The importance of emotional endurance
Prior to embarking on our current professional venture, we had heard many times that deal making is equal parts art and science. This stance is confirmed by many best-selling negotiation books like Getting to Yes, The Art of Negotiation and Negotiation Genius, which tell us to focus on “non-adversarial bargaining by separating the people from the problem” or that “master negotiators thrive in the face of chaos and uncertainty. They don’t trap themselves with rigid plans. Instead they understand negotiation as a process of exploration that demands ongoing learning, adapting, and influencing. Their agility enables them to reach agreement when others would be stalemated.”
While all this reading certainly provided a useful source of information from which to draw during our own negotiations, we still experience many highs and lows on the path to closing deals. However, the most unexpected friction point – something never mentioned in these best-selling books – is the sheer emotional endurance required to persist throughout the deal making process.
During periods of conflict, the chances of reaching a mutually agreeable compromise can seem impossible. Faced with a deal that could fall apart for seemingly inconsequential reasons, and despite best efforts to remain rational and level-headed, emotions flare.
In these moments of angst and anger, we were surprised to experience strong flashbacks to our ultra long-distance running days. Let us explain. When running an ultramarathon, it is very common to experience extreme physical and emotional highs and lows. During the high points, the runner will feel invincible, filled with energy and confidence. However, at some point, the runner knows she will experience an extreme low, during which taking even the smallest step forward requires vast amounts of emotional and physical energy. As the sheer prospect of covering the miles ahead seems insurmountable, the runner will approach her psychological breaking point.
When we first started ultra-running we had many embarrassingly unsuccessful races where we were unable to make it through the low points. Eventually, however, we learned that the key to ultra-running is anticipating and managing the lows. The successful endurance runner knows – with certainty – that at some point during a race, she will feel like quitting. As a result, when the race gets tough, the runner knows that this is simply part of the process, and that if she can just grind it out, the low period will eventually pass. Over time, the successful runner learns to embrace — even thrive — in the grind. Dean Karnazes, a decorated ultramarathon runner whose accomplishments include amazing feats such as running 350 miles in 80 hours without any sleep, echoed this sentiment in his cult classic book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner:
“People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.’ Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery.”
For us, physical endurance training unexpectedly enabled us to develop emotional endurance. It taught us the beauty of embracing the grind, wherever it may lie. Upon reflection, despite the plethora of expert “negotiation” and “deal-making” books on our bedside table, the attributes learned during the long hours out on backwood trails was likely the most important factor in getting our first deal to the finish line. While we still have plenty of room for improvement, we are starting to understand that managing psychological lows — in running or deal-making — is simply part of the process of accomplishing our goals, and in fact, is what makes our goals accomplishments.