The If Project: Week Seven

The If Project takes the text of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” and breaks it down into digestible chunks of wisdom. Each week, we’ll take a few lines of the poem and focus on the life lessons and behaviors Kipling puts forth as empowering.

This is a mindfulness practice, which will help you consciously build better behavioral habits pertaining to interpersonal interactions and other areas of your life.

For reference, the entire poem is included at the bottom of this post.

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The lines for week seven are:

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…”

There is some recent research that suggests that willpower is indeed a finite resource, and is used up during our daily lives as we encounter challenges. I’m sure you can relate: during the day we can often feel our willpower, our ability to resist temptation and overcome obstacles, slip away. We’ve all had the feeling of wanting to give up!

This is where perseverance and grit come into play. Ironically, if we feel like we’re going through a “rough patch” when it comes to our ability to persevere, it may be a signal that we need some time to recharge. There is a natural ebb and flow of our energy. If you hit resistance from within, it’s time to give yourself a break and perhaps even change your tactics for tackling life.

When you feel like you’ve lost all motivation, this is another good reason to have strong “whys” for your life. Establishing one or more solid reasons for your pursuits is vital, because sometimes the whys are all you have to keep you going.

Not that I didn’t mention worry about the “hows.” Don’t focus on lamenting “how am I going to do this?” Use that energy on following your gut and seeking out opportunities. Small wins and baby steps are the way to go. Don’t try to take on a mountain when you only have the strength to climb a molehill! Pick your battles wisely!

Just as there are ebbs in life, there are flows. Your passion will return eventually. In the hero’s journey of life, there are low points. But following these points are times of transformation and renewal. Sometimes you have to resort to sheer stubbornness to make it through the down times. Building a habit of hope and success takes some work, but doing so will get you out of a rut.

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Please be sure to leave comments to share your experiences during this “applied humanities” project, and tell others about this series! Remember: this series is part of my effort to spread the word about applied humanities, which involves the active use of literature and other art forms to practically and positively influence everyday behavior. Ultimately, the humanities can be consumed passively or actively, but either way they can remind us what it means to be human, as well as everyday heroes.

If, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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