Some bad news, some good news

After months of writing blog posts explaining what’s going on with my health and how it’s affecting my racing I’m hoping that this will be the last time I will update you! Not because I’m better but because I have a long term plan, and I’m hopeful that it’s all going to go according to my plan.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram will be aware that over the last few weeks I’ve been given the OK to begin some light training again. I can’t tell you how excellent being told that was. After over 4 months of being stuck at home in the evenings, unable to do the one thing that is more ingrained in my daily life than my work, getting the go ahead to start training again was superb. That’s not to say I’m better – the infection to my implant site which took me out of training in the first place cleared, but the pain to my implant site which kept me out is still very much there, whilst I await action from some new specialists to hopefully finally resolve this. However in the meantime they’ve been able to move me on to some medication that doesn’t interfere with the medication keeping my lungs from going crazy again and I’ve been given assurance that training won’t make anything worse, so here we go (after a bout of pneumonia threatened to be the next thing to get in my way)!

The last few weeks, initially starting on some fitness work, before starting to do some light sessions in the chair, have been an exercise in managing expectations. As I said to someone in the gym this morning, there are days when just being allowed to train again makes me think that suddenly I can do everything, yet there are also days where I realise just what a long road I have ahead (and more of the latter right now). 4 months is a hell of a long time to do nothing for, and the last few weeks have demonstrated just how much fitness I’ve lost, and how hard the next few months will be. They’ve reminded me that I’m not going to be back at full speed tomorrow, this will be a long and steady process – one which is vital if I want to save myself from the risk of injury and more time out. The good thing is that when it comes to my training I’ve never been shy of hard work. Getting up at 5am for training before work, hours of training in the evenings, they’ve all helped me to understand what is required to race, and have created an attitude of hard work, perseverance and never giving up. The next few months of training I will have to test that attitude to the core, but I will, because I love my sport so much.

Seeing the reality of what my fitness is like has led to some incredibly difficult decisions. Missing out on a huge ambition to do the Paris Marathon in April was horrible, as has been missing out on races like today and the opportunity to defend my Great Newham Run title. When every one of these decisions has been made I’ve been looking forward to the end of this year and hoping that two more of my big races would still happen. In early September I was due to race the Great North Run for the first time – a race I’ve wanted to do for years, and then in October I was due to race the Yorkshire Marathon, which would have meant I’d made it to all 5 races since it began. Unfortunately neither of these will now happen. The chances of me being fit enough to even complete these races is in itself questionable, but the chances of me being fit enough to race them and get a time I’d be happy with is 0. Those of you close to me will be aware that the last few months have taken a huge toll on me mentally, and the last few weeks that has only spiralled, in part with the reality of seeing where my fitness is at. At times my motivation has been at an all-time low. Even if I was fit, to race and do (what I would perceive to be) poorly, is likely to do more harm than good and that’s not a risk worth taking.

All this said, with me struggling mentally and for motivation I’ve felt it’s important to put something in the diary which will encourage me to put in the hard work to get my fitness up to scratch, and I’m pleased to confirm that, all being well, I’ll be racing a 10k in 2017. I’m working towards racing the Bury 10k on September 17th, and that will be my only race this year. It will be a chance for me to gauge where I’m at, and help to focus training for what I hope will be a full season in 2018.

I will, of course, be doing this race in my Viper 10 kit which proudly holds the Right To Play logo on the front, and I hope to be able to raise even more money for Right To Play during the next few months. I hope by now you all know loads about Right To Play, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I would love it if you’d consider donating to Right To Play today, as a form of sponsorship for this event. Not only will your money be going to an excellent cause I truly believe in, but it will encourage me as I work to get to fitness for this race, and work towards hopefully a more successful year in 2018. If you’d like to find out more and donate, please do so here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/chrisrighttoplay

Thanks as always for your support over the last few months,
Chris

Posted in Depression, General, mental health, Right To Play, Sports, Wellbeing | Leave a comment

A Letter to Me

So much has happened in the last 12 months, there are days where I just wish I could go back and give myself a bit of advice about what’s to come…

Hey 27 year old Chris,

Right now you think things are alright. You think that for the first time in as long as you can remember things are going right. Being able to talk about your depression publicly for the first time was a huge step and you felt like a huge weight was taken off you. The last few months you’ve had a few great holidays and weekends away. You don’t know it yet, but later this year you’ll sit at the finish of the Yorkshire Marathon after your best ever race and start to imagine how things might turn out.

The problem is, life doesn’t always work out the way you dreamed. You already know that by now. Your health issues, your disability, your dreams that have fallen by the wayside are all testament to that. And yet you keep dreaming. Because you’re only human.

The next year is going to be tougher than you ever imagined. The toughest you’ve experienced in 27 years on this earth. Your health is going to take another downwards spiral and all those dreams you had will be forgotten, whilst you spend months in pain (I can’t tell you if the pain improves…). A song will come along and tear your heart apart time and time again as it reminds you of what you’re missing with your twin. You’ll spend months blaming yourself for a situation you could have done nothing about. You’ll regret ever talking about your depression as you get crushed time and time again by the heartless comments from people who think you need to ‘get on with it’.

And yet, you’ll have some of the best races and opportunities you’ve ever had, including getting to retain your Great Run title in no less than the Olympic Stadium! You’ll conquer a huge fear in going abroad completely independently in your wheelchair (which is all the more impressive considering the circumstances in which it happens). You’ll create some new friends for life and have some incredible evenings sharing your love of music with them. And you wait till you seen the lineup for next year’s C2C – it’s going to be the best weekend of your life (just make sure you get that Bluebird Cafe ticket…)

So knowing all that, here’s my tips for getting through it all (and they’re tips I reckon we can all live by)…

You can’t hold yourself responsible for the decisions other people make. You can’t always make everything else better. For a while, you won’t get that. Day after day you’ll ask yourself ‘what if?’. You’ll blame yourself for other people’s difficulties. But you can’t know everything. You can’t fix everything. The sooner you can stop blaming yourself, the less painful it is. Everyone will tell you there’s nothing you could have done. You won’t believe them but they’re right.

Be willing to talk and share your feelings when your heart is breaking. The beauty of music is that it says things you simply can’t find the words to say. You’ll find it a great tool when blogging. Take the next step and use it to have difficult conversations, to explain how your heart is pulled apart. Otherwise it will eat away at you until it causes you more pain than you can imagine. You think you’re being strong. You think by the time you’re in your late 20’s these things shouldn’t upset you anymore, that even your family will think you’re crazy. They don’t. And once you’ve had a good cry you’ll feel a lot better for being able to share.

As people hurt you with comments that you know aren’t right you’ll become ever more insular and independent. After all, you can show everybody you’re doing fine, that you don’t need support. Time and again people will ask if you’re OK and you’ll just say yes. You’ll make sure your social networks paint a picture of someone who’s enjoying life and getting on with things. And yet by not talking to anyone you put yourself in a situation where you cause yourself to break down as soon as you roll through your own front door on a far too regular basis. You’ll make yourself feel far, far worse. Likelihood is that those people asking if you’re OK do actually care. They want to know, to support you. If you talk to them it might help. You might not find things so hard. Hey – you might not even have to write yourself this! Remember, you’re not invincible. However much you’d like to be.

In the midst of all the battles with your health you are going to go through some pretty tough patches. You’ll think it’s the end of the world. You’ll feel like things will never get better. I can’t tell you right now what the ‘everything is better’ feels like because I’m not there. But I’ll tell you what I have found. Hold onto the good times. In spite of all the challenges, all the struggles, and all the pain, you’ve had some pretty awesome moments this year. Hold on to those moments. Those videos of Brad Paisley singing ‘Today’ at C2C, Bailey Bryan on the popup (you don’t even know her name yet!) and Cassadee Pope in the Bluebird – keep them on your phone (sorry to ruin the lineup announcement for you by the way!) You’re going to go back to those videos time and time again. You’re going to watch them literally hundreds of times on your bad days. But they’re a reminder that life does have it’s positives. It might not always feel that way but you have some brilliant moments. Hold onto them.

Oh, and keep dreaming. No one should ever stop dreaming. No, not every dream comes true. But having dreams will always push you forward. It will always move you on. And better to be hurt by not reaching your dreams, then to not aspire to anything in the first place.

See you in the mirror,

28 year old Chris

PS. The concept of writing a ‘letter to me’ is not one I can take credit for. But then you know that, because even at 27 you loved Brad Paisley. Remember as Brad says in his song “You got so much going for you, going right”…

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National School Sports Week – a chance to promote wellbeing for everyone

sports-week

It’s become something of a tradition for me to put up a post during National School Sports Week (NSSW) to talk about why I believe it’s super important. And so as the annual event comes around once more I wanted to put down a few thoughts about what makes any event that encourages children to be active so important. As this blog talks directly about the education system, in which I am employed, it’s important so say that as always, views are my own…

Wellbeing

Over the last year ‘Wellbeing’ has become a real buzzword in education. As workloads for those in education get greater, and as an awareness of mental health issues in children becomes more prevalent there is rightly a focus upon:

the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy
(Oxford English Dictionary definition of wellbeing)

When we talk about wellbeing, sport is undoubtedly a key factor. It is widely recognised that there are a large number of physical health benefits associated with exercise and participation in sport, including reducing the risk of heart attacks, and helping to tackle obesity. To put the benefit into numerical terms, a Sport England study estimated that participation in regular exercise or sport activities can save up to £7000 per person in healthcare costs.

Furthermore, there are significant benefits for a persons’ mental health too. It is well known that even light or moderate exercise can release endorphins in the body that help to combat stress and reduce anxiety. Alongside this it is understood that, particularly among children and young people, involvement in sport can help to tackle self-esteem issues, can contribute to feelings of togetherness, and can help tackle body-image issues.

In a society where childhood obesity levels are rising and we are more health-conscious than ever any opportunity to encourage children to lead a healthier lifestyle must be seized upon. Child development experts suggest that particularly at primary school age children are influenced to develop habits for life, and if at a young age we can encourage children to live an active lifestyle we are encouraging them into lifestyle choices that will continue to reap benefits in later life. In addition the mental benefits seem indisputable – in a society where the UK education system seems to put more stress on children than ever before we have a responsibility to promote mental wellbeing to children, and physical activity is one of the ways we can tackle this.

What about those who don’t like sport?

Naturally within a school setting there will always be those who aren’t naturally interested in sport, or those who object to having to do even more than normal. Of course with most things children dislike, one of the key factors behind these feelings can be a fear of ‘under-performing’ or ‘failing’. It strikes me that in some curriculum areas like English or Maths there is clear differentiation – teachers will regularly give children different tasks (for example a different set of questions) and will focus on supporting them at their level. This helps the children to progress, as well as to experience that sense of achievement that they should rightly feel on completing a task, because they’ve been given ability-appropriate material. However sport seems to be one of those areas where, outside of formal coaching, a mixed-ability group will be thrown in together, and so naturally the weaker children struggle.

School is also a very difficult place to promote sport because of the nature of time restrictions, location restrictions and more. To be fair, school sport has moved on a lot since the days I went to school (where rounders, football and rugby seemed to be on an endless loop). For example in the school I work at children are introduced to a huge variety of sport within lessons from athletics through to parkour and lots in between, alongside a huge variety of after-school activities which further complement that. However I believe there’s always more to be done and activities like NSSW provide the opportunity to identify and signpost towards sports that may appeal to those who don’t enjoy your normal PE lessons (for example when I got to secondary I didn’t engage in those sports promoted in PE,  but was presented with opportunities to do trampolining, rock climbing and skiing, which alongside my dance helped me maintain a level of fitness that has been essential to the sport that has now become my life).

So what about National School Sports Week?

In explaining why I believe sport is so important for children, I hope that some of these points will leave you with a similar passion. NSSW is a perfect opportunity for many children to take a first step to embarking upon a healthier, more active lifestyle. It provides schools with the opportunity to introduce children to sports that they might not normally get to try to due to curriculum time-constraints, and therefore hopefully identify opportunities for more children to participate in some form of physical activity. It also provides teachers with the perfect opportunity to talk more about the benefits of sport and to encourage children to get involved – something that is also all too often missed due to the nature of a full timetable. If children feel forced into their one hour of PE the likelihood is you’ll only engage those who already want to participate – having both the time to showcase different activities from normal, and to have those conversations around wellbeing and healthy lifestyles should be an integral part of encouraging children in to sport.

Of course, it’s not good enough to do this one week a year. As I’ve already mentioned sport has an important role to play in the physical and mental health of children. We wouldn’t dream of telling children to only brush their teeth one week a year, and likewise engaging children in sport should not be confined to such a short period either. Not only education but other children’s services too, need to see a culture change where there is a real emphasis on helping children to engage in sport in a field and at a level where they can experience that sense of achievement that motivates them to continue, so that in future it might be unthinkable that a week of promotion is even necessary.

And finally…

I couldn’t write a post about sport without giving a mention to Right To Play, the charity I’m proud to be partnering with until at least the end of my racing season in 2018. In the UK we are incredibly lucky that all our children have the opportunity to engage in education. Not all children are so lucky. I began to support Right To Play because, like me, they passionately believe that sport and play can change lives. They work with over a million children each week in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, using sport and play to develop new skills, educate and transform the lives of disadvantaged children. They believe that through the power of play children can receive a high quality education, overcome obstacles and see their lives turn around. They train local people to lead these programmes, creating a long-term and sustainable solution for communities facing poverty, disease and conflict. As schools in this country spend a week giving their children some of the most brilliant sporting opportunities possible there are children in other parts of the world that desperately need the accessible education that Right To Play offer. If you’d like to support their work please head on over to: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/chrisrighttoplay

Further reading

Read more about how I believe sport changes lives in my 2015 NSSW post

 

Posted in Depression, Education, mental health, Sports, Wellbeing | Leave a comment

Crying For No Reason

This post has undergone multiple different versions in my mind before today. Initially I planned to call this post Living With Depression but I don’t want to suggest, or imply that this is every persons experience. This is my experience, which I’m sharing because I don’t believe I’m the only one.

Personally, one of the hardest things that happens when I’m struggling with my mental health is being asked ‘what’s up?’ It seems like a harmless question doesn’t it? The sort of question anyone can answer. But when I’m in the midst of a tough time, it’s often a question I can’t answer. Not because I don’t want to. Not because I’m trying to be awkward. Simply because I don’t know.

See what many people don’t understand is that depression isn’t simply feeling miserable because life’s given you a bad hand. Depression is an illness that clouds your mind, clouds your feelings and your emotions. Whilst difficult circumstances certainly don’t help the way I feel, and can be triggers, the effects of depression can strike at any time.

One of the hardest things for me has been dealing with questions like this since I started to be able to talk publicly about my depression. When people who know about your illness ask such a question, or, in my mind the far worse ‘what’s up now?’ it rips you to the core. Fifteen months ago when I first spoke openly about my own battle, one of the driving factors behind that decision was wanting people to understand what’s going on in my life. When one of those people then asks such a question I just want to scream at them!

DON’T YOU GET IT! I’M STRUGGLING! BEYOND THAT I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S UP! I DON’T KNOW WHY I FEEL THIS WAY! I DON’T WANT TO FEEL THIS WAY. PLEASE JUST GET THAT!

However what people don’t see is that depression is more than just not feeling great, or, as I’ve had said more than once ‘being in a bad mood’. For me, there are days when life just seems to require more effort than I’ve got. When I wake up and can’t bring myself to get out of bed. When I can’t get the motivation required to open the front door so I spend the most beautiful day of the year lying on my sofa without going out the front door. When talking to friends feels like too much effort so I text them and say I’m busy, when in reality the only thing I’m busy doing is avoiding people.

What I find hardest is that there is no rhyme or reason to it. I can have every reason to be happy that day, and yet I can’t summon the energy to be happy. I can have had great news and yet feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Some days I can be smiling on the outside and breaking on the inside.

And yet, somewhere in all that I know I’m lucky. Personally, I know there are two things in my life that are crucially important – my work, and my training. They are two things that will always get me out of bed in the morning. Two things that I know I simply cannot miss. Two things that even on the toughest days I’ll brave, even if I’m not feeling brave.

“I push all my problems to the back of my mind
Then they surface in my dreams, they come alive”
(Katy B, Crying For No Reason)

Yet sometimes it feels like this perpetuates the problem. I let the world see I’m OK when I’m not, let the world think I’m doing fine when I’m struggling. And then when I’m alone and have finished the ‘must-dos’, it all comes crashing down, and I’m back on my sofa on my own.

Why write all this on my blog though?

I write it because I want to help people understand. Ever since I started to talk about depression a year ago I’ve been met with many people who think that depression is just ‘feeling sad’. Equally I’ve been met with people who tell me they’re ‘not surprised’ I’ve got depression with ‘everything you’ve been through’.

I want to help people understand that there are so many ways depression can affect you. It’s not just taking news badly, or feeling sad. Understanding the effect it can have on peoples lives is crucial.

I want people to be able to look out for signs with their friends so they can offer genuine care and compassion. Again, this is different for everyone, but there are times for me where I wish someone had understood what I was going through. Where rather than asking what was up they’d seen I was struggling and just sat with me.

I want people to know they’re not alone. Honestly, until very recently I thought I was the only person who went through these periods of lacking motivation for the simplest of tasks. It was only through reading something online I understood I wasn’t alone.

And so I’ve written this post. Not really with anything profound to say. Not with any answers to the huge questions I have. But I’ve just written, very bluntly, about a small part of my experiences. I hope you’ll take it as it is, respect what I go through, and look out for those around you who may experience very similar feelings.

 

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#Manchester

manchesterI’ve been debating all day whether to write this blog post. I realise that today it is a topic being discussed a lot. There’s a lot of people writing a lot of stuff. What can I add to the thoughts that have already been put out there about the senseless murder that happened last night? Absolutely nothing. What can I add to the descriptions of a beautiful, vibrant and special city? Absolutely nothing. And so I’ve simply applied the same decision process I do to every blog I write. I’m writing because it’s on my mind, and I need to get my thoughts out.

Firstly, I simply want to echo the thoughts of so many people today about the city of Manchester. If you’ve never been there it’s a special place, and a place that holds so many special memories for me. I saw my first Premier League games in that city, first European game, my first England international. Many of my favourite musicals I saw for the first time in their world class theatres. The most special moment of my life came in the Etihad Stadium, dancing in the Commonwealth Games Closing ceremony. I’ve laughed and cried on the streets of Manchester. I raced for the first time in a racing wheelchair on the streets there. Just last year during a weekend with one of my best friends we sheltered from the rain in the foyer where so many lives were devastated yesterday. And in all my time in Manchester I can say one thing. The high profile people giving beautiful descriptions of that city today are not exaggerating one bit. It’s a brilliant place, it’s vibrant, and the people are lovely. And that’s not just something I’d say today…people who know me know just how much I love the place.

The stories of people going out to help are not surprising either, and not just because of the circumstances. Manchester is a place where you feel safe. The kind of place where, when you fall out of your chair outside a busy bar, you’re suddenly surrounded by people who run out of the pub because they want to help. Why do I write all this? Because it’s tragic that the best in a place, and the best in people, only comes out, or gets reported, in the worst of circumstances. I want to say that this is Manchester all the time. A lovely city, a city of people who care, a city where I’ve always felt safe.

I could go on, for hours talking about this city I love, about the pain and sickness I felt today whilst waiting to hear from my friends in Manchester, but I simply want to write down 3 things that have struck me. They are things that seem more important today, but things that apply all the time. Things that can apply to Manchester today, but apply anywhere, all the time. I don’t want to dwell on them, or write an essay, I just want to put out there 3 things that have struck me today, that will maybe help others too:

  1. In times of grief or despair, let people deal with it in the way they need to.
    In the midst of all the tragedy today, as always, the internet has not failed to amaze me in the things that some people can write. People who in the midst of the suffering of others have the audacity to start worrying about whether a gig will be cancelled, or to start analysing, or passing comment upon, the way other people deal with grief or anxiety. We are all individuals and we deal with things in different ways. 
    Whether directly affected, or simply scared by a situation that seems a little too close to home, because of the location, the industry they work in, or simply because of an anxiety disorder, everybody’s own way of dealing with situations is different. Please don’t judge people for their decisions, don’t use the internet to tell people they should be acting in a different way. People are individuals and deal with things in different ways. Whatever the circumstances, whether today or a year down the line, support them, and give them the space to deal with whatever the situation is.
  2. Be careful about what you post on social networks.
    On all my social channels earlier today I posted a video taken from this mornings BBC Breakfast where Dan Walker addressed the fact that some people were posting fake reports, and fake victims, to gain ‘retweets’. Unfortunately this concept isn’t a new one (in fact I wrote about it in some detail back in 2015). We have to be aware not everybody on social networks is posting stuff for the right reason. Whilst some people post these pictures or information simply because they want to boost their public profile, there have been stories of people posting ‘help me find…’ posts in order to breach protection that has been put in place by courts to safeguard the wellbeing of others. In times like this it is easy to allow compassion to take hold and for the heart to make decisions, however please think before you share posts you can’t verify. If you want to help, follow official channels and share their posts – for example today the best thing you can share is information about Greater Manchester Police helpline and emergency stations.
  3. Live life to the full
    It risks being one of those things people just say, but today is a reminder to live life to the full. Yesterday evening’s attacks were horrible and senseless. People went out to enjoy a night of music, and dozens didn’t come home, either ending up in hospital or worse. The fact that many of those were so young seems to make it even worse, when you think about all the things those youngsters may not get to do. Things that right now, we still have the chance to do. So when you get presented with opportunities, grab them with both hands. Don’t have regrets. Live life to the full.

To finish, and return to Manchester, I want to share this video. It needs no words.

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Strong

Adj. ability to withstand force, pressure or wear

Some of you will have seen from my social posts this week that I’ve started wearing a new necklace. That necklace is a key which has the word strength etched into it. Why? Because strength is the one character attribute that I feel I need more than any other in my life these days. Not just me though. Strength is an attribute that we should all aspire to demonstrate in our life.

What is strength though, and what difference does it make? If someone was described to you as strong, likelihood is you begin to picture someone with big muscles, someone who participates in a lot of sport, maybe the gym-goer type. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

But increasingly the word strong is being used to describe someone’s character, and their mental state. I can’t think of a greater word. If the definition of strong is something that can ‘withstand force, pressure or wear’ than to be strong is to withstand the pressure, or the barrage of challenges, that life throws at you. To keep on going despite the force that is pushing you down.

At the school I work at this is a characteristic we advocate. We encourage our pupils to be resilient children. Resilience is, in essence, a more character-based word for strong, and I love it’s definition!:

1) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

2) the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape

I think that imagery is great! Because withstanding pressure doesn’t mean that we don’t take knocks along the way. Those knocks are the challenges life throws at us and can be anything from the health issues that seem to attack me and wear me down, to financial worries, employment struggles, bereavement, and much more beside. Even titanium scratches under pressure. But what makes a truly ‘strong’ person is someone who springs back into shape! Someone who doesn’t allow those challenges to keep them down forever; someone who ultimately withstands the pressure.

A few years ago I came across a TED Talk by a former teacher and psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth about ‘grit’, and I was then lucky enough to see her lead a seminar on this topic at BETT just a couple of years ago. Duckworth describes ‘Grit’ as ‘passion and perseverance for very long term goals’. Again we come across this same theme – perseverance is defined as ‘persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success’. What is significant about this is that Duckworth looked into this in great detail in schools, businesses, and army training camps. And in every situation she found that grit, this desire to push towards long term goals whatever challenges you come across, was a ‘signicificant predictor of success’ – more so than financial starting points, IQ levels and more.

And so whatever word you use: strength, resilience, grit or perseverance there is no doubt that this is an attribute that we should all desire. The ability to keep going, to withstand challenges, to spring back into shape. An attribute that can make a huge difference in life.

But how do we become strong people? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. For some it comes naturally, for others it’s a struggle. In her TED talk Duckworth even confesses she doesn’t have all the answers as to how we teach grit.

I want to suggest just 2 small things that are starting blocks for me:

1) We talk about it, a lot.

Over the last few years these ideas of grit, resilience, or perseverance have become commonplace to many. The fact that resilience is a word that rolls off the tongue of primary school children is evidence of that. And this is key. If we develop a culture where this terminology is commonplace it can make all the difference. If we regularly discuss the importance of perseverance over failure we can encourage a culture where people gravitate towards dusting themselves off and going again.

2. We encourage aspiration and think long term

In my last blog I talked about the importance of aspiration, and I don’t want to repeat this material, but I do believe developing long term goals is a key factor in being strong. Duckworth hints at this in her previous description of grit, and it’s a sentiment I would echo. It’s easier to get back up, to keep going, when you have your eyes on a long term goal that could still happen. Despair, and a lack of desire to keep going, creep in when your only focus is on short term goals that evaporate.

To conclude, I wish that our personalities could be like titanium, one of the strongest metals around. Pretty much impossible to break. Experience tells me it’s not that easy. Personally I break all too easily. All too often I find the barrage of pressure I am under is too much. But I know that I want to be strong. I desire more strength. I desire the ability to not let all the rubbish going on in my life affect me.

So I’ll wear my word, strength, around my neck every day. I’ll talk about strength, resilience, grit or perseverance when I can. I’ll take the opportunity to commend and compliment others when I see those characteristics in them. And I’ll continue to try and withstand the challenges thrown at me, think long term, and hope one day I’ll feel like strength is a word that lives round my neck, because I’ve earned the medal.

Notes

1. My new necklace is purchased from a US company called The Giving Keys. They are a social impact company who support people transitioning out of homelessness by providing employment opportunities. The words printed on their keys (of which strength is just one) are a reminder that, like the keys, we’re all unique, one-of-a-kind, and sometimes we need a reminder of that inspiring word that keeps us going. You can read more about their work, and purchase your own key, here

2. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance is a TED talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth, which I’ve embedded below for your viewing. If you want to explore the topic more than the book of the same title is available to purchase here

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The day we stop lookin’ back

We all have those albums we play on repeat for long periods. Those albums that we become slightly obsessed with.

This time last year there was no doubt that the album I had on repeat was Thomas Rhett’s ‘Tangled Up’. There were 2 songs on that album that grabbed me more than any other. Whilst the rockier anthems like T-Shirt were great singalongs, and Die A Happy Man spoke of such a content love (one that Mr and Mrs Rhett clearly truly have from their social network feeds!) that I couldn’t help but listen to it ALL the time, it was 2 hidden gems on the album that truly caught my attention. The sentiment in Learned It From The Radio (which talks of understanding how to walk through life thanks to music) was one that I could completely relate to – it’s the way I feel about music, and why I have ‘Music Has Value’ on a wristband. Then there’s ‘The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back’, a song I believe we can all learn a lesson from.

It’s in our human nature that we get obsessed by what’s gone on in the past. Our failures, our flaws, our successes, our achievements, we are taught to reflect, to analyse, to deconstruct and to learn from our mistakes. There’s certainly merit in this at times. In my racing and my work there are times where I’ve thought to myself ‘I’ll do that differently next time’. Times where I’ve realised I’ve made a mistake, not done as well as I could and that a change could bring real benefit. Occasions where I’ve seen something work brilliantly and made a mental note to repeat that in future.

We live in a culture where ‘reflection’ and ‘analysis’ are buzz words, and can even be a profession…analysing past performance is a full time job for some. And when analysis or reflection is done with the purpose of benefitting someone in future it truly can be very useful.

But I also believe that this culture can be harmful if we allow it to overtake our lives. Encouraging reflection can build a culture of looking back. Looking back isn’t always helpful, and can become dangerous. Whilst looking back in order to benefit us in future can sometimes do just that, it opens the risk of stewing on what we could have done differently. ‘What if I’d just done that?’ ‘What if I hadn’t said that?’ ‘What if I’d spotted that sooner?’ That sort of thinking doesn’t help anybody. And the reality is, it doesn’t change anything. No matter how much we look back at what happened in the past, we can’t change the past.

There’s a key difference between positive reflection which asks what can I do differently next time and negative reflection, which asks what if I’d done it differently last time. One can make a difference to your future, the other doesn’t. In fact the latter ensures you get stuck in the past.

If we return to one of those Thomas Rhett songs I became obsessed with, in a song that focusses on relationships Rhett observes:

The day that you stop lookin’ back girl, is the day you start moving on.

This sentiment I believe is true in all areas of life. I think when we get stuck in a cycle of negative reflection it’s difficult to move forward, to take the next step. As long as you’re hung up on what happened in the past then it’s difficult to focus on what comes next. In the example of this song the implication is that a girl is so busy thinking about a past relationship she can’t move on to the new one, that could work out. There’s no saying it will, but she won’t know if she doesn’t try.

It could be that you’re so busy getting frustrated about the last crushed dream that you can’t focus on the next. Too busy getting frustrated at the last failed attempt at a qualification that you don’t consider trying something new.

If reflection, or looking back, is something that I think is unhelpful, then the opposite, I believe, can be the answer: looking forwards.

At the school I work at we teach our children core values, and one of these values is ‘aspiration’. Understanding what you want to achieve, where you want your life to go next.

The very nature of the value is that it provides a focus that allows you to move forward. Aspiration doesn’t have to be about clearly defined targets, about running 100m in 12 seconds by next Wednesday. It can be about knowing vaguely the direction you want things to go next – for example that you know you want your next job to be in a certain sector, or you know you want to get fitter, or learn more about a particular topic.

By having this mindset, by knowing where you want to be, it can provide focus, meaning, even energy. I’ve regularly talked about when I first ended up in a wheelchair, and how I was just so consumed by it all. What turned my life around was finding out about the Great South Run, and giving myself a focus (which was simply to complete it). At the time it got me out the house, and truly got my life back on track. I never could have guessed where it could have taken me, although I’m not naive enough to suggest that this is how every optimistic ambition ends (and I can share plenty of my own stories to illustrate this).

I do know however that setting a focus gives you something to think about, to work towards. Having an aspiration, whether that’s a professional target, a physical ambition, a desire to see more gigs, or a plan to do some work to your house, is the first step in making plans to get it done. Knowing what you want to achieve allows you to think about how that will happen, and start to make changes. In contrast, thinking about what would have happened if you’d made changes in the past won’t actually change anything.

If we return to reflection, I mentioned earlier that I don’t think that’s it’s always a bad thing. I think reflection has a place, and it’s tied together with aspiration. See if we spend time looking back, it should be to help us move forward, to help us reach the goal we’re aspiring to. Professional footballers for example will watch back highlights of games, not to make them feel bad about mistakes they made, but to help them think about how they can play better in their next game. Even when they’re looking back, in reality they’re looking forwards to the next game.

If we’re looking backwards, wishing things could have been done differently, we don’t help ourselves, or others. We need to encourage a culture that looks forwards first, that knows what the next step is, and that knows that looking back in regret, or with a desire to ‘wind the clock back’ can only be destructive.

Looking backwards can’t change your life. Looking forwards can.

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