Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, nearly every day I wear a shirt with some shade of blue on it, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.

In last week’s episode I mentioned that before I committed publicly to the return of Stuff I Learned Yesterday, I needed to have at least 86 episode ideas written down. I needed 86 episodes because that was the exact number of Mondays remaining in this calendar year plus all of the Mondays next year, minus the Mondays that qualify as a Monday Mailbag episode. 

I’m not sure how you feel about the idea of coming up with that number of episode ideas, but my first instinct was that it would be fairly easy. After all, I’d had several ideas swirling around in my head for months, so I just needed to sit down, put fingers to keyboard, and dump out all of my ideas into a spreadsheet. No problem.

One after one the ideas poured out of my mind and onto my digital canvas. It felt amazing to get all of these pent up ideas out of my mind and commit them to paper. One idea, two ideas, three ideas, then four! All the way to ten, eleven, twelve, then…no more! Wait, that was it?  I’ve had all these ideas and stories swirling around in my brain for months and all they amounted to was 12 episodes.  Let’s see… 86 minus 12, carry the 10…74.  I still needed 74 more episodes. Well, I guess it was a nice idea, but how in the world am I going to come up with 74 more ideas?!

I think overwhelm and despair are two good words to describe how I felt. On one hand, I was filled with excitement and passion for bringing back SILY. On the other hand, it seemed like I was on a path I’d been before. That’s the path that starts out with good ideas, assumes you’ll figure out the rest later, and heads down the path without being fully prepared.  You might call it the ready, fire, aim path. I did not want to walk that path again. On the other hand, I didn’t want to continue down my current path either.  My current path was one where SILY didn’t exist and yet I had a deep desire to make it exist. I felt like I’d hit the wall.

Hitting the wall is an expression typically applied to athletes, or more specifically, runners. When a runner “hits the wall,” they experience an intense and abrupt state of exhaustion, where the body essentially runs out of fuel. This typically occurs during long-distance events, like marathons, around the 18 to 20-mile mark. Scientifically speaking, the term signifies the moment when glycogen stores in the liver and muscles become severely depleted. Glycogen is a primary energy source for endurance activities, and its depletion results in a dramatic decrease in performance and energy levels. Runners describe it as an almost instantaneous shift from feeling strong and capable to feeling as if they can barely move. 

Mentally, hitting the wall is equally daunting; motivation plummets, negative thoughts surge, and the mental battle to continue becomes almost as tough as the physical one. It’s a point at which the body and mind are in dire need of energy not readily available, forcing runners to slow down and muster tremendous resolve to push through to the finish.

Fortunately, this entire experience was familiar to me. Some of you may recall that I worked for a regional bookstore chain for nearly 20 years. The last 7 of those years I oversaw the e-commerce division of the company. One day in the midst of my tenure as the e-Commerce Director, my boss challenged me to come up with a list of 100 different ways we could grow and promote the online sales side of our business. He and I often shared various ideas we had so it wasn’t like I was starting with nothing, but still, 100 ideas was a lot!

So I took the notebook that I always carried with me and began making a list. Six ideas became a dozen, which grew to 40 and then 50! I don’t recall how long it took, but I do remember that ideas came from everywhere and at all times. I remember sitting on an airplane brainstorming ideas. I remember receiving inspiration while sitting in meetings or reading trade publications. I even looked at our competitors and non-competitors to see what ideas their websites would spark.

I also remember being frustrated. There were many times where I felt like the well was dry. For example, after spending that dedicated airplane time brainstorming ideas and still being very, very far away from my goal, it seemed like the goal was unobtainable. Eventually more ideas would come, but once those ideas were gone, I once again felt like the goal was simply too lofty. I even wondered if I could take my 75 ideas and turn those in to my boss.  Would he be okay with that? Would he be impressed with 75 ideas if they were good ones, or would he be disappointed that I hadn’t been able to come up with 25 more.

I kept at it, and sure enough, eventually I came up with 100 ideas. More than 100 actually. I don’t recall the exact number, but I think it was close to 110. I made him a copy of the list, and I kept the original. I even kept adding to it, and I drew great satisfaction each time I crossed an item off the list that we implemented. Not all of those ideas where the first ones I jotted down either. Several of the best ideas came after feeling like the goal was unobtainable. 

Let me illustrate this another way. Think about the 1960’s show The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling. Now, think about some of the most memorable episodes. Did you think about the one with William Shatner in the airplane with the gremlin on the wing? Maybe you thought of the one starring Telly Savalas with the doll that could talk and make threats. Perhaps you thought about the episode where an old man forces his relatives to wear grotesque masks that make their faces stay that way once the masks are removed.  Each of those episodes came in the show’s final season after it had been rescued from cancellation and Rod felt like he was out of any good story ideas.

Thinking again about my challenge here. For this exercise I still  needed 74 more ideas, but I knew I’d found success in a similar exercise in the past, so I was confident I could do it again. As I mentioned last week, I created a Google spreadsheet to track my ideas. Any time an idea came to me, regardless of where I was, I could pull out my phone, access that spreadsheet, and write the idea down. In late January I flew to Orlando for a conference, and I dedicated the plane ride there as a brainstorming session. Ideas came while eating, attending church, showering, working, watching TV, talking on the phone…everywhere. 

I also found it helpful that I’d decided to break down episodes into four categories: Faith, Family, Career, and Other. I tracked each of those categories and could see when I needed to spend time thinking about episodes related to each category. Once I was focused on that topic, ideas came more easily. Often one idea would spark another or multiple episode ideas. What once seemed like an impossible task was soon fully completed. As I write this in mid-February, I have well over 100 ideas in my spreadsheet.

Here’s what I learned. 

I’ve recently started working with a podcast featuring Olympic athletes. One of those athletes is Carrie Tollefson who competed as a middle distance runner at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. I asked her about hitting the wall and how she overcame it.  She said that what helps here are positive word cues and redirecting thoughts toward running or working for someone or something else besides herself. She finds it helpful to try to focus on something other than the task at hand. 

She also uses Post-It word cues that can be mottos, children’s names, memories, etc. She likes things she can repeat over and over to break up segments and focus on that mental cue. Lastly, she said that redirecting thoughts could even be looking at the scenery and trying to get to the next tree, next house, bridge, or thinking of something else entirely: building legos in your head one by one, counting steps, singing a song, etc. 

What great advice! That’s exactly how I solved my challenge too! I broke it down into smaller pieces. I thought about my family and the legacy I want to leave via SILY. I thought about you. I know the positive impact that SILY had on the lives of listeners before, and I was confident that the same impact could be achieved again. 

Carrie also said, “mental practices are huge when hitting a wall and we can apply them to all things in life.” She’s 100% right! Whether you’re up against a wall right now or not, you’ll certainly find yourself facing one soon enough. When those times come, I hope my story and Carrie’s advice will help give you the fuel you need to find that finish line!

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

I want you to be a part of the next Monday Mailbag on April 29th! Monday Mailbag is your opportunity to Share what YOU’VE learned, so that other listeners and I can learn from YOU.  It can be a message as short as 30 seconds or several minutes long.  It really doesn’t matter just as long as it’s something that will benefit others.  You can send in questions or responses to my SILY episodes, and I’ll respond to them via Monday Mailbag episodes. You can participate in Monday Mailbags by visiting the Golden Spiral Media listener feedback page at goldenspirlamedia.com/feedback.