Does the Truth Prevent You from Reaching the Next Level?

An airman completes an ultramarathon in North Dakota.
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Brandon Miller, of the 177th Intelligence Squadron, North Dakota Air National Guard, stands at the finish line after completing the 107.3-mile version of the Maah Daah Hey Trail ultramarathon in 30 hours, 17 minutes in the beautiful badlands of North Dakota, Aug. 1, 2021. (David H. Lipp/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

Are you sometimes your own worst enemy when it comes to your work, sports, school, personal life or as parents?

Do you let the anxiety of future events weigh you down, because the chances of achieving a particular goal is "too much work," or do you ever find yourself saying, "I could never do that"?

Whether you are preparing for challenging military selection programs or building a family or business, the future is always stressful -- mainly because of what we perceive to be true.

I recently attended a coaching and performance conference from one of the best coaches I have known for more than 20 years. Mike Hughes is the former Naval Academy rowing team coach who recently retired after 24 years of coaching there. After more than 43 years of coaching, Hughes has figured out several ways to reach his athletes, both mentally and physically, with a tough but caring and compassionate approach. Being one who loves to learn new things or even reinforce other training ideas, I jumped at the chance to attend his Chesapeake Performance Seminar, which is great for coaches and students.

One of the stories that Hughes tells is about a legendary ultradistance runner from Australia, Cliff Young. The section of his conference is titled "The Truth." The Cliff Young story reads like this:

Cliff was not your typical racer. He was a 61-year old potato farmer who had never run a race in his life. He picked one hell of a race to begin his running career. In the early 1980s, when "ultra-running" was not part of the mainstream running world's vernacular, he decided his first race would be the 566+ mile race that started at a mall parking lot in Westfield Sydney and ended in a mall parking lot in Melbourne. A weeklong race!

Now, he ran often on his 2,000-acre farm to collect his livestock, sometimes saying he would have to run for a few days to get them herded. This was his running experience. No coaching. No gear. Just one strategy in his first race -- to get to the finish line.

Cliff arrived at the race in his work clothes and even his work boots, ready to run. All of the other competitors had the latest running gear and strategy in place for what was looking like a five- or six-day race. The professional runners had the plan and "knew" the truth to be that they could run for 18 hours -- sleep for six hours.

If they altered from that schedule, they "knew" they would not be able to function the remaining days of the race. Race officials were hesitant to even let Cliff sign up, but after his stubborn insistence, they agreed and the race began.

Cliff had an advantage. He did not know the truth or the self-imposed limit the professional runners of the time were accustomed to following. He did not plan to rest. He was going to run the race, continuously moving until the finish line.

The runners took off from the start, and Cliff started moving in a method that later would be called the "Cliff Young Shuffle." To keep this tortoise and the hare story short, Cliff was a few hours behind the group on the first day, but after a good night's sleep, the professional runners found themselves three hours behind Cliff the next day. Cliff continued his steady pace, crushing the record by almost two days and beating the second-place finisher by almost 12 hours.

Hughes continued weaving this story into his presentation of what your body is capable of doing if the mind does not get in the way. I parallel his story with many Navy SEALs' Hell Week stories. Once they finish Hell Week, they truly understood and could actually conceptualize that the human body is 10 times stronger than the mind will let it be.

All goals are attainable, or at least the fear of starting or attempting them is gone. Learning that there is no truth causes us to create new things, invent revolutionary products and do things others thought impossible. It is a powerful moment when you realize that you're capable of doing anything if you can stay focused and positive.

Hughes is evolving constantly. A few years back, he turned me onto Coaches Eye, a smartphone app that replaced hundreds of dollars of video-editing equipment, software and time. Now posting coaching edits on YouTube is something I have done hundreds of times -- helping to teach people various skills that are difficult to explain with mere words.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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