How a 2X World First Record Holder Sets Effective Goals: Interview With Ash Dykes

“I wasn’t motivated, but I stayed disciplined and that’s the difference.”

With exam season well underway, many students will be feeling the pressure to work harder, with the common goal of getting a degree under their belt. And with graduation looming, getting ready to enter the working world can look like an intimidating prospect, especially if you’re not sure where to begin your career.

It’s not just students that might struggle working towards a goal. Let’s face it: If you’ve got a big idea, simply trying to figure out where to start can be tricky.

So rather than try and motivate yourself to keep working, take a page out of Extreme Athlete Ash Dyke’s book, who at 23 became a world first record holder.

When it comes to putting in the work, Ash is up there with the best. When I saw him speak at TEDxCardiff, his drive spoke for itself. He’s a two time world first record holder, being the first person to make it solo across Mongolia, the third most sparsely populated country on the planet, at just 23. In 2016, Ash set another extraordinary world first, becoming the first person to traverse Madagascar’s length, taking on 8 of the highest mountains on his journey.

Safe to say, Ash knows a thing or two when it comes to accomplishing your goals.

I spoke to Ash about his close encounters with death, mental toughness, and how breaking down even the most daunting of goals can leave you with a clear path.

Ben: Before setting off on your adventures, you always ensure the logistics have been well thought through. What overlap is there between how you break down your extreme adventure’s goals, and how young people can set goals in their urban jungles?

Ash: My life is full of lists, I concentrate on prioritising what I should do first, second, third and so on, creating a mind map with everything on there that will help me to achieve the main goal. If I didn’t do this, I would become lost on what I should tackle first, forgetting important things and letting minor things slip off track.

I find I don’t only plan this way for expeditions, but I use this method when I arrive home and want to tackle the year ahead as best as I can before heading off for another adventure. Looking at the main goal is important, but can also seem daunting, so that’s why I urge anyone wanting to achieve something big or small, to just break the main goal down to smaller goals, ticking off each section as you go, until you finally tick off the last and achieve it.

Ben: You mentioned your close call with Malaria, and how the visualisation of finishing your mission kept you going. When your body is failing you, how do you channel your mental energy into physical strength?

Ash: Once I knew I had malaria, there was of course no other option than to make a recovery. Once you’ve had such a scare, it’s easy to be mentally scarred and allow it to get the better of you. I knew before I set off on the expedition, that the toughest challenges would also provide the opportunity for me to develop stronger; it’s down to how I react. You must go from glowing to shining, rise up and push forwards. I used previous experiences to help me with this, but I also used visualisation. I concentrated on the positives and knew that as soon as I set off again — things will fall into place and I’ll regain my motivation.

However — in the Gobi Desert, days away from my next water source and shelter at 40+ DC, I knew that if I didn’t push on — I’d die! This is when not only visualisation was important, being able to picture me arriving at the water source, but also breaking my goals down. I channelled my mental strength into physical strength by breaking down my goal, covering a distance of 100m before resting under my trailer for five minutes. I wasn’t motivated, but I stayed disciplined and that’s the difference. As painful as it was, I was getting closer and closer to the next water source and that’s all that mattered. I couldn’t have done it without sectioning it out.

Ash at TEDxCardiff, and the bike mentioned below!

Ben: You spoke about ‘dream stealers’ doubting you, such as the locals in Vietnam that weren’t exactly optimistic you’d cycle the length of their country without a bike pump, not to mention the condition of bike itself! How could you use dream stealers to motivate you on your journey?

Ash: I would always listen to the “dream stealers”, sometimes they weren’t looking to be negative, it’s just something they could never imagine doing for themselves, which is fine. I would look into why they were telling me it couldn’t be done and try to figure out how I can overcome that particular challenge — so I’d always thank them for it, as they were effectively making me aware of each and every thing that could go wrong.

This would spur me on to plan harder, train harder and prepare for the worst, then when the time comes — I’d be ready and willing to overcome each challenge, proving that it is after all — possible.

Ben: If you were taking a complete novice on one of your extreme adventures, but only had 7 days to train them(!), how would you get them into the best possible mental condition to take on the challenges ahead?

Ash: I would tell them of all the dangers, the things that could go wrong, the different ways we could fail and/or die. I would scare them until they no longer wanted to join me and if they are still not put off by all this madness — then I know they’re serious and that they equally want it as much as myself, therefore won’t be a hazard to take along with me.

Ben: Looking back on your career so far, if you could give one piece of advice to yourself 7 years ago when you were you just getting going, what would it be and why?

Ash: That’s a good question; I’ve made mistakes and have had too many near-misses being just 26. But thinking about it, if it wasn’t for these mistakes, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today. I believe we need experience to develop, I learn from each as I progress and try never to make the same mistake twice.

But what I realise now that I didn’t back then, when I had all of my fears and worries for taking on my first big expedition and had to go back and give myself advice — I would say “ You’re a lot more capable than you realise”.

And that’s so true with all of us, the more we put ourselves in comfortable situations, the more comfortable we become, it’s a scary thing to face something that you’re unsure of, but we certainly are, as humans — more capable than we think.

So there you have it: advice on setting goals from a world first record holder. Now it’s your turn: what big goals would you like help in breaking down and achieving? Let me know in the comments below, I will always help where I can!

If you’d like to learn more about Ash’s truly incredible adventures, his book Mission Possible is out now.

Keep your eyes peeled on Ash’s Facebook and Instagram to find out what’s coming next!

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