Overcoming challenges

Through association with Andy Kirkpatrick, the Sheffield-based world-renowned nutter (sorry, climber), about whom I’ve also blogged in the past, I recently came into contact with his former partner Karen Darke, who in her own words is “a 2012 Paralympic Silver Medallist, Paratriathlon World Champion & Ground Breaking Adventurer”. If you know anything about Karen, you’ll know that she has much to say on the subject of living life to the full and pushing the boundaries of physicality and adventure. A lady after my own heart. So when I heard about her Kickstarter project Impossible, I was immediately interested. The project is to make “a short & inspirational film about the psychology & motivation that enables people to overcome things that seem impossible in life”. As part of this, she’s taking part today in an Ironman, joining Jose Manuel Lopez in his attempt to break the world record for the number of Ironman challenges completed in one year, along with various other disabled athletes in Mallorca. I’m still waiting to hear how she got on, but my recent email exchanges with her about overcoming challenges as part of the film project have got me thinking.

So here are some of my top tips for overcoming challenges (of any sort):

1. Take inspiration from someone in a worse off situation. Considering someone (like Karen) who’s achieved something incredible always makes me feel that whatever I’m doing is nothing in comparison. When I first considered doing a bungy jump in New Zealand (aged 18), the overriding thought that compelled me to do it was the fact that there had been 70year olds bungy jumping. If they could do it, what on earth was stopping a whippersnapper like me?

2. See it as a challenge not an obstacle. Obstacles are a very negative way of looking at life, as they’re inherently pessimistic. A challenge, on the other hand, just requires me to come up with some creative thinking and an alternative solution to a problem. That’s inherently an optimistic approach. Also, creative thinking about a solution stops me getting upset about the existing problem, as it keeps my brain busy and gets me stimulated.
3. Break it down into mini-challenges. This is age-old advice, but it’s none the less equally valid when worrying about how to go mountain biking when you’re blind, as for how to run your first marathon. By coming up with a plan for every stage of the process (from how to get to the venue, to how to explain your needs to others, to how to not fall off) and by imagining the worst case scenario and how you would deal with it (good travel insurance covers most of the worst case scenarios!) it suddenly seems much more manageable. 
4. What would you like to see in your obituary? I’m sure it’s not just me who wonders what will end up in my obituary when I die. It seems odd to worry about what people will think of you when you’re dead, but I do. When I leave this world, I want to be remembered for living life out of my comfort zone, for pushing the boundaries of what most people would think is possible, for not taking the easy option in life. I don’t think my life could be fulfilling unless I managed those things. And you’re never going to get out of your comfort zone if you don’t tackle a few challenges in life.
5. It’s fine to set limits. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean having no respect for your own life or safety, however. It’s equally important to have some sense of where the edge of the danger zone lies. There are some things I’m never going to do in my life, not just because I’m a bit of a wimp, but also because I don’t particularly want to do something where the risk of dying is high. And even in the more mundane world of work, there’s a certain point on the promotion scale I’m not bothered about ever achieving, because I don’t like the idea of the kind of work I’d have to do to achieve it, and I don’t care enough about the money or prestige to want it. 
6. Know when to ask for help. Sometimes in order to overcome a challenge or achieve a goal, you need a bit of help. This is a horribly tricky one. How much help can you receive while still claiming that you achieved the goal? if you climb a mountain, do you have to start right at the very bottom for it to count? If not, how high a start point is still OK? If you have to do something differently from other people, is your effort still as valid? If your challenge is to get yourself from A to B, and you have to ask someone directions on the way, does it count? It all depends, and every challenge is different. But if you need the help for your own safety, to achieve the goal, or just for your own sanity, then that’s the time to ask for it. And asking for help is often the biggest challenge of all.
7. Resetting your boundaries. Sometimes you’ll fail. Because you didn’t plan it right, because you didn’t execute it right, because the weather was wrong, because someone let you down, or just because you set your sights too high. Maybe you’ll come back and try again, maybe you’ll decide it’s not worth it, maybe you’ll decide that you achieved enough that you don’t need to try again.
8. Inspiring others. This brings me back full circle to the first point. Never forget that just as you take inspiration from others who overcome challenges, your efforts are important to others as inspiration too.  You can also use your own previous challenges to inspire yourself. When I was feeling a bit inadequate recently, a friend reminded me of all the things I’d achieved that had inspired other people. Similarly, I love giving motivational talks, not because I like to tell people how great I am, but because I love more than anything hearing how something I’ve done has inspired someone else. That’s perhaps the biggest motivator of all for me on some of my adventures: to show those who are scared of moving out of their comfort zone that if I can do it, they can too. 
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