Skip to content

Author: Patrick Durante

Winning Through Attrition

In a study of the major wars that shaped the course of history, the strategist and historian B.H. Liddell Hart found that only 2% of battles were won due to a direct attack. The majority of successful armies throughout history, Hart writes, all had the “power of endurance to last.” As Ford put it, “You just have to find a way to stick it out, to prevail.” “Lengthen your timeline…It always takes longer than you think it’s going to take. That’s Hofstadter’s law. And even when you take the law into account, you’re still surprised.”

Ryan Holiday

Ultrarunning is about consistency, not a single big event like a 100 or 200-mile distance. If you find an ultrarunner, they are usually consistent—in what they do, what they say, and how they act. They know the battle is won over the long term by showing up daily, enduring sickness, injury, and weathering unexpected storms. It’s not one single race or event that earns you the label of “ultrarunner”; it’s more a mindset and a series of daily habits. The idea is that you have to keep showing up and putting in the work to achieve long-term goals.

The war of attrition
This was the best image I could get for an ultrarunner in “The War of Attrition”

Long timelines are what life is about. There’s no quick fix, shortcut, or substitute for hard work. Those who earn something quickly often suffer from imposter syndrome and struggle to maintain their rapidly achieved fame or success.

‘Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can accomplish in a lifetime’ 

When you stretch out the timeline, your odds of winning the war greatly increase. How about 2 or 3 years? You need to be realistic, but that’s not to say you can’t set a huge goal.

You are constantly engaged in micro-battles for your time, as I detailed in this post about the attention economy. Every day, you will face small tasks that take less than 2 minutes but are essential to becoming a better version of yourself. Go to war with yourself and WIN in the long run by overcoming the naysayers and the negative voices in your head. These small victories will help you succeed in your ongoing war of attrition against your own doubts and obstacles.

One caveat to this is that consequences create meaning. It’s not to say you should go on forever in your war of attrition, but something has to be at stake. That’s where signing up for a race puts you in the battle with the “100 miler monster.” You will take action in life when there’s a high penalty; otherwise, you will be lazy and unmotivated in your war of attrition.

Races are when the war comes to your doorstep—that one-on-one fight with the current version of yourself and the challenge in front of you. They provide the ultimate penalty, especially the ones where you could DNF (Did Not Finish). No training = no completion = no finish = no reward. Even if you do DNF, you will learn from the attempt. Racing keeps you honest.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Consequences create meaning and urgency. Your time is limited, but it’s often hard to see that, like the frog in the boiling pot of water. If you don’t recognize when things are taking too long or when time is running out, you risk never achieving your goals. Don’t let time waste away on trivial things—manage your focus.

Your health is your most critical currency, and many waste it away. Be aware of the ticking clock and the importance of each moment. Get out there before it’s too late and keep fighting, keep doing meaningful things, until you’re fully cooked and the war is over.

A watched pot never boils?

Manage Focus vs Time

We are in an attention economy. Endless things are fighting for your attention. Phones are dinging, inboxes are constantly filling, and there’s a billboard or commercial everywhere you look. There’s even a career called “influencer”, whose main skill is grabbing and holding your attention. That is a tough skill to master and cultivate.

What my head feels like with everything that must be done.

That’s the issue I have with technology. We’re too connected and attached; everybody is available via text message. Overbearing parents track their child’s location in REAL TIME with cell phones in 3rd grade. I know. I just picked up a “smartphone” for my daughter, but I’m trying to make it a dumb phone by removing all apps and social media that might steal her focus. There’s a saying, “May you live in interesting times…” Well, it’s TOO interesting. There’s too much going on, too much news, and too much spam. That’s why this quote got to me: “Don’t manage your time, manage your focus.” That is critical. If you don’t manage your focus, someone or something else will.

If you are not planning your day or structuring it meaningfully, then you will be subject to whatever way the pop-up-driven wind blows. You have to focus on the intention for each day and the following day, week, month, and year. Amazing things happen with intention, not magic. There’s a plan to do something great, write that book, run that race, achieve something great that you sat down and thought about for a minute. Otherwise, text messages and nonsense will fill your time, and then fill your life.

It’s hard to get away from the distraction of all the tech.

That’s part of where racing and running made a difference in my life. If you’re doing it right, your workout will disconnect you from all that. Getting a pop-up while running, biking, or lifting is much harder. The intention to work out removes you from distractions. That’s what I love about it. It’s the intention to travel to the trail, gym, or park, AND be present in that moment. Sit with discomfort and do something HARD that I enjoy as I age. You will say, “Well I just have too many other commitments that get in my way”. Are they, or are you just not managing your focus? That’s what I tell myself: do I not have the time, or do I not have focus? Ask yourself that next time you’re overwhelmed. This quote says it best: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Focus on health if you feel like crap, otherwise, everything else will be difficult. Focus on family. If your closest relationships are toxic, it will cause stress and unhappiness. Finally, focus on work. It will always be there, and we must pay the bills. You will not die with zero, but you could die with a lot of regret for what you didn’t do. I regret focusing on too much stuff that should never have been done in the first place.

Thanks for reading!