How do we keep going when we can’t see the top of the mountain?
I wish I had the answer. Perhaps the scariest thing is that nobody really does. Even as a motivational speaker, my own positivity levels have dwindled like the supermarket stocks of loo roll and flour recently. As an adventurer, I wrongly assumed I was well-equipped to thrive on whatever life could throw at me next and eat those low ebbs for breakfast.
But recently, society has faced an unclimbed mountain. When facing a challenge we can usually draw on past experiences, or somebody else who’s been there to guide us through. If we haven’t dealt with something before then our natural instinct is to assume the worst-case scenario. Media scaremongering has only fuelled our fear of the unknown. Watching the news unfold felt uncomfortably alike the disaster movies we binge on Netflix. I think for a while we longed for Chuck Norris to rock up, kick Boris off the lectern and save the day.
Older generations have experienced wars, rationing and recessions, which perhaps explain the stoic ‘business as usual’ attitude and why keeping my grandma at home was like keeping my dog out of muddy puddles. But for my ‘entitled’ generation, it was the first time society had effectively shut down around us. The prospect of losing the freedom to exercise outside and stay mentally healthy was utterly terrifying.
Now that we’re slowly getting some restrictions eased and freedoms restored, hopefully we’ll never take them for granted again. But I’m not convinced. Towards the end of my Climb The UK challenge I had been cycling in all weathers for 70 days until I started craving the simplest comforts: doing nothing, watching TV, or simply watching the world go by at a bus stop. The novelty quick wore off – as most things do until they’re taken away.
Admittedly, it’s started to feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re crawling out of the storm, a bit dazed, with our gardens probably tidier than our haircuts. We have more certainty. But let’s not forget there are still thousands of people critically ill, and many more grieving families, for whom life will never be the same again.
One thing I do know – in my fairly short life so far – is that mountains pose either a problem, or a challenge. Facing those challenges teaches us a lot about resilience. So I wanted to share a few things from my adventures that have helped me in the recent weeks.
1) Focus on what we can control
We’re allowed to feel frustrated and angry about our plans and goals being ruined. But the longer we focus on things outside our circle of influence then we become reactive – stressed, anxious, depressed, and even hopeless. Or even hoarding loo rolls. If we spend our time on the things in our circle of influence then we become proactive, positive and stay focused. Look for the new opportunities and adjust goals whilst awaiting information. I recently submitted a proposal for my third book earlier than planned. Sadly I can’t say much for the home baking skills…
2) Support each other
We might be in the same boat, or the same mountain: but not everyone is a Sherpa. Don’t compete who has it ‘worse off’. Some people are more resilient due to their life experiences so far. Others will be overwhelmed by the change. Make sure to reach out to friends who might be vulnerable or at most risk, and even the ‘strong’ ones who appear fine. The smallest things can make the biggest difference. We’ve seen lots of acts of kindness: from helping elderly with shopping, to Captain Tom Moore, and companies making face masks. Times like these are when the stories of real humanity and kindness emerge. Being selfish is a human survival mechanism. Selflessness helps everyone survive.
3) Attitude of gratitude
Like many others, most of my speaking engagements were cancelled until the autumn (at least in person), our Mind Over Mountains events we spent months putting together were postponed, and my 3 Peaks Run project was also put on hold. But I’ve also felt incredibly lucky – to be in a low-risk group, have close family and friends, and have the hills on my doorstep to find some calm in the chaos. I’ve got more time to train for the challenge. There’s lots of things going right and lots going wrong: it depends which way you look. Make a list of what you’re grateful for, and your mindset will shift to a more positive direction. Most of the things we may have lost can be replaced. Lives can’t.
4) Get outside
The ‘Get Outside’ champions have been scratching our heads as we’ve had to step down from hollering about the wonderful wild places and tell people to stay close to home instead. Either way, we’ve truly seen the importance of getting outside for our mental health. That’s why we set up Mind Over Mountains. Whilst we have to maintain social distancing and adhere to restrictions, the benefits can still be had closer to home, even in 30 minutes a day. At the height of everything, the news began to get overwhelming, so I packed the tent and headed to the fells above Coniston with a friend Callum. It was also the first time I had wild camped for over a year – thanks Coronavirus – I’d forgotten how fantastic it was to chat to a friend with hot chocolate and biscuits, switch off social media, and watch sunrise in the mountains. It was hard to believe so much could be going wrong. My daily runs and bike rides in nature have given me hope and perspective to remind me that the world is still a beautiful place to be.
5) Focus on the small wins
The ‘engine is only as good as the steering wheel’ – we also have to be kind to ourselves and not expect too much when our stress buckets are already full. We’re bombarded by innovation and people achieving great things despite all that’s going on – and it’s easy to believe we’re not doing enough; that we should be doing more to help or make a difference. Staying physically and mentally healthy is the number one priority. Keeping routines encourages positive habits and keep us moving forwards instead of just admitting defeat. Use this time to set new challenges, learn new skills, and try new things: however big or small. If you could learn just one new thing for yourself (or others) to look back on 12 months from now – what would that be?
From my experience, the top of the mountain often turns out completely different to our imagination. Maybe we never truly get there. But the only way to find out is to keep moving forwards, one step at a time.
What’s been helping you during lockdown? Set any challenges or learnt something new? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Stay safe folks…