Hitting the “Wall”

It was somewhere between mile 21 and 22. I’d felt it coming and was trying to prepare myself. My legs went from feeling OK to jelly. My body started to hurt in ways I’d never experienced. This marathon had to end. I wanted to be done. I hit the “Wall”.

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If you’re a runner, you probably know what I’m referring to. You get to a point where you feel physically, and usually emotionally, spent and don’t want to move forward any more. It’s hard to see the finish. The race has to end, and end soon. You’re done.

Though we hear about the “Wall” in running, there are other walls we hit on a regular basis. Interacting with pre-teen and teen kids. Dealing with a boss or co-worker. The project that’s been a problem and just won’t go away. Physically and emotionally, you’re spent and just want to be done.

As a project manager, you’ve probably had a project or two (or more) that has been draining. Especially closer to going live/implementation, the stress can go way up, team members & stakeholders may get grumpy, and you feel spent. It’s gotta end!

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This is when you need to get mentally tough, though! Everything is telling you to pull back, but you need to get your mind to jump all in. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But, it’s also necessary. As the project manager, the team leader and driver of change, it’s on you to get past the wall and deliver results.

I’ve hit those walls at work. Recently I had one of those “Wall” moments where I thought “Screw it! I’m Done!” But through a few strategies I’ve employed for personal, professional and athletic activities, I was able to overcome and keep moving forward. Here are my three big ones which I hope you find useful.

Self-talk. No, not talking to yourself where everyone around you gives the “that person’s crazy” look. I’m talking about the choice words that help elevate your performance and keeps you focused on why you’re doing this and the value you’re bringing.

My favorite phrase is “C’mon man, you got this!” It’s what someone used to say to me when I was young and I use it on myself today. No matter how tough something is, you got this!

Be Mindful and Step Back. Sometimes, especially when things aren’t going well, we tend to go down a rabbit hole and get too deep into the details. This is common. It can cause a lot of stress because while you’re trying to dig deep, you also think about all the other things that need to get done. Anxiety kicks in. Now, nothing gets done because you suddenly can’t focus.

First, recognize this is happening. Be mindful of yourself getting too into the details and the fact your mind is also thinking about 10 other things. Take a deep breath and step back. Be present and look at everything going on around you. Can someone else handle the details? Maybe. Should you be delegating? Probably. By taking a step back you can see the bigger picture and assign the right people to get, or keep, things moving.

Visualize If-Then Scenarios. This is a mental training technique I learned when preparing for my first 1/2 marathon years ago. A coach taught me to visualize having an issue while running, then what I would do to resolve it. For example, if I could visualize myself struggling near the end of a race, how would I handle it so I crossed the finish line successfully?

Same goes for work. We do if/then scenarios in excel. But, can you visualize how possible options play out when there’s an issue? That would make the discussion with the sponsor and stakeholders different because you’ve already seen how the options turn out.

We all can hit the “wall” in our personal and professional lives. Understand it’s bound to happen at some point. But, through positive self-talk, being mindful and stepping back, and visualizing if-then scenarios, you can knock those damn walls down!

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