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Wars of attrition

Trench warfare in World War I from Wikimedia CommonsDifficult challenges turn into wars of attrition. When we realize that victory won’t be quick and easy, we entrench ourselves and brace for a long struggle.

This applies to our current political situation, and it also applies to personal challenges. Health issues, financial crises, family conflicts, office politics, addiction battles — they all become tests of endurance against seemingly intractable foes.

Even striving towards goals can turn into wars of attrition. We work to lose weight, but we hit a plateau and give into temptation. We write a book, and we must wait to hear back from prospective agents and publishers.

How do we deal with a problem when there is no solution in sight? How do we keep fighting in a war with no end?

Wars of attrition come down to who blinks first. Who melts down first. Who screws up first. Who gives up first. To fight wars of attrition, we need endurance. To develop endurance, we need several things.

First, patience. We must accept that answers aren’t always forthcoming, effort doesn’t always yield immediate results, and solutions take time. We need to develop the discipline of waiting.

Second, perspective. In the trench warfare of World War I, progress was measured in feet. Tons of ammunition and thousands of lives would be lost in attempting to advance to the next hill, only to be forced to retreat. We have to decide whether it is worth expending our energy to pursue trivial victories. Would they help us move forward? Or would we be wasting our time, effort, and energy on something that won’t help us achieve our goal?

Third, focus. We can become so enmeshed in our war of attrition that we forget what we were fighting for in the first place. We need to stay focused on our objectives, whether it is overcoming an illness or completing a term paper for school. Don’t get sidetracked on tangential issues, distracted by others’ insults, and discouraged by setbacks. Keep your eyes on what is truly important to you. This will give you the drive and direction to keep going.

Finally, rest. Give yourself a break when you can. Go for a walk in the park. Meditate for an hour. Go out for a nice dinner. Get enough sleep. You need downtime to keep up your energy, and clearing your mind will help you find solutions. If you constantly remain in the thick of the struggle, you’ll wear yourself out. If you allow yourself to step away and catch your breath, you can go back into the battle stronger, more refreshed, more focused, and more motivated.

Wars of attrition, whether personal or public, require all the endurance we can muster. Develop patience, perspective, and focus. Remember to rest. The battle is long. Don’t blink, and keep fighting.