be on your way to not only a bigger emotional reserve, but a more fulfilling lifestyle. Keep in mind, change takes practice, so allow yourself some time to improve and don’t expect perfection.
The best way to gauge your emotional endurance reserve is to check your current fuel tank level. Only you know how many competing obligations you have or how little sleep you’re getting. And don’t forget the emotional impact of losses, whether a loved one, a job, or another query rejection.
Where does your fuel gauge sit?
Take a load off your emotions by making choices to de-stress your lifestyle. Actively take control of your obligations, instead of just making your way through the never-ending list.
Assembly line-Look for repetitive tasks that can be grouped or pre-done for time efficiency.
You just can’t do it all. Keep from overfilling your commitments so the ones you do are still enjoyable.
To do: Either learn to say no to some tasks or learn to ask for help. Reaching out to let someone else help can be a huge stress reducer. For help, try this quick read.
Yes, this can take a little time, but the rewards you reap will help refill that tank. Think you don’t have time for this one? Go back to Depressurize or Just Say No (above) to carve out time in your life for you.
Find something that helps you defuse or relax. You may need to try a couple of different things until you find what works.
Getting to know other writers can help you refill that tank. When you’re struggling, dealing with life challenges, or just needing some direction on next steps, writing groups can be there for you.
Years ago at a Writer’s Digest Conference, I got connected with several writers from across the US. We still meet weekly online. We each bring different experiences to share about getting through this thing we call writing. And some days, we just chat about life—having teens, places we’ve visited, instruments we play.
We learn we aren’t alone in a writing silo of stress, and we have people to reach out to when life gets tough.
Self-talk is a powerful tool—it can build you up or weigh you down. The Power of Positive thought can’t be understated: if you think good thoughts, you're more likely to have positive feelings and handle difficult moments with a bit more grace.
Walking around with negative thoughts can have the opposite effect. Negative self-talk is also a habit that grows unless it's tamed. It can be the lens through which you begin to see the world.
No, you don’t have to pretend to be fake-happy. But learning to restructure negative thoughts into positive views can keep the stresses from further weighing you down. For more information, see here.
Like a follow-up visit to the doctor, take the time to periodically reassess your emotional endurance tank.
If you haven’t made a lot of progress, don’t get frustrated. Behavioral change takes time. So, be patient while you work on your emotional reserve. After all, it probably didn’t get empty overnight! And be prepared to periodically need a refill, even after you’ve filled the tank, because life happens.
Have you worked on your emotional endurance? What coping mechanisms have you found that help? We’d love for you to share your ideas in the comments.
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Miffie Seideman has been a pharmacist for over 30 years, with a passion for helping others. Her research articles have appeared in several professional pharmacy journals. When not training for a race, her writing projects include a (soon to be announced) writer’s handbook and a fantasy adventure that started as “What if Romeo and Juliet didn’t live happily ever after?” An avid triathlete, she spends countless hours training in the arid deserts of Arizona, devising new plots. Miffie can be found hanging around her website https://miffieseideman.com/ examining the intersection of triathlon and writing and on Twitter @MiffieSeideman…you know…tweeting.
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