On Saturday I did my longest run of the year so far – 16.6 miles. It was a pretty decent run. That is the longest run I’ve done for about 10 years.
Portsmouth is an island and one of the things I’d wanted to do was to run around the perimeter of it (where feasible as things such as the dockyard mean that this isn’t entirely possible). So, on Saturday morning I headed out to do just that – run around the island. It also gave me an opportunity to test out some of the kit I will be using during the ultra in July.
I know from experience that the long runs also provide an opportunity to get an idea of the ‘plan b’ if something goes wrong, it isn’t just about covering a certain distance, and there were one or two of those moments on Saturday.
So out I headed to run around the island, the pace at the start was a bit quicker than I had originally anticipated, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Then 1.5 miles in I noticed that the cable from my earphones was starting to get on my nerves a bit as it wasn’t tucked away properly – so a quick stop to sort that out.
Roughly 2.5 miles in and something was irritating my left eye. Again a quick stop to sort that out as best I could and off I go again only to realise it isn’t sorted and after rubbing my eye a bit more my contact lens had come out and had split (thankfully it had all come out). I had a choice to make now – did I head home and pop another lens in or did I carry on. I decided to carry on with the run – if that happens on the day of the ultra I’m not going to have the luxury of sorting that out until I get to an aid station (and is it worth carrying a set of spare contact lenses with me. Is that something I now need to consider doing? Again, what is the ‘plan b’ on the day.) Ironically, the problem with the contact lens happened just as I was passing the statue of Lord Nelson in Old Portsmouth!!!!!!!
My pace comfortable, I was in a decent flow, and it was going well.
I’d decided before I went out that I would walk, briefly take on fluids (and it was the first time I was using my ultra-backpack which has a hydration bladder in it and I can stow away my nutrition and anything I else I need) – again this worked pretty well but I do think I need to be able to take fluids on whilst running (so note to self – practice this on future runs). On the day of the ultra I’m going to need to fill the hydration bladder up at the aid stations and think about taking an additional soft flask to fill with flat coke for the later part of the run (flat coke works absolute wonders – a real pick up and energy boost).
I hit the half marathon mark (13.1 miles) in exactly 2 hours. This is the quickest I’ve covered that distance in training so far. The next 3.5 miles were a little slower, but I had anticipated this and had also decided to slow my pace slightly as well. I tried to push the pace a bit in the last mile and if I’m being honest it was a bit of a struggle. I’m not overly concerned about that at this point in my training though. I finished the 16.6 miles in 2 hours 34 minutes. I was relatively pleased with that and had noted a few things I need to be aware of for longer runs and during the ultra. My focus was brilliant, I just concentrated on moving forwards all the time and not being concerned about anything but moving forwards.
A bit of a mishap after I’d got back. I was waiting for some books to be delivered and just as I was stepping out of the shower the doorbell went. I went rushing across the bathroom floor and slipped landing heavily on my left knee and face-planting onto the floor!!! Ironically, one of the books being delivered was called ‘Bounce’ – not something I did when I went down in a heap!!! The left knee is bruised at the moment, but it won’t stop me from training.
In the past I would have let things like the contact lens and slipping over bug me, but they haven’t, I’ve seen the humour and irony of it and accepted it for what it is.
Doing the run around the island was great and something I can tick off of my training targets for the year. In terms of distance and terrain it was OK. The ultra is being run off-road on trails. All of my training has been done on road. I need to look at some different routes for my longer runs and get on some trails and in order for that to work well I need to be upping the distance to 20 mile upwards for those longer runs – and that is something I’m really looking forward to doing.
Whenever I look at setting myself a goal or a target to achieve I always look at why I’m doing it. I might already know how I’m going to do it and what I’m going to do to achieve it. The real driver to achieving it is why, the purpose of doing it in the first place. If you want to look at this concept in a bit more depth look at some of the videos the brilliant Simon Sinek has done on the topic.
I’ve always had an interest in endurance sports and have taken part in them since 1996 when I took part in my first triathlon. I didn’t know a great deal about the sport, motivation theories, or training back then (this was before the internet. I had one book and a couple of copies of ‘Triathlete’ magazine). It seemed like a good challenge and something I would enjoy, as well as feeling a sense of achievement.
That sense of why hasn’t changed a great deal 25 years later with the ultra-marathon – why am I doing it? I’ve never done a run of that distance before, so it is a sense of the unknown, it has given me a goal to aim towards this year, and the sense of achievement when I cross that finishing line are great drivers. It is something I want to prove to myself that I can do.
It has also had an impact on other areas of my life as well. My focus has improved, my diet has improved, my motivation is better, sense of well-being and the way I view myself has improved. I enjoy training. I can’t train for the sake of training though. I need a goal or target to work towards. There needs to be an outcome at the end of it. To me, it is more than just saying I want to be fitter and healthier (and this is very subjective and has multiple variables as well). That end-goal is important.
Knowing why I am doing it is important throughout. What the purpose of doing all that training is building to – physically, mentally and emotionally. I know there will be challenges along the way, but I also know I have it in my ability to overcome those challenges – I just need to return to the purpose, 'the why' I’m doing it.
There are times when I’m out running when I think about slowing the pace or even stopping and walking for 50 m or so but I manage that internal self-talk and return to the purpose and 'the why' to motivate myself to keep going – quitting is not an option. I’ve not missed one training session this year – every session I’ve completed no matter how I’m feeling or what the weather is doing – because I’m focused on why I’m doing this.
I’d much rather train when I don’t feel like it and/or train in the wind and rain than not even make the start line (let alone the finish line!)
The runs are getting longer every week now and every time they are getting longer I’m enjoying them more. There are probably a few reasons for this – the sense of achievement for building up the mileage and also being a step closer each time to achieving that overall goal. Running a couple of different routes recently has helped with the motivation – exploring different parts of the city and wondering where a certain trail or path leads is always pretty cool.
Having that sense of why and purpose has been filtering into other areas of my life as well, since the start of the year and the other goals and targets I set for myself – I think the motivation becomes contagious and those links are easily made. On the flip side of that, if the motivation isn’t there then that negativity also becomes contagious. I know this from times when my mental health has been at rock bottom – that purpose isn’t there, there is no why, there is no focus, motivation doesn’t exist. Having been at the abyss of trying to take my own life years ago I know how important it is to have that sense of purpose. I had nothing to drive me then.
Nowadays, I have lots of things that drive me. I set myself challenging goals – they are not easy, and they are not impossible either. I know that they will stretch me as I work to achieve them. I know I need to have self-discipline to achieve them.
As lockdown eases I know that I must remain as focused now as ever before, going out and meeting friends is not the main priority, easing off and kicking back to have some downtime is not an option for the moment. What is the priority is getting in those long miles in training, getting my studies done for work, focusing on ticking off a couple more of the goals I’ve set for myself.
I know when I’ve achieved them I can look in the mirror and be pleased with the effort, application, drive, sacrifice, and determination. And when that happens it is time to create new goals and targets, new purposes and finding the new and next why.
Last week was an interesting week and gave me some time to put a few things into perspective and also reflect on my own development this year.
I've had a really busy week in work and had to juggle around my training slightly but still managed to nail every session, Saturday was a great example of this as I did a shorter run (10km) than normal of late but upped the intensity of the session, a great way of making it count. Although faster run sessions are not necessarily essential training for an ultra they are good in terms of mixing it up a bit and having entered the Great South Run for later in the year it will help towards the training for that when I want to be running at a much quicker pace.
I had a meeting with the tutor from the training provider for my external study in work on Thursday. This was the first meeting I’d had (they’d forgotten to schedule one which should have happened weeks earlier). The quality of the work I’m providing is to a good standard, but I was told that in certain areas I was emphasising on what I was already doing, rather than how I would be using it in the context within the study areas.
I was extremely annoyed and angry with myself as I should have done this properly.
I sat down to reflect on this and gave myself a bit of a rocket up the backside. To me this wasn’t acceptable and didn’t meet the standards I expect from myself. I felt that the quality was good, the effort I put in was what I would expect, but the outcomes didn’t match. I decided that this needed to change and change immediately. Being good isn’t good enough, being exceptional is.
In the past I would have beaten myself up about this, and it would have lasted for quite a few days at a minimum. I would have been dragging myself down a fair amount, and it would have focused on other areas of my life as well, therefore increasing the scope of self-blame.
I was more focused on what needed to change, what I wanted the outcomes to be, what I needed to do to change that immediately, and what I needed to put into place to stop it from happening again. The focus wasn’t on what I felt I had done wrong and picking up a stick to beat myself with Instead I focused on what the solution was and putting it into place.
I also reflected on the reasons I was doing the study in the first place, the differences it was making presently and the differences it would make in the future. I felt it was important to do that to realise the value, not just the value to myself personally but also the overall value to myself professionally and others as well. I don’t expect excellence to happen automatically, I expect excellence to happen through hard work, determination, learning from mistakes, and never quitting. I also know that if I want excellence to happen I need to raise the bar. That requires putting in more effort, that requires pushing limits even more, that means knowing that if 80% is required to reach the standard than 90% should be the minimum target.
I looked at the targets and goals I’ve set for myself this year. Some of those I’m smashing, others are going well. I looked at how I might improve on each and every one of them – what would happen if I put in that extra bit of effort, how much difference would that make. I also reflected on how much I’ve developed and changed in the last month, since the start of the year, and since a year ago. The answer to all of those is a lot. I’ve not been this determined for years, I’ve not been this focused for years, I’ve not been this self-disciplined for years.
Instead of sitting there and feeling a certain amount of self-pity and focusing on self-blame and feeling bad about myself I felt fired up to make the changes I needed to put into place and action them straight away and to get back on track. I was able to put a glitch into perspective and focus on the outcomes I wanted and move forwards more determined to succeed than before.
Having taken part in quite a few long distance endurance events over the years I know the importance of consistent training – there are no hiding places if you haven’t done the training, there is no easy option if you haven’t done the training, and there are no shortcuts either.
I really like that about endurance events. You have to earn the right to start them. You have to earn the right to finish them. I’ve only ever failed to finish one race and that was due to hypothermia setting in. All the others I have crossed the finish line. In those events my target might have been just to cross the finish line, or I might have been racing to complete it in a certain time. Not all of those races were easy, far from it, actually some of them were tough – both mentally and physically. There have been times when I’ve taken part in events where my race plan has suddenly been torn up in front of me, either due to the physical aspect or the mental aspect and sometimes both. The things that got me through were my determination not to quit, knowing that if I could kept moving forwards I was getting closer to the finish line, and that I had put in the effort to do the training to get me across the finish line.
Putting the training in requires effort and sacrifice but the satisfaction of crossing the finish line far outweighs that effort and sacrifice. To me that means getting out of the door whether I feel like it or not. It means getting out of the door no matter what the weather is doing. It means planning the time in each day to complete those training sessions and yes, that means making sacrifices at times. It also means making every training session count.
When I train I make some of the sessions tougher because I want to know that on race day I am able to dig deeper, both mentally and physically when things get tougher. There should be certain elements of training that are uncomfortable – to me, if it feels too easy then I’m not gaining anything from it, it feels like I’m just going through the motions. The longer runs I do should be at a slightly quicker pace to what I’m planning to run at the ultra in July. The shorter runs should be a lot quicker. I try to vary the pace a lot on my runs – sometimes that feels great and other times I am in a world of pain.
I know the importance of making each and every training session count. Consistency will get me to the start line in July. What will get me across the finish line is knowing I’ve made every session count. Knowing that physically I’m able to endure the demands required to finish the ultra. Knowing mentally I’m able to endure the demands required to finish the ultra, knowing on the day I am mentally unbreakable, that I can overcome the challenges that I will face.
I’m under no illusion whatsoever that it is going to be a tough event, so I need to do everything I can to prepare for it – I need to have done every session I’ve planned, to have the right kit to wear on the day, get my nutrition plan right, and be mentally prepared for it.
I know that on the day there will be times when I will probably want to throw the towel in, but I won’t, I know I won’t, I know that is not an option. There is only one option I have – keep moving forwards, keep pushing towards the finish line. I know I am going to have to shut out the pain when my legs are aching, I know I am going to have to shut out some of the negative self-talk and maintain that self-belief that I will get across that finish line. I will have the answers to all that faces me on the day because I’ve been there already, I’ve faced it already when I’ve made every session count. I’m doing all I can to earn the right to be on that start line and all I can to earn that right to get across that finish line.
Last week proved to be another busy week. It was also a very productive week as well. I completed a couple of small projects in work ahead of time and that was good as I had scheduled a couple of days off, it was good that I didn’t need to think about finishing them on my return this week.
Training continues to go well and the motivation and focus are still strong.
On Saturday I did another long run – 14.2 miles. Sooner or later this will become a medium distance run as I push towards runs of 20-24 miles as long runs. I decided to sort my mp3 player out prior and purchased a 16gb micro SD card, so the capacity was increased. Just over 3 hours later of transferring songs onto it, and I’d only used half of the capacity (at full capacity it should be able to hold around 4,000 songs or one prog rock keyboard solo!!!!!). Great, even more different stuff to listen to whilst training.
Slight glitch on Saturday with it though, as I was running along at a steady pace, focused, and it repeated the song I’d just listened to (‘Radio Free Europe’ by REM), skipped it and again the song same popped up – seriously!!!! Managed to sort it out and got moving again, until once again, a few miles later the same song decided to play again (and again after hitting skip!) – as much as I like the song I don’t really want it on a loop for a run of over 2 hours.
Last week's training mileage was just over 27 miles plus a couple of walks of over 2 hours. The walks were great as I’d be meaning to do this for a month or so as I wanted to get some pictures of some of the points I pass on my runs – I don’t tend to take a great deal of notice when out running so to explore the vast history and great architecture was good.
I’ve also increased the amount of strength and core work I’m doing. It is all going in the right direction and I know that as each week passes the previous week was an easy week in comparison to the coming week.
I’m trying to live as spartan an existence as possible as I train for the ultra. I spend very little time watching television or browsing the internet (I read and listen to music instead). I’ve become more disciplined about what I eat. I stick to the routine I’ve set myself – it is neither exciting nor inspiring, but I know it is the way that it needs to be until I cross the finish line of the ultra. I know I have the self-discipline to do this, I don’t see it as making much of a sacrifice in terms of what my goal is.
I don’t feel bored, far from it, some days it is a push to get everything I’ve planned done, but it gets done. I’ve already finished reading 14 books this year and have a stack of 10 more to read in the next couple of months. I’ve been here before when I’ve trained and that sacrifice is worth it once the finish line is crossed.
I have some of my finishers medals hanging up on the wall – they don’t solely represent the race or event but more the effort that went into achieving that finish, those long miles, those days when the training went well and those days when I had to really dig deep to finish the session. I know this is going to be exactly the same this time around. Mentally I will be prepared, and physically I will be prepared.
I did watch a video from the Serpent Trail 50k Ultra last week. The course looks amazing as well as challenging. I visualised what it would feel like to cross the finish line. Then a thought popped into my head – “then what?” Good question. Once I’ve recovered the from the ultra why should all the hard work and training stop. Hopefully I will run the Great South Run in October and then the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon in December.
If all goes well with the ultra and after saying ‘never again’ for a day or two as my legs recover and thoughts start veering towards ‘what if I did that differently’ I’m not ruling out returning to the Serpent Trail again in 2022 and maybe finding another 50k trail run to take part in somewhere in the country. However, they are thoughts for later in the year when the event is completed. Thoughts now are on being focused and self-disciplined, not being distracted, shutting out the noise, and building the strength, determination, and belief even more each day.
That is two months of 2021 ticked off.
In terms of training I’ve not missed a session this year, pretty good start. It has meant a change of routine, but I’m OK with that. It means getting up earlier a few times a week, but I’m OK with that also.
I’ve got around 17 weeks until I take part in the ultra. My training is going to plan so far. Saturday was my longest run so far in 2021 – 12.2 miles. I felt comfortable at that distance and the pace was on the money. The sessions are getting longer. Not just one session a week but an increase in all my run sessions. It means the alarm clock going off earlier, getting out for a run earlier, doing longer mileage and then getting back and starting work for the day – that suits me. As I’ve said in early blog entries this is just some short term ‘discomfort’ for a longer-term gain.
I enjoy the longer run sessions. They give me a chance to really work on both my physical and mental endurance. They provide a real test of patience as well – I’m feeling really good and feeling strong, then being able to hold the pace sensibly rather than hitting it too hard from the start and blowing out at half-way.
Physical endurance is important because I’m training my muscles and cardiovascular system to go further and further and being able to hold off fatigue. There may be times when my muscles are aching or the pace has dropped slightly, and it is having the endurance to complete the session that really counts. This is why it is important that I’m consistent with my training, why I need to take a no excuses, no quitting approach. I need to constantly be pushing myself that little bit further all the time.
Mental endurance is just as important. Mental endurance is training the mind not to quit; mental endurance is training the mind to cope with the demands of the physical training; mental endurance is training the mind to shut out the internal negative dialogue – ‘this is tougher than I thought, maybe quit and try again another day’, ‘the weather isn’t great, maybe call it a day’, ‘I can’t do this, it is too difficult’.
There are things I have no control over when I’m out running – weather conditions for example. One thing I have full control over is my mindset and how I’m using my mental endurance. Sometimes I just switch off totally when running, listening to music and moving along smoothly – ideal. Other times I’m having to dig a bit deeper and am constantly telling myself I’m not going to quit and how I can do this. The internal negative talk soon passes, and I find that if I start focusing on something else it passes even quicker.
Having that positive mindset is essential. I think about why I’m doing this every session and what it means, what achieving the end goal means to me? If I mentally crack on a run of 15-20k then what chance have I got of completing a run of 50k? If that happens then what doubts are going to set in for that overall goal? What doubts are going to be gnawing away on the next training session?
I read an interesting article recently that said when we do quit something difficult, we are usually only 40% done, and we’ve still got 60% left in us. It is our mind that has quit, not our ability. By enduring a bit more how close can we get to 100%? By shutting out that doubt what are we really capable of achieving?
Each time we push through that barrier of doubt our levels of endurance increase, next time you’ll go further, much further, as you know you can do it.
I love endurance training, I love the challenge of it. I love the fact that I need to push myself constantly. I love the physical and mental endurance aspect of it. As the mileage increases each week and the sessions are being ticked off I know I’m getting closer and closer to the finish line of the ultra, I know if I have the endurance to complete the training, then I have the endurance to complete the event.
I have set some milestone sessions for my training based on distances – 13.1 miles (half-marathon), 15 miles, 18 miles, 20 miles, 24 miles, and 26.2 miles (marathon). I know if I complete each of those in the next 17 weeks then it isn’t a case of if, but when I cross that finish line.
When I sat down towards the end of last year to take stock, and initiate a very critical approach to what I wanted my life to look like in 2021, it was apparent I needed to take ownership of those targets and goals I set for myself. These things were not just going to happen by magic. But what does taking ownership actually mean? For me, it means not just doing something, but being accountable for all of it and seeing it through to the very end, until it is complete. It means proper planning and preparation, it means careful consideration, it means learning from mistakes, being accountable for every stage of that target or goal. It also means being honest and realistic, especially if something isn’t going to plan or seems unsurmountable at the time (and if that is the case break it down into more achievable parts).
It also means making certain sacrifices. Sometimes that isn’t easy to do but for a bit of short-term ‘discomfort’ those longer term goals can be achieved. It is sometimes simpler to take the easiest route (part of our brain is actually wired to do that as part of our survival instinct). It was pretty simple to enter the 50k Ultra Trail Run I’m currently training for. Just pop onto the website, fill in my details, pay and enter it. Job done.
It isn’t job done though.
I knew that when I hit enter there was no turning back. I had committed to complete that event. I entered an ultra a few years ago, started training, got complacent, got injured, and didn’t take full ownership. It is something that has played on my mind a lot since, and I won’t be at peace with myself until I cross that finish line.
Now I have to take full ownership – those training runs won’t do themselves.
I sat down and made a plan.
How much training I needed to do. How many training sessions I needed to do each week? How long should my runs be and when? What does my recovery look like? What other training do I need to do – Strength? Speed? Core? Other? How do I mentally prepare for it? What kit am I going to need on the day? What kit do I need to do the training? What kit do I currently have? What is my nutrition plan for the race, and what does my diet currently look like? What pace do I need to be running at? Is that the pace for all my training?
By answering these simple questions I was able to formulate a basic plan, nothing more than that, just a basic plan of where I was and what I needed to put into place.
Job done? No way.
I needed to take full ownership of this now.
I decided that I needed to do my runs in the morning (so it was done and out of the way, I tick that session off and don’t need to worry about it the rest of the day) – it means getting out of bed before 6am and getting out there training no matter what the weather is doing.
In order to finish the ultra I need consistent training, not when I feel like it, but when it needs to be done, not missing a session because I feel tired, but when it needs to be done. It felt a bit of a slog to begin with but has now become part and parcel of my routine. A little short-term ‘discomfort’ to achieve a longer-term goal. I need to make certain sacrifices in order to achieve that goal, and I’m happy to do that. I’ve taken the same approach with each of the targets and goals I’ve set myself for the year and taken full ownership of each of them as well. Many of them require me to have short-term ‘discomfort’ to achieve them, that is not a problem because I’ve decided that quitting is no longer an option any more.
I’ve been pretty hard on myself when evaluating what I want to do and how I get there. What do I need to change (then change it), what adds value (then add it), what adds zero value (then get rid of it). I’ve started to fine-tune a lot more, and already I am starting to see some good results of doing so.
I need to be really mindful that complacency doesn’t set in as that can lead to laziness creeping in gradually, eventually that becomes a downwards spiral, training sessions are missed and the goal becomes unrealistic and unsurmountable, and I’m back to square one again – short-term ‘discomfort’ leads to longer term gains, so quitting is not an option.
Each and every day I think about what it would mean to cross the finish line of the ultra (and also achieving the other goals I’ve set myself). Each and every day I ask whether I am taking full ownership of my goals and targets.
One of the areas I learned to focus on quite a few years ago when training for endurance events was visualisation. I would sit down quietly in the corner of the room, close my eyes and focus on a part of my training or a race that would be competing in soon. I would focus and visualise on how I feel, my technique, feeling strong, my power output, and my pace. It was something I felt really worked and allowed me to concentrate on the mental aspect rather than the physical aspect of training. It also gave me that sense of belief.
I’m currently training for a 50 km ultra trail run and a vision keeps on appearing in my mind – I am running smoothly along the trail, my pace is good as I leave a forested section of the trail, it is warm, it is sunny, and I can see the next 5-6 miles of trail ahead of me. I’m feeling strong and motivated and know if I complete this section of trail I will be much closer to the finish line, all I need to do is keep moving forwards. I am aware of the surroundings of my environment even though I am solely focused on reaching the finish line.
I was out for a run on Saturday morning. I didn’t have a mileage in mind apart from the need to do my longest run of the year so far. I set out, and it was pretty blustery in places, then a change in direction and a solid headwind. It is tough and although the pace had dropped the effort had increased to push forwards. I’m fully focused and the visualisation comes into my mind and running along that trail towards the finish line. The next couple of miles seem to flash by. By the time I get back, I’ve run just over 11 miles (my longest run this year) and I feel like I could have run much further than I had.
I reflected on that run a bit later in the day. I seemed to zone out for a large part of the run – I was focused on moving forward, running at a steady pace, was focused on my breathing. How fast and how long I had run wasn’t an issue and not something I’d thought about during the run. That sense of belief came flooding through – no longer was it a case of getting to the start line of the 50k ultra, it had now shifted to how I would feel crossing that finish line of the 50k ultra.
When we set ourselves goals or targets that sense of self-belief is important. Visualisation plays a huge part in that. Do you see yourself in that mental picture of what you are setting out to achieve? What does the journey look like? How do you feel when making that journey? Do you rehearse any of the journey? What are some of the pitfalls or obstacles and how you might overcome them? If we can visualise ourselves achieving something, we are more likely to achieve it in reality. It positively reinforces our sense of self-belief.
For me personally visualisation is key. It builds the self-belief, it creates that confidence, it feeds the self-motivation, and builds the resilience required. I know that when the going gets tough I have the mental strength available to keep going. I keep going because I have that inner belief. I keep going because I tell myself over and over that quitting is not an option available.
I know the nature of endurance events throws up many challenges and some of those are way out of my control. I know that the preparation I do is more than the physical training – the miles run – it is the mental training as well, being prepared mentally, being able to be fully focused, being able to deal with set-backs, being able to tough it out, being able to shut out those negative thoughts, and having that unbreakable sense of motivation to get to the finish line. Like the physical aspect of training it requires constant work, constant practice, and constant fine-tuning until it becomes a behaviour and mind-set.
The universe is a vast and a very hostile, uncaring environment, which lacks compassion. We are mere specks of dust, atoms in this vast universe that has been evolving and expanding for billions of years, residing on a dying planet in a dying backyard solar system. Eventually that big ball of fire we look at in the sky which generates life on our planet will die and so will our planet – we have absolutely no influence or control over that fact. I’m guessing the good news is this isn’t due to happen for a few billion years yet, which is cool by me as it won’t mess my plans up for the foreseeable future, so it’s not all doom and gloom and I have a bit of time on my side.
Life is pretty uncaring at times as well and can lack compassion. Unlike the future of the universe though we have a certain amount of control, influence, and autonomy when it comes to life, certainly in the context of how we choose to live it. We can make rational choices and decisions on many aspects of our lives.
At the end of last year I took stock of my life in its current context and decided what I wanted it to look like on my terms – I was pretty brutal in my assessment which is no surprise, as I’m my own harshest critic. So, what could I influence, what was I in control of, what was I happy about, what wasn’t I happy about and what did I need to do, what changes did I need and, most importantly, want to make.
Change, now there is a funny word or concept. Many see change as being linked with negativity – when I think of it in a career context I see changes within the organisation where I work (that ever evolving ‘universe’ of employment where I have very little influence or control over organisational change) linked to the trimming down of human resource. I’ve been through multiple ‘change programmes’ in work (with my current employer and some in the past) and feared losing my job each and every time. The reality is, I’ve managed to move up the hierarchy each time with a better job and a pay-rise to boot. Not bad considering the negative connotation I usually associate with that type of change. I also had a choice – quit and find another role somewhere else or tough it out and see what happens.
People can tell you to change, and it is very rare that those changes take place depending on the context, it triggers a response from our “ego state” depending on how we take that ‘request’ to change and that response is not always positive.
In order for change, in a personal context, to take place you need it to want to happen. It should be on your terms and no one else’s. Those choices and decisions that we make for ourselves are the most empowering ones, if others have taken that control we feel, as adults, we have lost our sense of autonomy.
I’m always suspicious of people who try to change others – what is their ulterior motive? If they need to change a person, why are they bothering with them in the first place if it bugs them that much? Just a personal opinion though.
Making change happen isn’t easy at times. We have evolved into a species that now requires or demands instant results, instant gratification, and instant answers. We are now a species who when this doesn’t happen, think that there is something fundamentally wrong in the universe (and does the universe actually care?).
Real change takes time, it requires patience, it requires practice and application all the time, it requires proper planning and accepting there will be mistakes made, things not going to plan, and that constant threat of failure at any stage that could lead to going back to the drawing board and starting again. Failure is good, we learn from it. Quitting because you’ve failed isn’t so good (this is why many never go to the gym past January, after taking out an annual membership only weeks before – the motivation isn’t there because the results haven’t been instant!).
All the goals and targets I set myself to achieve this year will not be achieved instantly, and I’m happy about that, because these are things I need to work on every day – be it fitness, diet, educating myself, mindfulness, or things to improve the environment I function in. Every day, I ask myself what difference those changes are making, everyday I know that if I remain focused and can answer that question I will achieve those changes, targets and goals way, way, way before that big ball of raging fire in the sky burns out and dies. I also know that as long as I’m working towards them, I will never quit.
That is the first month of the year done and dusted. I’ve made a good start to the year and am reasonably pleased with what I have achieved in January.
At the start of the year I gave myself 10 targets to achieve to by the end of the year. Added to this are weekly and monthly targets to achieve. I feel I need to do this to keep my focus and stay on track with those 10 targets I have that are to improve mind, body and soul. Every day, I’m doing something that is working towards that improvement in mind, body and soul.
I’m very mindful that a year ago I did dry January with an emphasis on improvement in many areas of my life. The following month or so the plan fell apart somewhat prior to the unforeseen lockdown – a year later, and I’m much wiser, much more driven, feeling mentally stronger and much more determined not to just achieve those 10 targets but to utterly obliterate them. I’ve not made those targets easy either, that would be lazy and a bit of a cop out. These are targets that push me every day and every week.
So reflecting on January. I’ve made a good start, but I know I can do better, much better.
In work, I’m striving for continuous improvement every day, I’m being a lot more subjective and critical about my input – what difference will it make, what impact will it have it and what I need to do to make it better. Forget that it looks good, what I want is that it looks exceptional.
I’ve made a good start to working towards the qualification I’m currently studying for. My end of year appraisal was much better than I anticipated, as someone who doesn’t feel comfortable being complimented on what I have done well it did feel a bit cringy at times, but the feedback was good (especially from a 360 review from colleagues). I’ve identified a few areas I need to work on to improve.
A few things happened in January that would usually have left me feeling a bit down, moody, negative and flat, but I didn’t let those things do it – I either worked through what the actual issue was and come to a workable solution, or I put them into perspective within the bigger picture.
I can spend days without talking to anyone due to the lockdown. The solitude isn’t bothering me at all. I’m keeping myself focused and occupied. I’m reading a lot, in January I finished reading 7 books. I’m more mindful of my moods, more mindful of how positive 'me' achieves much, much more than negative 'me,' every day I’m working on this. Every day, I look at my targets and visualise how I will feel when each of these is achieved, I tell myself why I’m doing it and the long term benefits of why, how it factors into being a better version of myself. Every day when I look at those targets I tell myself I am accountable, and it is down to me and no one else to put the effort in.
Training is going well. I’ve scheduled in 26 training sessions in January and completed them all. I know that I need that consistency and commitment if I’m going to achieve two of my goals this year – not being in the mood to train or rubbish weather is not an excuse for not training. No excuses and completing the sessions no matter how tough they are, ‘harder than you think, it’s a beautiful thing’ as Public Enemy said. My runs are now done early in the morning so that I know they are done, and it isn’t hanging over me for the rest of the day. On Saturday morning I completed the recent virtual challenge I had signed up for, pleased with that, but it is just a small stepping stone in the larger plan.
My diet is improving each week, and I’m looking at what I’m eating and how it can improve my physical and mental health.
January has been a good start, I put down a marker and nothing else, I need to continue to build on this. Build, complete, reflect, plan, build, reflect, develop, improve, push, deliver continuously.
I consider myself as a person with limited talents and resources, but I’m starting to work on how I use these more and more to my advantage to realise my full potential. January set the momentum, nothing else, the momentum needs to be constant and continuous.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.