I’ve often wondered why some have more success changing their lifestyle and altering their behavior than others—even when their lives are at stake. Why are some able to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking, overcome drug addictions, find a new job, learn to play the guitar, earn a degree and more when others try and fail? Where do some get the persistence to endure the inevitable setbacks and failures that are an unavoidable part of personal transformation?
We interviewed David Clark a few days ago on Growing Bolder Radio. His interview hasn’t aired yet but something he said has been bouncing around my head ever since the interview. First, a little backstory.
David grew up poor and homeless, living out of his father’s pickup truck. With no formal education, he became a millionaire; the owner of a chain of retail stores by the time he was 29. But then the bottom fell out and he became a binge drinking, pill popping, 320-pound morbidly obese alcoholic. “I used anything I could to comfort myself,” he told us. “Anything to mask the pain of my childhood.”
When David hit bottom he decided, of all things, to become an ultra-marathoner. At 320 pounds and still fighting multiple addictions he hit the road and changed his diet. I had no problem understanding that. When we hit the bottom, we all bounce. But inevitably we trip and stumble and then, unfortunately, we quit. Wanting to change and trying to change is a universal reaction to an unhappy, unhealthy lifestyle. Maintaining that change to the point of personal transformation is the challenge that millions fail.
So why did David succeed, especially considering that his quest was not to simply lose 10 pounds or cut back on smoking? It was to overcome multiple addictions and not only become super fit but become one of the world’s top ultra-endurance athletes. Right. What were the odds of that? And yet, he did it.
Loosely translated, here’s the gist of the exchange on Growing Bolder Radio that I can’t get out of my head.
Marc: “David, your goal didn’t evolve as you lost weight and gained strength. At 320 pounds, fighting multiple addictions, you hit the road with the sole intention of becoming an ultra marathoner and you didn’t stop until you were! When so many fail at far more manageable and achievable goals, how did you succeed? What gave you the strength to persist through what had to be countless difficult times?”
David: “I succeeded because I wasn’t trying to alter the behavior of David Clark, the obese, addicted unhappy man. I was displaying the behavior of David Clark, the world class ultra-marathoner. I started by altering my perception of who I was and then simply doing what the new David would do. What kind of life would an ultra-marathoner live? I was simply displaying those behaviors because, in my mind, that’s who I already was, even though my body hadn’t yet caught up.”
The more it has rattled around my brain, the more profound it seems. Changing our behavior while still believing that we’re the person created by those behaviors can be overwhelming. David didn’t alter the behavior of the self he loathed, he adopted and displayed the behavior of the self he loved. The rest was just time. Only you can determine who you really are. Make that decision and then go out and act like it.
Today David Clark is a professional athlete and the author of an inspiring autobiography, Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery.