How do we keep going when we can’t see the top of the mountain?
I wish I had the answer. Even as a motivational speaker, my own positivity levels have dwindled like the supermarket loo roll stocks. Perhaps the scariest thing is that nobody really knows the answer. When we’re worried, we usually have somebody who’s been there to guide us. But right now, society is facing an unclimbed mountain. Nobody else has climbed it – yet.
If we haven’t dealt with something before then we have no reference point, and our natural instinct is to assume the worst-case scenario. Media scaremongering has only added to our fear of the unknown. Watching the recent news unfold has felt uncomfortably alike the disaster movies we binge on Netflix. We’re hooked – longing for Chuck Norris to rock up, kick Boris off the lectern and save the day. Instead, each update feels like another round with Mike Tyson.
It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with pandemics. Older generations have experienced wars, rationing and recessions, which perhaps explain the stoic ‘business as usual’ attitude. But for my generation it’s the first time we’ve seen society starting to shut down around us. Thousands of lives lost, jobs cut, schools closed, exams cancelled, entertainment called off and being effectively quarantined in our own homes is frankly terrifying for the ‘entitled’ generation, accustomed to the world being more connected and accessible than ever.
People have been forced to work from home and realise the liberty of working in your pyjamas wears off fast. Trust me – I’ve been rocking the slippers for years. Towards the end of my Climb The UK challenge I had been cycling in all weathers, almost every day, for two months, until I started craving the simplest comforts of doing nothing, watching TV, or simply watching the world go by at the bus stop. These simple comforts turned out to be a disappointment – as most things do, when we have full control of them. It’s like celebrating Easter in September. You can have chocolate for breakfast, but it just doesn’t feel right.
One thing I do know – in my fairly short life so far – is that mountains are either a problem, or a challenge. The choice is ours. We might be dealing with something bigger than us. Thousands of lives have been lost. But it makes sense to take the same approach here:
1) Focus on what we can control
We’re allowed to feel frustrated and angry. But the longer we focus on things outside our circle of influence then we become reactive – stressed, anxious, depressed, and even hopeless. It’s a waste of energy. If we spend our time on the things in our circle of control/influence then we become proactive, stay focused and distract ourselves from the worries. Many of our short-term goals and targets will have changed and been thrown into uncertainty. This also opens up new opportunities. Whilst waiting for more information, we have to adjust our goals and stick to routines as best we can. I’ve started my third book earlier than planned and will have plenty of new speaking content for the autumn!
2) Support each other
Now isn’t the time to 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. This is the time to reach out to friends who might be vulnerable or at most risk, to help elderly with shopping, keep in regular contact and send funny photos to each other when all else fails. Even being forced to work at home is an opportunity to spend time together. Times like these are when the stories of real humanity and kindness emerge, even when the media focus on non-resourceful supermarket panic buyers. Being selfish is a human survival mechanism. Selflessness helps everyone survive.
3) Attitude of gratitude
I’ve lost most of my speaking engagements until June, the first Mind Over Mountains event we’ve spent months putting together has been postponed, and my 3 Peaks challenge attempt is uncertain. But I’m incredibly lucky right now. I’m in a low-risk group, have close family and friends to share the worries with, already work from home, and have the hills on my doorstep to find some calm in the chaos. Being self-employed is a challenge but I’m grateful for my sponsors Westgrove too. Make a list of all the things that you’re grateful for right now. They could be eclipsed by the worries, but there’s always something, however small, working on our side.
Most of the things we’ve lost can be replaced. Lives can’t.
4) Switch off
Last Sunday the news began to get overwhelming, so I packed the tent and headed to the fells above Coniston with a friend Callum (also in a low-risk category, without symptoms, and we had no contact with others). It’s the first time I’ve 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 from the internet, and watch sunrise in the mountains. It was hard to believe so much could be going wrong in the world.
5) Stay active
One good thing to come from this is that people have rediscovered or reinforced the importance of time in nature to find calm and escape from our stressful modern lives. That’s why we set up Mind Over Mountains. Outdoor exercise alone isn’t currently restricted in the UK – if we’re not showing symptoms, at high-risk, and if distancing ourselves from others. It’s sad to see sporting events and marathons cancelled after months of preparation, dedication and commitment. But it’s a good opportunity to get even more prepared, or equally revive the joy of simply being outside without chasing goals. It goes without saying that the endorphins, the perspective, the distraction and the achievement will maintain some sense of normality.
We’re all in the same boat. That only means we can come together to share the load, be creative, and find the best route up. We’ve done it many times before and we can do it again. The only way to fight bad news is to spread good news and all of us have a part to play.
Stay safe folks. And don’t forget to wash your hands.
P.S. It’s the first day of Spring!