5 Ways to Hack a Hurdle You Dread

I’d just watched every single one of my friends bite it big time. Some of them managed to clear the first few hurdles. But eventually, they all face-planted into the track, embedding tiny bits of dirt and gravel into their unprotected knees. Yeah, I didn’t want to do that.

During our senior year in high school, our PE class lined up to take a timed track test. We had to run and jump ten hurdles; each spaced a few yards apart. The hurdles were well over two feet tall. And did I mention I just watched a ton of people fail miserably?

The problem was that this was more than just a test of my athletic ability, speed, or grace. As an overweight and well-endowed young lady, my comfort while in the spotlight was about to be tested, too. I was wearing what could only accurately be called an “over-the-shoulder boulder holder.” (At the cup size my ample chest required, lace, frills, and bows are replaced with spandex, shoulder cushions, and thick elastic.) But that still would do little to guard me against the humiliation of being stared at. Did I mention that I didn’t want to do this?

I was stuck. I was screwed. And while I wasn’t in a hurry to go first, this was going to happen. There was no way for me to get out of it. And my boobs were going to have to go with me! Even though this happened nearly thirty years ago now, I can still remember and feel my emotions at that exact moment, the moment I bent down to tighten the laces on my shoes to stall for a few more seconds. I was next.

We’ve all been there. Maybe not on a track about to jump over hurdles, but we all know the feeling of helplessness, trapped, cornered in a situation where the only way out is a way we’d rather not face at all. It sucks. I knew it then, and I still know it now.

I realized something as I hovered over the gravel, taking an extraordinarily long time to tighten my laces. I did something. I wasn’t in control of the challenge I had to face. But if I had to do it, I would do it on my terms and in my way. And I wasn’t going to ask permission first. I walked over to the chalk start line in the dirt and waited for the teacher to hit the stopwatch. And so did everyone else. I was poised to start, and the peanut gallery was ready for the show. Again, did I mention I didn’t want to do this?!

How to Hack Your Hurdle

1. Do it Your Way

You don’t have a choice. It has to be done. You have to do it. But you can still choose and ultimately control how it gets done. It can be as simple as choosing a specific shirt or outfit you wear or selecting a favorite song or podcast to listen to while you do it. Exploiting what we can control during a situation we dread can make all the difference by making it much more bearable.

2. Avoid making it last longer than it needs to.

Procrastination only prolongs the dread and enables it to snowball. Tackling the task you dread sooner rather than later is a surefire way to mitigate and minimize any stress you feel. So, give yourself the gift of done as quickly as possible.

3. Shift your focus to the relief you’ll soon feel.

Yep, whatever is in front of you might very well suck. You already know that (or you wouldn’t be dreading it). But we feel what we focus on. So, stop revisiting the dread in your thoughts and start thinking of what you can look forward to after it’s all said, done, and behind you.

4. Do only what’s required.

There’s a time and place for overachieving, but this is not it. Save yourself from more stress. Commit to completing the task and doing only what is necessary. Sometimes good enough really is. Learn when and how to embrace this truth, and you’ll suddenly have a lot more time and energy for what truly matters to you.

5. Give yourself grace.

Doing something we dread comes at a cost: our emotional and mental energy. Strive to find ways to refuel before and during the challenge you face. A great way to do this is to think about what you might say to encourage a friend going through a similar situation or circumstance. Then, take that same advice to heart yourself. But remember, talk is cheap — including self-talk! Follow through on that advice, too. You’re your most valuable resource. Ensure your actions and choices reflect that even while tackling something you dread.

I ran like the wind for the few yards leading up to the very first hurdle. I ran as I’d never run before. Then, just inches before the hurdle, I dug my shoes into the gravel and came to a grinding halt. While standing still, I carefully swung one leg over the hurdle, followed by the other. Then, once again, I ran like the wind to the next hurdle, and the process started all over again. I looked at nothing — I thought of nothing — but each hurdle that still lay ahead of me.

By the time I reached the tenth and final hurdle, I was out of breath, but my knees were intact and rock-free. Sure, I had to do it. But I’d done it my way. I had hacked it. I had hacked the heck out of that situation. And my teacher’s response said it all.

He was bent over laughing. He’d never seen anything quite like it. But make no mistake, I had met the requirements and had gotten a pretty darn good time to boot!

Fast forward many years, and I still think of that experience when I feel stuck and helpless, staring down something I absolutely dread. Every single one of us will face situations that make us feel this way. However, the most important thing is not to prolong the discomfort or exhaust our emotional and mental energy by trying to wish things away, by wishing things were different. Instead, we can tackle them by hacking them happen our own way.