Quest for the intolerable

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Mar 07, 2022

Well, now I'm sure you don't think you're on a quest for the intolerable...

....but maybe I can change your mind. Many of us, unwittingly seek to grow our list of things we can't tolerate.

This week I caught up with cycling great Patrick Jonker. Pat's one impressive human. Not only is he a Wellteam member and dual Olympian but he raced the gruelling Tour de France cycling race five times. Yes, five times through hell on wheels in lycra. That's a whole world of pain! The race is one thing, the training required to get you to the start, that's something else.

The thing I love about Pat is his ability to sit down over a cup of coffee and be a normal and very humble human being. Translating lessons from elite sport into everyday life has allowed Pat to coach elite business professionals too.

Our discussion focused on resilience and its heightened importance for athletes in sport today. Things have shifted. Social media now magnifies the ways today's athletes face setbacks. When things go wrong today, a mobile phone amplifies them for the world to see, over and over and over again.

The ability to deal with failure and rise again after every setback is critical for success in sport...and life. You simply can't afford to fear failure.

So are you on a quest for intolerability?

When you experience something unpleasant do you front up again and build tolerance, or do you move onto something more pleasurable? When the temperature heats up or cools down, do you charge outside or hunker down in comfort? When your legs start to burn on a walk, ride, run, swim or other exercise, do you push on? Do you endure?

When you take your morning shower or bath, do you wait for the water to be just right, or do you embrace the discomfort of the cold? When you get a coffee from your barista that's a little cooler than you'd like, do you complain? If your steak's not cooked perfectly do you send it back to the kitchen or do you tough it out?

What are you practicing?

Are you embracing your ability to tolerate life's challenges or do you cave in to the intolerable nature of a non-climate controlled car/bus/train/office/home/cafe.

My wife (Sonia) and I started a business a few years ago called Mash Army Rentals (we still have the Facebook page up as we can't let the idea go). The concept started after we purchased an old ex-army Landrover Defender and drove it through the desert to Central Australia.

Our route took us over 1300km (800 Miles) of dirt roads in temperatures that consistently topped 35 degrees celcius (95+ F). The "Mashie" (named after the MASH TV series) had no air conditioning or power steering, it had hand operated sliding windows, a canvas roof and rather sticky vinyl seats. To compensate it did have an axe, shovel and pick (mattock) on the bonnet and the original military lighting, gun clips and camouflage paint.

What started as a bit of a novelty soon became uncomfortable. At some point though, around the remote town of Maree, our adaptive systems kicked in. We adjusted to the heat, we adjusted to the body roll, to the constant sound of the wind, the flapping canvas and almost to the sticky seats.

We managed to cross back into life without modern day 'comforts'. When it was hot, we were hot, when it cooled down, we cooled down. When we stopped in the middle of the desert, we got out and went for a walk - we didn't spend 10 minutes adjusting to the heat and whining about how bloody hot it was. We didn't race back to the air-conditioned, dual climate controlled, pressurised capsule we were previously accustomed to.

We endured, we adapted, we thrived in it. We learnt to tolerate the previously intolerable. It happened quickly.

Strangely, the self-confidence that enduring discomfort brings felt like freedom again and it was powerful.

Similarly, the confidence that sport builds, comes from the ability to survive the setbacks and tolerate discomfort, pain and suffering. That doesn't come by chance, it takes regular exposure.

When Mash Army Rentals failed, I became focused more than ever on my next venture. Not because it's easy, but because it's hard.

My question to you

Are you practicing intolerability, or are you practicing resilience, durability and the confidence that comes with knowing you can endure?

A critical exercise in the Wellteam program is choosing quarterly activity goals that you commit to. These are events or activities that require effort to achieve. These goals spur you on to train and provide a test for your personal growth. The more we expose ourselves deliberately to the opportunity to fail, the more we gain strength from it.

Sometimes an event isn't just a physical challenge.

The meditation experience I had years ago in Bali (which I wrote about in My Formula for Freedom) required a level of mental endurance or resilience. Sitting down to practice meditation each day and failing to achieve a quiet mind is hard. No real pain there, apart from maybe a sore arse after an hour or so. It's the persistence following failure that breeds success.

Focusing on optimisation is about building the confidence to endure when things are tough and maximising the moment when times are good.

When it comes to resilience the Japanese culture offers a great example. They are masters of resilience, embodied in a simple quote that is worth etching in your brain:

Nana korobi, ya oki”.

Powerful huh?

OK, so maybe the English translation might be easier...

...Fall seven times, stand up eight.


Move forward, do something every day to improve your life, no matter how small. When things turn to shit, and they will, keep moving forward. Stand up again and re-focus on the little steps, just keep moving.

The quote doesn't say "Don't fall, just keeping sitting on the couch". It implies a commitment to something that isn't easy.

If your life has become a quest to compile a list of all that is intolerable to you...

...maybe it's time to get outside your comfort zone.

We're with you.

Fall down, get up, go well and repeat.


Wellteam instigator and content curator.

Keen to learn more from Wellteam member Patrick Jonker? Pat will join Wellteam members again for another informal chat over zoom soon, so stay posted. We'll post details up on Wellteam social channels. LinkedIn, Facebook, Insta.




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