When do you start counting?


Today is August 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “when do you start counting?” For those pursuing one dream after another and putting in the time to practice the art of living well, hard work is simply part of the process. As with many entries in this Navigate the Chaos series, there is a subtle nuance that should be considered as part of today’s reflection. As F. Diane Barth wrote in "The Great Myth of Hard Word" an August 2012 Psychology Today article: “The myth that we can achieve anything we want if we just work hard enough, then, is just that – a myth. The hard work is accepting that everyone and everything has limitations. And finding ways to accept that limitations are just part of being human – not signs of failure.” Myth may be too strong of a word.


As you reflect upon today’s question and post, consider pondering the nuance involved with working hard. While it is true that everyone has limitations, that does not automatically discount hard work. It also does not make hard work a myth. Real growth, whether it is physical, mental, or otherwise, comes when one identifies their limitations, and then goes a step beyond that to explore their vast potential. Doing so then allows the individual an opportunity to increase their self-awareness, self-care, and self-discipline. To that end, one way to work though such a process of growth is to ask yourself the question “when do I start counting?” The reference comes from one of the world’s greatest athletes.


A reporter once asked American professional boxer, activist, and poet Mohamed Ali “How many sit-ups do you do?” Ali responded “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts." If you want to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, one strategy to consider using is to start counting when you start to feel the pain. Translating one dream after another into reality is most likely going to involve a long grind of many years interrupted with frequent bouts of pain sprinkled with intermittent happiness. But remember, this is how it is for almost anyone who ever navigated the chaos.

In a 2019 speech Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled Ali’s story and said “Now think about it. He doesn’t start counting. That is working hard. And so, you can’t get around the hard work. It doesn’t matter who it is.” Are you willing to put in the hard work and deal with the pain involved with translating one dream after another into reality?


In an Instagram post from July 2021, David Goggins talked about this concept of working through when the pain begins.


“There’s not always a light at the end of the tunnel but if you stay in darkness long enough, your eyes will begin to adjust. It’s a very scary situation when you are confronted with trying to find more of yourself. When you believe you have given everything you have, your mind becomes dark. You believe that quitting or failure is imminent. The choices and options you have in front of you start to shrink. This makes it very easy to abandon ship. Before you abandon ship, know this…there is always one more door that you haven’t opened. Behind that door may lie failure and disappointment BUT it may also have success and accomplishment. If you never open that door because you are extremely tired, exhausted, and feeling like you have given everything you have, you will never give yourself the chance to find your true capabilities. In trying to find your true capabilities, it’s inevitable that you will meet failure and disappointment head on. This is the part that deters people from opening that door. The difference between giving 99% and 100% is a lot bigger than what we think. To find just that 1% more requires all of us to open that final door. Never be fooled by a 99% effort! Stay hard!!

  • When do you start counting?

  • How do you respond when the pain starts to kick-in?

  • Can you stay in the darkness long enough that your eyes adjust to the dark?

  • When you believe you have given everything you have, can you push yourself just one step further?

  • Have you ever pushed yourself to a new limitation? How did you respond?

  • Do you believe you have untapped potential yet to be realized?

  • Can you encounter failure yet continue?

  • How do you respond to disappointment?

  • What is holding you back from using today’s strategy of waiting to count until the pain begins?