It’s early morning, dark, cold, windy, really windy actually, and it is raining. The rain feels freezing cold as it blows into my face. I carry on running as the wind does it best to push me backwards. It feels as if I’m getting nowhere, it feels like every stride I take is getting me no further forwards, at times it feels like I could remain static and just be running on the spot. I don’t stop but push forwards and push onwards. The wind isn’t easing, and the rain feels colder and colder the further I go. The landmarks I pass take longer to get to, I’m slower than I am usually on this route – a few thoughts pop into my head like ‘this average pace is going to be way slower than usual’, ‘my time looks awful at the moment, I’m going to have to pick up it massively on the way back’ – I don’t stop and push onwards.
Pushing forwards and onwards. I refuse to quit; I refuse to allow the weather to get the better of me. I keep my focus solely onto getting to the midway point and the benefits of a tailwind may have on the way back, hoping there is a tailwind. I refuse to quit and refuse to let my thoughts focus on turning back earlier than planned. Every time it seems tough I tell myself I will not be defeated and how I will feel for the rest of the day if I do quit early, how I will see myself as being weak, see myself as a quitter. I carry on, I push onwards and gradually get nearer to the turnaround point.
The wind and rain continue as I reach the turnaround point and rather than turning to head back, I carry for another mile. I have this sudden urge to tough it out a bit more to prove to myself I can do it, and I am not a quitter. I love training sessions like that and love training in conditions like that – I feel alive.
When the alarm went off, and I heard the wind and rain outside the temptation may well have been ‘leave it today’ and go back to sleep or ‘I’ll train later the weather will be better’. No way, lets get out there, lets push. It isn’t just a battle with the elements and whatever they can throw at me but also a battle with myself – as much as I could make it easier and turn around I refuse to do so, I want to push myself that bit further. It is those sessions that really count I think, those when you need to dig deep and carry moving forwards no matter what is thrown at you, keep going no matter how difficult it feels, keep going and remain focused on getting through.
Those nagging self-doubts will creep in. Shut them out, push them away, keep the focus on what is in front of you and not on quitting. It is something I have done constantly over the years when training and racing, it is those training sessions that get me to the finish line, it is because of those training sessions I can tough it out when things have been tough in races and I feel like quitting.
Times are tough. There are going to be times when we want to quit, want to throw the towel in, and feeling like you are static and just running on the spot. There is a turnaround up ahead and things will get easier when we get there but for the moment being focused, being able to shut out all the negative thoughts, being able to silence the nagging doubts, overcoming the temptation to crumble and quit is what counts and is a small step to getting to that finish line. Each time you overcome each of those see it as a victory.
Celebrate the small victories each and every day, focus on those small victories, those moments of not quitting. Build an internal mantra on how to silence those nagging doubts and every time that happens see it as a victory. Take those negative thoughts and think what I can do rather than not what I can’t do, every time you do that it is another small victory. Once those small victories start adding up you realise you are able to achieve more than you originally thought possible, it is a change of mindset and rather than focusing on the negatives you start looking at the challenge and how it won’t defeat you, and you won’t quit even though you know it will be tough at times. Keeping thinking small victories and push towards them.
It is a sunny July afternoon in 2004, and I’m sitting at a pre-race briefing for an ironman-distance triathlon I’m racing the following day. I’ve spent months training for this, but I’m having nagging doubts about my ability, I’m asking myself if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’m looking at the other competitors at the briefing, and I am thinking you look a lot fitter than I do.
It is a June evening in 2007, I’m in Belgium two days before the European Long-Distance Triathlon Championships as part of the GB age-group team and I am sitting in the restaurant of the hotel. On the next table are some of the GB elite team. I start to have similar doubts again around being good enough, my ability, and being good enough to be in the team, even though the race results from the previous 18 months are screaming YES, MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH. I want to go back to my hotel room, pack my bag and head back to the airport.
It is a March morning in 2019, and I’m sitting in a meeting with the new team I’ve joined in work. I recognise quite a few faces, talented people within the team. I’d worked hard to get the opportunity to join this team and had really impressed at the interview. I feel out of my depth, and I am asking myself whether I should have gained more experience before joining and whether I will struggle with the standards and output required within the team.
It is an October evening in 2020, and I’m speaking to a friend about running and the Great South Run. They ask how many marathons I’ve run, then how many long-distance triathlons I’ve completed. I try and shake the answers off by saying it wasn’t really a big deal, they tell me it is, and they don’t know many people, who’ve done that, and it is an amazing achievement. Again, I dismiss this making out it was no big deal.
It is a January evening in 2021, and I’m watching a documentary and the person being interviewed said they had always felt that they had imposter syndrome. What they are saying rings a bell with me in many ways.
What is imposter syndrome?
According to the definitions I’ve explored, it is an internal dialogue that you are not as good as others see or perceive you to be. It can see success or accomplishment as something that was achieved through pure chance or luck, rather than talent or ability. It is linked with self-doubt and being inadequate.
Yeah, I can relate to most of those definitions I’ve found and relate to them in some way or other, to the way I’ve felt in many situations over the years.
I went and did a few online tests and the scores were pretty high (75-85% in favour of having imposter syndrome).
When doing some of the tests, some of the questions really resonated with me. I find it hard to take compliments and usually try and deflect it, the same with praise when I’ve done something worthy, again deflect it. Things I’ve achieved, the same thing, deflection and not seeing it as a big deal.
I’d like to think I’m a fairly driven individual – even with high levels of self-doubt. When I set myself goals or targets I achieve them. I don’t undertake these goals or targets with a complacent attitude and make sure I have done everything, so I am able to give it my best shot. I’m also aware of my limitations as well.
I sometimes reflect on what I could have done better and focus on this rather than on what I have achieved. I rarely stop to reflect on what I have achieved and tend to move onto the next goal, the next opportunity to push myself, the opportunity to prove to myself I have that that constant drive. I’m not one to brag about my achievements. I set myself goals or targets to see how far I can push myself and at times it becomes an internal battle to quell the self-doubt.
On Monday I start another 14 months of study alongside my ‘day job’ – again those thoughts of ability and capability are there. Deep down though I know that I will eclipse this goal because I’ve done it countless times in the past, when the doubts have been there.
Who told you that you need to feel the way you are feeling? Is there an expectation that you need to be the strong one all the time, that any chinks in the armour will leave you appearing as being weak? What is the impact of not being the strong person all the time?
I’ve been doing some reading and research for my role in work around well-being, mental health, how things like PTSD, stress, anxiety, and depression affect people even when they need to be mentally strong (especially in their peer group which can then effect their status within that group), and the link to our own emotional intelligence.
It is perfectly OK and perfectly normal not to be OK sometimes. We are in a third lockdown, it is sucking the fun out of life for many. Plans go out of the window, circumstances change (or is some cases don’t, causing a sense of monotony), socialising isn’t happening, we are limited in the things we are allowed to do, some are suffering from ‘cabin fever’ by being stuck indoors all the time (which is made even worse by the winter conditions and a more transmissible variant of the virus), and it can sometimes be frustrating with a routine of wake, work, sleep, repeat.
We’ve been through lockdown before and the novelty factor has worn very, very thin for most. Sensibly the government and scientists haven’t put a timeframe on this one as they had with the initial one (12 weeks at maximum I believe) – though that in itself can be a double-edged sword – by not putting a time-frame on the lockdown they are not giving unrealistic expectations but on the flip side we have no indication when the lockdown will lift. That is going to affect people and moods can change daily and weekly due to it.
It is OK not to be OK sometimes. We can all feel low, especially in winter. This winter now has the added challenge of the lockdown. It is OK not to be strong all the time, every minute of the day, 24/7. The way that we manage both our moods and emotions is vital to our individual well-being. Having that awareness of how we are feeling or how we might feel. Acknowledging that we are not always going to be our normal, fully energised, super-selves and there are going to be times when our energy levels and moods are low. If we feel guilty about not feeling our best, our moods and emotions are only going to remain negative and lead us into a downwards spiral and that may be difficult to get ourselves out of in the longer term.
Having an awareness of what is triggering these moods or emotions is important – it could be focusing on the things that we are not able to do, it could be constant news coverage on the pandemic, or it could be the monotony of the lockdown restrictions – wake, work, sleep, repeat. Ask yourself how many of these you can control or influence – not many is probably the answer. Focus on what you can control, what you are able to influence, and what matters – control the controllable. Acknowledge that you are not always going to be at your best and accept that, don’t be too hard on yourself, and be kind to yourself.
Do things that are going to make you happy. Do things that are going to have a positive effect on your emotions. Keep a mood tracker – record your mood at lunchtime and at night, are there patterns emerging? What can you do to change those patterns if you are not happy with them?
What can you do to be kind to yourself?
We are 11 days into the new year as I write this. Not a great deal has changed and, in some aspects, not a great deal to get excited about either.
This is the third lockdown we have been placed under and each time we are reassured that this will only last a short amount of time and/or once this is over things will get back to some form of normality. We are reassured that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and then it seems we are taking even more steps backwards. There is so much finger-pointing and blame taking place at the moment – who has done things wrong, how some are finding things tougher than others, how some just don’t understand what it is like to be experiencing certain conditions. These are tough times for all no matter what the personal circumstances are. I don’t think anyone thought we would still be experiencing a lockdown at the moment, but we are.
Being placed into another lockdown is tough, and I think there is a certain amount of lockdown fatigue that people are experiencing. Being placed into a lockdown during winter is tough – it is colder, it gets darker earlier in the day, our energy levels might not be as high, our motivation lacks, and do we really want to venture outdoors for a walk when it feels pretty arctic outside? Do we really want to venture out with a new strain of the virus which we are told is more transmissible than the original variant?
As a species we are social animals – as we have evolved over thousands and thousands of years we have done so in groups and communities not as individuals – and this can have an effect on how we are feeling due to the isolation and the solitude.
We need to be kind to each other, but before we can do that we need to be kind to ourselves.
Taking time for our own well-being over others is important, it is not being selfish, it is about making sure we are resilient. Being hard on ourselves can be an easy thing to do – after all we are pretty powerless in the decision-making, regarding the lockdown and how long it lasts. Being hard on ourselves can be a reaction to the frustrations of the current situation, being hard on others can also be a reaction to the frustrations of the current situation. At times, it may not be intentional and just a reaction due to a series of things escalating.
We can be kinder on ourselves and kinder to others. Being kinder on ourselves by not putting so much pressure on ourselves. We may want to change things and this is probably easier done (especially in the current circumstances) by taking smaller steps rather than much larger ones. It may seem that the prospect of that change is daunting and somewhat unachievable or insurmountable – by breaking it down into much smaller chunks that are easier to work towards and achieve is more likely to lead to longer-term achievement or success.
11 days into the new year, and I’m just looking at the small wins I can make. I’m just looking at how resilient I can be from one day to the next. I’m just focusing on what I can achieve in the next week (and how it contributes to much longer-term goals and targets). I’m just focusing on being the best I can be each day and each week, is that helping me to become a better version of me. Every day I’m achieving that, I feel I’m doing well.
As we leave 2020 behind I think a lot of people will be glad to see the back of it. Personally I will view 2020 with bitter-sweet memories. It started off well, got better even with the pandemic and then descended into disaster. I know some of the reasons why and others not and will probably never know.
So onto 2021....
My aim is to become a better person and a much better version of myself. I’m not perfect and will never claim to be so. I have many faults and realise this. The aim is to work on the faults I’ve identified.
There is a lot I want to achieve in 2021, and I will achieve all those things I’ve listed. I sat down a couple of nights ago and made a list of 10 things that were important to me, that will help to improve me both personally and professionally.
A couple of months ago I entered the Serpent Trail 50k run – the training is going well. The training is consistent, and I am as focused as I have been in years. I won’t be taking my eye off the ball with this one for certain. I feel I put a decent base down in 2020, I completed the virtual challenge I entered (and have now entered another with a few others planned to keep the motivation and drive going).
I’ll also be returning to study as well for another professional qualification. I gave it some thought mid-2020 but didn’t feel it was the right thing to do at the time, didn’t feel that it was the right time professionally to take this on. Things are different now, and I feel prepared to undertake this. The people in work I’ve spoken to have highlighted that I have an amazing work ethic and a very positive attitude – nice to hear that sometimes though I don’t always see it myself. I’m guessing that is the difference between how we appear and the internal dialogue we have with ourselves.
Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of reading and have rediscovered my love of literature – I’ve earmarked some books I really need to read in over the next few months, some have been sat on the bookshelf for a while and others I need to purchase.
Over the last few months I’ve had to really make sure I’m looking after my mental health. Like many I’m still working from home, I live on my own, and like many I feel isolated a lot of the time. Sometimes I really enjoy the solitude. Other times not so much – it is these times when I need to be very mindful and not be too hard on myself – this is something I really need to address in 2021. I am my harshest critic, always have been, always will be. However, I do need to give myself a pat on the back a bit more, be more realistic about the things I have achieved rather than focusing on what I could have done better when I’ve achieved something (I think as long as I’ve put my best effort and best version of myself into it then that should be celebrated). Yes, there is always room for improvement, but it is how we evaluate that. Again it is the internal dialogue. How many times do I tell myself something I’ve done is not good enough?
I sometimes think a lot about the impact I make and the impact I can make. One person is not going to the change the world – that is totally unrealistic. I do believe that small actions can make a difference and small actions can provide a positive influence on others to change to make a difference as well. If enough people do this, then maybe the world can change to become a better place. I’ve already started taking those small actions and hope in 2021 to influence others to do the same. Changes take time and are sometimes not instant.
No year is ever going to be perfect, that is impossible, and we are all going to have regrets on things that have happened, been said, not done, not said, or even missed opportunities. As I reflect on this I realise this more than most. I think 2020 has taught me a lot both about myself, how I view the world, and how I view other people. 2020 has highlighted many things to me on many levels. I’m certain that in 12 months time I will view the year based on what I have achieved and how much impact I have made personally, professionally and the impact that this has had. Like 2020 there will be things I would like to be different, some of those things may be out of my influence or control and I need to accept that and focus on those things where I became a better version of myself – not perfect just a better version.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.