Putting one foot in front of the other
How I’m planning to conquer 2016
I’ve never been a particularly sporty person. I have low vision, so doing any kind of competitive sport isn’t particularly practical or enjoyable. I’ve always done a fair amount of outdoor activity though, which comes from spending quite a bit of my life in such a beautiful, open and mountainous part of the UK. I head out fellwalking or kayaking every once in a while, and because I don’t drive, I do a lot of walking almost every day. But my exercise was never regular, nor was there any discipline to it.
In 2014, I took up running and found my sporting niche. I could do it alone, or with friends, but most importantly, I could do it on my own terms: picking routes which suited my low vision, or retreating to the treadmill in the gym if the weather was dark or moody. I’d taken part in my first half marathon by the end of the year, and by Spring 2015 had run my first full marathon, putting in a fairly respectable time, and raising a big wodge of cash for RNIB.
I’ve learned some important lessons from my new-found passion for running, some of which I’ve been able to apply to other areas of my personal and work life.
On a practical level, it contributes to a healthier lifestyle in all sorts of ways. The endorphines it creates help me to feel better emotionally, and it makes me keep a check on other aspects of my lifestyle, like what I eat or drink. Because I’m fitter and healthier, I find I have more energy, and I get better quality sleep than I’ve ever had before.
More importantly though, it’s taught me a degree of personal discipline which I feel like I couldn’t have learned any other way.
Training for a long distance run involves many hours and many miles of running in the months leading up to the big day. At the peak of my marathon training, I was running a total of about forty miles per week. Not only did that put a lot of physical strain on my body (and I wince even now when I think about the month I had to take out to recover from an injury), it also tested my mental strength. I had to train my mind, as much as my body, to be disciplined and resilient, to keep pushing even if I wasn’t in the mood, or if my body was struggling, or if the weather was being particularly cruel (and boy, can it be cruel here in the Lakes).
What I soon came to learn, as the distances started to ratchet up, was that it was no good to think about those long runs in their entirety — the distances would, on the face of it, appear too daunting. So, what I had to learn to do, was break them down into smaller chunks in my head, and try to focus primilarily on the here and now; pick a short target, aim for that, and when I’d reached it, find my next target; just keep chipping away, only ocassionally stopping to think about where I was heading next, and trying to focus on how much I’d achieved already; how far I’d come. There was rarely anybody else out there with me on those dark, cold, early morning runs — so I had to find the motivation from within myself.
It took some time to find the right mental space, but one day it just clicked and my whole perception of what I was doing had changed in an instant. I’d finally developed a mental strategy, to go with my physical strength, which fuelled me with a new found confidence: that this monumental challenge was now possible and that I might really be able to do it. Some days — the tough days — I’d ask myself, quite rightly: why the hell am I doing this? But that soon passes as you clock up yet another milestone distance, and take a look at on your training calendar to see just how far you’ve come in such s ahort space of time.
That mental strength powered me round London on the big day. I was deliriously ecstatic for most of the four hours out on the London streets, using what I’d taught myself: just keep putting one foot in front of the other; don’t think too much about the size of the challenge; just keep picking off the miles. What I’d originally imagined would be a long, gruelling and soul-searching experience, turned out to be one of the happiest and most enjoyable days of my life.
I now try to apply this mental strength in my daily working life. At Alertacall, where I hold the role of CTO, we pride ourselves on being innovators, and we explore new technolgy and new business paradigms on a near-daily basis. One of the ways that we frame our rapid growth, is as a journey we’re all going on together. We have a pretty clear idea of our intent and where our next destination lies, but we can often be a little less clear about what lies ahead on our route to get there.
One analogy we use is that we’re all climbing to the summit of a large mountain. While we’re stood at the foot of the mountain, we can see the summit clearly, and it can appear, from a distance like a huge, unsurmountable challenge. To some, it can feel daunting and unreachable.
But those of us who are leading our teams up that mountain have done similar climbs in the past, so we know that what lies ahead is entirely possible, even though we might not be clear on the route we’re going to take — after all: we’re innovators, and we’re treading paths less well travelled. There are times we’ll need to pause and make sure we’re on the right track; other times our route might be blocked entirely, and we’ll need to find an alternative path. We’ll keep looking at the map, picking out our next target; keep picking away at the mountain, little by little; never dwelling too much on the bigger challange. We’ll often take a look up at the summit, to make sure we’re still on the right bearing, and to remind ourselves of the epic challenge we’re a part of, and to remind ourselves of just how far we’ve already travelled.
And eventually, before we know it we’ll all be stood on the summit, looking around to find which mountain, which challenge we’ll be conquering next.
The exhiliration and euphoria I felt when I’d crossed the finish line of my marathon, is almost indescribable. It was a mix of joy and self-worth beyond anything I’d ever experienced. That was partly down to the amount of adrenaline and endorphines coursing through my body, but a big part of it was the sense that I’d executed a plan which had worked. I’d been disciplined in my training, and I’d taken the time to prepare myself for the challenge as much mentally as I had done physically. I felt really, really proud.
My goal throughout 2016 is to seek out opportunities in my professional work which will give me that same sense of being proud and ecstatic. That will mean taking on larger, more audacious challenges, and finding the right personal discipline and skills of endurance to conquer them.
Over the past three or four months, I’ve been researching and experimenting with a number of different techniques and lifestyle improvements, so that I’m tooled up and ready to scale new heights in my work. At times, in 2015, my perception was that I was at capacity; that I didn’t have enough hours in the day. So I’ve had to start finding optimisations and efficiencies which will help me to be more productive. I’ve been applying all sorts of life hacks, from practical things like adjusting my sleep pattern and controlling my caffeine intake, through to more philosophical changes like daily meditation and moving to a way of working which funnels whichever type of energy I have in most abundance at any particular time of day. There are also other. more difficult areas of personal development I’ve been embarking upon, focused on being more honest with friends and colleagues, and most dauntingly of all: being more honest with myself.
Running long distances is all about training your body and mind, until you reach a peak level of fitness and endurance. It takes practice and perseverance. Over time, you build up the strength and confidence to reach seemingly impossible goals.
I’m setting some ambitious goals for myself this year. I don’t know what they might be right now, but whatever they are, I know that I have my strategy: just keep putting one foot in front of the other, be disciplined and persevere, and before I know it, I’ll be looking back at just how far I’ve travelled.
I’ll be sharing more, in future posts, about the tools and life hacks I’m using to improve my productivity . If you enjoyed this article, then please hit the little heart to recommend it to others, and be sure to follow me @philpowell to get future does of my writing.