Imagine treading water in deep sea, out of sight of land for, say, an hour. Surely there can’t be a more lonesome experience.
What primal fears would this stir up? How long before hopelessness sets in? And if it carried on longer than that, the exhaustion, the sunburn, the thirst…. How long before hopelessness sets in?
Well, Robert Hewitt survived 75 hours lost at sea off the coast of Wellington, New Zealand. That’s right, more than three days and nights bobbing out there – alone, helpless.
How did he manage, and are there any lessons we can learn for when we face our own desire to give up?Hewitt has faith (in the Maori belief system). He has a loving family. And he is a navy diver. One can’t measure or compare these things, but faith, love, and physical/technical prowess are a dynamite combination.There is one psychological strategy he used, though, which anyone can employ.
Don’t look beyond the end of your nose
At about 36 hours (half way, but he wasn’t to know that) Hewit wanted to commit suicide. Either he would drink sea water or hold his breath. Actually, the decision to give up would probably have been enough to finish him off, I reckon.
“Once I had rolled over and given up and felt the old heartbeat slowing down and the throbbing of the head, it was family. What if I had died and I am going up to heaven and I see a boat 500m or two minutes away? Couldn’t I have heald on for two minutes?”
That’s it, that’s the strategy. Maybe I’ll won’t be able to continue later, but for now I’ll hold on for just two more minutes. Made that. OK, another two minutes.
Edmund Hillary was asked: How does one climb Everest. “One step at a time,” he said.
At the end of the day, when all has been said and done, when the rubber hits the road, when we hit the wall – this is the way to survive. Shorten one’s focus radically. This is not the time for letting the mind control us; we must control it. Coaxing oneself along, agonisingly, just a bit longer.
We can be pretty sure that we aren’t actually at our limits. After all, how many people actually die from physical exhaustion? And if we are indeed at that point there’s no need to worry, we’ll die anyway!
Rather assume that the body is not ready to die just yet. Chances that it s (very) bad patch. Things seemed absolutely dire for Hewitt, but he lasted another 39 hours!
“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (Samuel Beckett)
“Do not go gentle into that good night.” (Dylan Thomas)