In the Spring of 2011, my then 26 year-old son, Zach, set out to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, nearly 2,200 miles. I nearly had a heart attack when he told me he was going to do it.
And that was BEFORE I knew how treacherous and difficult a feat this would actually be.
I wasn't yet aware that, even with the best of intentions, only 3 out of 10 people complete the trail. And with good reason. It requires super-human strength and determination to overcome all of its obstacles and stay alive.
In fact, over the course of five months, Zach nearly froze to death, became dehydrated, had heat exhaustion, encountered poisonous snakes, bears, rat-infested shelters, bleeding feet, numerous falls, dangerous human beings, and last, but not least, contracted West Nile Virus about half-way through the hike, which nearly debilitated him.
Yet, he remained hell-bent on summiting Mt. Katahdin in Maine and did so in August of that year.
Shortly after he completed the trail, he decided to write a book entitled, Appalachian Trials. (Yes, that's not a typo, it's "Trials," not "Trails.") Unlike others who have written memoirs to commemorate their experiences, this is a book that is designed to help others become Appalachian Trail thru-hikers (the name given to people who complete the entire hike.)
Zach recognized that there were plenty of books on the market that help people prepare for the trail in terms of the gear they should buy, knowing what to expect regarding topography and hiking methods, but that there was little or no information about the most important gear: the gear between one's ears—your thinking, your attitude, your philosophy, in short, your brain.
Without question, Zach believed that how one approaches the trail's challenges psychologically and emotionally has more to do with the ultimate outcome than any other factor. So, in an effort to shepherd others over the 2,200 mile trek, he offered pragmatic mental preparation strategies.
One such strategy was his advice to spend a good deal of time prior to hiking the trail thinking about, and more importantly, WRITING down all the reasons a person would want to hike the trail, why completing it is important, what really motivates him or her to do this. Then, he instructs people to take that list and put it in a zip-lock bag ,which will preserve it through rain, sleet and snow (and tears.)
He warns that there will be many, many times when people feel like giving up—in the middle of a snow storm, sweltering heat, starvation or dehydration—and to prevent the overwhelming but transient feelings from winning and sending people home, he advises them to pull out their lists and read and re-read them as a reminder and reinforcer to stay the course.
Additionally, he predicts that inevitably, things will get so bad that the list's power will begin to wane. That's when people need to pull out the second list he insists be written before beginning the trail: "All the Reasons Giving Up On the Trail Would Be Bad For Me."
That list needs to be inserted in a zip-lock bag as well, placed within easy reach in the backpack. He tells thru-hiker wannabe's that they can count on the fact that they will need to resort to reading their lists many times through their journey. Readers of his book have confirmed this fact.
After hearing about an email Zach received from a grateful successful thru-hiker who cited the list technique as a lifeline, it got me thinking about marriage.
What if, instead of all the usual hoopla around preparing for weddings, people did mental preparation instead? What if those who were about to get married were required to write heart-felt lists about why they are getting married, what it means to them, what their hopes and dreams and aspirations might be and most importantly, why they feel committed to taking their vows?
And similarly, what if, in addition, people were to make a list of all the reasons quitting, getting out, exiting their marriages would be bad for them? And naturally, these lists would be placed in a safe, but accessible place.
And then every time things get rough—as they undoubtedly will—people were required to pull out their lists and remind themselves of the real reasons they decided to spend the rest of their lives together. And to do that over and over during their long journey in life together.
And when they felt their commitment wavering, to retrieve list two—the one outlining the reasons divorce would be bad for them—and read and re-read that list too.
You see, all marriages have rocky terrain and stormy periods. There will be hills and valleys that are imperceptible when starting out. What if people relied on their lists to help wait out the storm? Even research tells us that people who are unhappy in marriage, five years later, feel happier and more in love.
So, if you're married, do yourself a favor. Follow my son's advice. Make a list. No, make two. And put them somewhere that you can get to in a moment's notice. Trust me on this one. Eventually, somewhere along the long and winding road, you'll need them.
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Michele Weiner-Davis is the Author of the best selling Divorce Busting, Divorce Remedy, and the Sex-Starved Marriage, and creator of the Divorce Busting Center. She is the Founder of DivorceBusting "Like" her on Facebook, and get her latest videos on YouTube.