#22: How to Be Obsessed and Keep Hammering. Notes from “Endure” by Cameron Hanes (Part 2)

Endure by Cameron Hanes

If there’s one main theme of Cameron Hanes’s memoir Endure: How to Work Hard, Outlast, and Keep Hammering, it’s obsession. He’s obsessed about becoming the best bowhunter. Everything else in his life is devoted to that goal.

How do you become obsessed? Should you even be obsessed? How do you stay consistent and keep hammering away at your goals? That’s what we’re going discuss in the second and final part of my notes based on Cameron’s book.

Humbleness Leads to Greatness

The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement. People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.

Cameron’s take on becoming obsessed with improvement reminds me of Zen Buddhism concept of “beginner’s mind.” It’s about cultivating the mindset of a true beginner regardless of your proficiency in a given field.

You’re always humble, open to new ideas, eager to learn, and without any preconceptions. To become exceptional, we need to cultivate such a mindset at all times.

Regardless of how good we are at something, we need to be able to see and acknowledge our weaknesses—and then relentlessly hammer away at them.

We also need to stay humble and never assume we know everything there is to know. Otherwise we’ll never question our beliefs. If we aren’t open to new ideas and new teachers, at one point we’ll stop growing, forever stuck in old ways.

What Is Your Poison?

It’s one thing to find your true passion in life, but what about your poison? What is the one thing or multiple things that hinder your ability to achieve the type of success you desire? Who or what is preventing you from fulfilling your potential? For me it was a number of things: alcohol, toxic people, lack of confidence, average physical ability, and so on.

Addressing the main obstacle that prevents you from achieving success is often more valuable than blindly pushing harder.

For example, let’s imagine that you want to become financially independent. You’ve built a great career or perhaps a lucrative business. But you’re still not rolling in cash. There’s always little money left before the next paycheck.

Sure, you could grind even harder but you won’t make much progress. Why? Because the impediment is that you spend money frivolously. Before you remove this poison from your system, you won’t reach your full potential. Excessive spending will always hold you back, regardless of how hard you push.

If you aren’t making much progress, identify the main culprit. Is it because you aren’t pushing hard enough or is it because there’s a poison coursing through your veins?

Do the Work When Others Are Asleep

My alarm is set for 4:55 a.m. because getting up “in the fours” sounds better in my head than getting up in the fives, more committed, but I never make it to the alarm. I turn it off before it goes off.

I don’t dread getting up; I love it.

It’s another chance to hammer.

I’ve convinced myself that every day is a gift and I get to jump out of bed and go run. I’m usually out the door before 5:00 a.m. (in the fours) to start my fasted cardio run.

As I run down the empty streets and see the houses knowing everyone is asleep inside, in my head I kind of like it. I don’t envy them, because I feel like each morning is another chance to sacrifice a little more. I turn it into a positive and just think how I’m out there working already. That makes me feel good.

The saying goes, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward.

There’s something magical about doing the work while everyone else is asleep. You don’t even have to be an early riser to experience it. Many years ago, before I started waking up early, I used to be a night owl. I wrote mostly at night, between 11 pm and 3 am.

These days, my routine is the complete opposite. Instead of quiet late nights I get quiet early mornings.

Working on your goals when others are asleep will fuel your obsession because only the obsessed are so committed.

Only an obsessed person would wake up at 4 am in the middle of winter and go rucking a long distance for the challenge of it (been there, done that).

Only an obsessed person would stay up until 3 am working on the new marketing strategy for their e-commerce business.

Only an obsessed person would wake up a few hours before their shift at the warehouse starts to study a skill that will help them secure a better job.

Being Tired vs Being Weak

There is never a question in my mind asking if I’m going to run today. I’m going to run no matter what. If I’m sick, I’ll still run. If I’m hurt, I’ll go slower. I’ll limp. Nothing will change. A lot of people look for ways or reasons not to run or exercise. Those things don’t even come to my mind anymore.

If I think I’m tired, I remember moments when I’m running hundreds of miles in an ultramarathon and I’m getting an hour of sleep or less. That’s when I should be tired. The other times means I’m just being weak.

There’s no doubt that Cameron Hanes is wired differently than almost every single person on Earth. For most people, a light cold, a little injury, or feeling under the weather means no workouts until they get better. Meanwhile, Cameron only allows himself to feel tired if he’s running hundreds of miles on an hour of sleep. Talk about a wildly different perspective on things.

As a person who’s been dealing with a chronic rotator cuff injury, I adapt my workouts to keep going without aggravating it. If you can work out without making things worse, then do that.

But I don’t think it’s a smart idea to run if your swollen Achilles tendon hurts like hell and feels as if it’s about to burst.

The reason why I’m dealing with a chronic injury is because I ignored my shoulder pain for months. I thought I had to suck it up and be tough like people like David Goggins or Cameron Hanes. In the end, pretending I was indestructible destroyed me.

To be able to progress sustainably over the long term, sometimes the body needs to rest.

My calisthenics coach recently told me that for those who work out a lot, the problem isn’t making excuses but not respecting recovery enough. And taking time off to let your body heal isn’t being weak. Pro athletes do it all the time, sometimes taking months off to heal an injury that unattended could end their career.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I admire Cameron’s endurance and wish my body were as resilient as his is. Yet, in my painful experience, in an effort to imitate people like Hanes or Goggins, we sometimes ignore the warning signals, thinking we can walk them off—only to pay the price later.

As Cameron emphasizes in his book:

I don’t want to discount or minimize anybody’s effort because I know just trying your best every day is a huge deal. I know it’s a hard path at times.

I’m not speaking for anybody else with my running and my training.

This is your journey.

We’re all on different trajectories. I’m at this point and have been doing this now for decades. There are certain ways I prepare, and that’s going to change and evolve. I’m going to continue to get better and I’m going to learn and grow.

All of us are evolving. It’s just a process. A process that takes time.

Even if our goals are the same, our journeys will be different.

If You’re Not Obsessed, You’re Going to Be Mediocre

I get obsessed with things. But as I always say, if you’re not obsessed, you’re going to be mediocre. I don’t care what it is. If you have a healthy, balanced relationship with whatever dream you have, then nobody will ever know your name. That’s the cold, hard truth. Sure, there are those born with the physical capabilities to play in the NBA, but I’m sure LeBron James would say he’s been obsessed with basketball his whole life.

The best of the best usually live and breathe their obsession. Everything in their lives, be it their daily schedule, where they live, who they spend time with, etc. is about getting an edge. You can see it when studying the lives of the greats like Michael Jordan, Nikola Tesla, Pablo Picasso, or Ernest Shackleton.

A healthy, balanced relationship with your dream rarely leads to greatness.

Surfing three times a week for one hour won’t cut it if you want to become a pro surfer.

Studying physics a few hours a week won’t cut it if you want to become a renowned physicist.

Writing a few hundred words a week won’t cut if you want to become an exceptional writer.

The relationship we have with our goals says a lot about the level of success we’ll be able to achieve in them.

For example, I run once a week. When I compare running to writing—which I practice every day—it’s clear to see that I’ll never become an exceptional runner. I may have a shot at becoming an exceptional writer because my relationship with it is much closer to an obsession than in the case of running. But running is not my priority. It’s just an accessory skill.

What is your level of dedication to your goals? There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your goals and giving it your all only to your most important objectives.

The Dark Side of Obsession

Going back to the subject of obsession, if you’re going to be great at one thing, you’re probably not going to be great at other things. The way I’ve looked at it, I know I definitely have been short in some areas because I’ve been obsessive about other things. I know I probably wasn’t the best dad, the best husband, the best whatever, because I’ve been obsessed about bowhunting. For example, spending $3,000 to go on an out-of state hunt when you don’t have the money and have a newborn baby at home … yeah, that’s probably not a good decision. That’s not being the best provider you can be, because I put my dream ahead of being a provider for my family, for the people who rely on me. If you’re being honest with yourself, and I have been honest with myself, I know I’ve fallen short. That’s not justifying it at all, that’s just being real.

Cameron’s confession poses a difficult dilemma: do you let yourself obsess about a single thing so much that you neglect other aspects of your life? Or do you choose to tone down a little so that you don’t destroy your relationships or health?

In an ideal world, we would be able to get it all. But we don’t live in an ideal world with unlimited resources and no opportunity costs. There’s a price to pay for all decisions.

For example, if you decide to become an ultra-runner, you’ll have to train for up to a few hours a day almost every day of the week.

Try as you might, you won’t be able to create more time out of thin air. Something will have to give. Will it be your work or business life? Will it be your relationships? Will it be your other skills that you won’t be able to practice as much as before?

Do or do not, you make a sacrifice either way. What is it for you?

I’ve been struggling with this question for years. As a generalist interested in various activities, I’m not good at any single thing. I admire men who are world-class at a single thing. But at the same time, I need to accept that I’m not like them. My version of becoming exceptional needs to be different because I’m not willing to obsess about just one thing.

What is your version of being exceptional? Is it being excellent at just one thing or being competent (but not great) in a variety of fields?

Keep Hammering

There’s an incredible quote that inspires the San Antonio Spurs that is a beautiful summary of the “Keep Hammering” mindset. I love the Spurs and their approach to professional basketball. They are always focused on how they do things, not the reward for what they do. They care about the process, not the result. In 2018, NBA star and former Spur George Hill told me about the words of twentieth-century poet Jacob A. Riis that hangs in the Spurs’ locker room:

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”

Cameron achieved his goals through hammering away at them. There’s a reason why he likes to say “nobody cares, work harder.” It’s purely through hard, consistent work for years and years that he became great at what he does.

When you’re in doubt, remind yourself of all the momentum you’ve built until now. Perhaps it’s not visible to the naked eye, but the rock you’ve been hammering away at for so long might be just a single blow away from splitting in two.

Questions to Ponder

1. Do you cultivate a beginner’s mind?

2. What is your poison that prevents you from achieving your goals?

3. Are you willing to work on your goals when others are asleep?

4. How does feeling tired or injured affect your workouts? Do you skip them because you have a little injury or feel under the weather? Or quite the contrary: do you still keep going when it would be advisable to address your injury before it turns into a chronic problem?

5. What relationship do you have with your dreams? Are you truly obsessed about them or is the relationship so balanced that it’s unlikely you’ll ever go past mediocrity?

6. If you have any obsessions, how do they negatively impact your life? Are you willing to accept that downside or do you need to dial things down?

7. Do you regularly acknowledge all the momentum you’ve built until now?

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Notes from “Endure” by Cameron Hanes Series

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