When an individual succeeds in tapping his reserve energies, others marvel at the tremendous tasks he accomplishes. They judge in terms of superficial energy, and for such the results would, of course, be impossible, even though many of the admiring spectators could actually equal or excel the deed.
Consider for a moment the work achieved by Mr. Edward Payson Weston who recently walked the entire distance from New York to San Francisco without halt or rest in one hundred and four days. Throughout the entire journey Mr. Weston covered about fifty miles daily, once attaining the remarkable distance of eighty-seven miles in twenty-four hours. Though Mr. Weston is seventy years of age, at the close of the walk he seemed to be relatively free from exhaustion and undaunted in spirit.
The work accomplished by such men as Gladstone and Roosevelt is incomprehensible to most of us who have never undertaken more than puny tasks. These men retain their strength and in no way seem to be undermining their health by the accomplishment of their Herculean labors. Body and mind seem to respond to the demands made upon them. Their periods of sleep and their vacations seem to be no more than the hours and days of rest required by those of us who accomplish infinitely less.
No need, however, to go beyond the field of business or industry to find men whose super-energy has carried them to epochial discoveries or feats of organization. The invention of the incandescent lamp by Edison is said to have been accomplished, for instance, only after forty-eight hours’ continuous concentration on the final problem of finding the right carbon filament and determining the proper degree of vacuum in the inclosing bulb. Months of experiment and research had gone before; eighteen hours a day in the laboratory had been no uncommon thing for the inventor and his assistants, but in the last strenuous grapple with success his own physical and mental powers were alone equal to the strain. Not once during the two days and nights did he rest or sleep or take his attention from the successive tests which led up to the assembling of the lamp which lights the world’s work and play.
The steel blade that is used seems to last as long as the one which is allowed to lie idle. The wearing out in the one case does not seem to be more destructive than the rusting out in the other.
We have a choice between wearing out and rusting out. Most of us unwittingly have chosen the rusting process.
This, indeed, may be said to be Edison’s regular method of work, as it is the method of many other men who have accomplished great things in science and industry. Both mind and body have been trained and accustomed to exertions which seem quite impossible to ordinary individuals.
Many persons find that increased intellectual activity results in less fatigue and greater achievements. As a student I did my best work and enjoyed it most the year I carried the greatest number of courses and assumed the most outside duties. In my capacity as adviser to college students I find many who are able to accomplish thirty per cent more work than is expected of college students but fail to do equally well the regular amount. There are others who can carry the regular amount but not more without injury to their health.
College grades afford a means of recording intellectual efficiency directed toward particular problems. With no apparent change in bodily conditions the same student frequently increases his efficiency a hundred per cent. The increase seldom has an injurious effect on health, but is merely evidence of the fact that he has suddenly wakened up and is applying energies which before were undiscovered. A slow walk for a single mile leaves many persons “dragged out” and exhausted, but a brisk walk of the same or a greater distance results in invigoration and recuperation. Likewise the droning over an intellectual task results in exhaustion, while vigorous treatment whets the appetite for additional problems.
This swift, decisive attack on problems was the method of Edward H. Harriman, who crowded into ten years the railroad achievements of an extraordinary lifetime. Decisions involving expenditure of many millions of dollars were arrived at so quickly as to seem off-hand, even reckless. In reality, they were the products of brief periods of intense application in which he reviewed all the conditions and elements involved, and forged his conclusion, as it were, at white heat. Back of each decision was exact and thorough knowledge of the physical and traffic conditions of each of his railroads. In the case of the Union Pacific, at least, he gained this mastery by patient, intensive study of each grade and curve and freight-producing town on its 1800 miles of track.
The inhabitant of the torrid zone upon moving to a northern climate is severely affected by the chill of the atmosphere. The discomfort may last for days or months, but he becomes acclimated and is able to withstand the cold without serious discomfort. Likewise the inhabitant of a cool climate feels exhausted
by the heat of the torrid zone. In some cases he is unable to accustom himself to the change, but in many instances the acclimatization follows rapidly and leaves the individual well fortified against the dangers of excessive heat.
Persons who have accustomed themselves to stimulants of any sort are completely depleted if they are unable to get the special form to which they have been accustomed. This holds true for tobacco, morphine, coffee, and many other forms of stimulants actually indulged in by many persons. If they are able to resist the temptation and deny themselves the stimulant, the period of exhaustion soon disappears and the subject may even lose all craving for that which formerly seemed essential to his very existence.