I am currently on day 2 of a trip to Nepal and I wrote this at the airport. I think I overthink quite a bit so naturally when I was at the airport, I was thinking a lot about motivations for spending most of my savings on a trip to Nepal. I think with big trips away, you’ve got to be able to justify why you are going.
I think for me, travelling is something that I have an affinity for. Its the type of unexpected that I like. I think one of my stress responses is to just keep moving around and changing where I am. I can never stay in the same place for too long. I don’t feel like I need a ‘home’ because my home is in my head and having the basic necessities.
I think as humans, it is quite natural to travel around. As hunter gatherers, we would be constantly moving around in our small civilisations – to escape threat etc. Therefore, I think it makes sense that I would want to travel so much. I look forward to travelling and I really enjoy planning it.
For me, hope is intrinsic to travel seeing as it requires you to have faith in going away to somewhere different. There’s very little else that we do that is similar or that we seek in it’s uncertainty. Who in their right mind would get in a metal box full of other humans, confined to a small space and bound for the sky? Or where you don’t speak the language? Or that cost a lot of money? It doesn’t appear to be a very rational thing to do. Yet anticipation of trips is something that really makes me happy.
Travel is very unique. It educates you in a way that other things can’t. The information fed to us by the media can give us a filtered way of viewing the world and other cultures, meaning we develop restricted views about other countries. This makes travel a very eye opening experience and teaches us to have open minds. We can break down stereotypes and develop alternative views of people and culture. Through learning about the values in other cultures, we are taught about the many ways we can live our lives – not just what we are told growing up. We can be led to believe that the way of life in our own country is THE only way to live and that our values are the only ones that matter – some might even be led to believe that it’s the only correct way of living. Travel allows you to see that there are billions of other people in the world and you’re not the centre of everything. Additionally, going to a different culture allows you to share your value, even if they have never been to your country. For me, travelling allows me to be an outsider, but in a good way – not like at home.
I am not saying that travel makes you a better person, it just one way to have an eye opening experience. I am lucky enough to be able to work alongside my studies and therefore afford to go away.
I’ve not posted in a while but I’ve been super busy with work, volunteering and Uni. I got the news that I passed my exams this morning which is great and I’m pretty happy with the way my life is going right now. I just thought I’d write a bit about something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently.
I think once you gain an autism diagnosis, it’s a constant learning process. There’s always more to learn about it. After all, it’s a very complex condition that exists on a spectrum so there are many different ways that it can be experienced by other people. So the more and more I learn, the more and more I get these realisations of ‘ohhh, that’s why I’m like that/ behave that way’. And then on the converse, the more I think ‘wait a minute, is my ENTIRE personality and identity autism?’. Now you may be forgiven in assuming that it doesn’t matter either way – which is possibly true. However, do I really want my entire identity to be autism?
Personality is defined as:
The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.
While identity is:
A person’s sense of self, established by their unique characteristics, affiliations, and social roles.
I think it’s important to note that anyone, regardless of there disability or condition, will exhibit different personalities. Some people are very individualistic with their disabilities, others identify with the condition and feel proudly part of a group. I think it’s hard to know whether something is an autistic trait or a personality trait and often there is a big overlap. For example, I am a very happy person and get very easily exited by things. Some people would describe me as being like an overexcitable puppy. So my question is: Is my personality a happy go lucky one or, do I just see and feel things very intensely as a consequence of my autism?
We can broadly speak of autism using the analogy of a sportsman. Yesterday morning, I cycled to a nice little spot on the river and had a lovely swim. I was thinking about how much I loved my bike and how I would struggle to live without it. Life just wouldn’t be the same. We can say the same about autism. If the cycling is taken away from a cyclist, that part of the person will no longer be. Just like if you take the autism away from an autistic person, that part of the person will also cease to be. Cycling makes up a massive part of a cyclists life – it’s what they do. Without it, the thing that makes up there identity is gone. It’s the same with autism I think.
Personality is much to do with peoples perceptions and how they respond and react to different things and a lot of autistic people react similarly to certain external stimuli. It could be thought of as like a cake. Imagine you have different options of base eg. Chocolate sponge, vanilla sponge or carrot cake. And then you can also choose sprinkles, fondant icing or buttercream frosting. Imagine that all autistic people have the same base ie autism. However they can have different toppings because there’s extroverted autistics and introverted neurotypicals. Some base and topic combinations are more common than others but that doesn’t mean that either is a given. Neurotypical people can have the same toppings as autistic people just like they can have the same traits.
That’s not to say that my autism isn’t connected to my personality. Because it is. It is a big part of my individuality. However, I do think that there is more to me than my autism. It is a part of me but not all of me.
This kind of links into whether we use person first (person with autism) or identity first (autistic person) language. Person first language distinguishes clearly between the person and their disability – however many people argue that there is no need for autism to be separated from the person. I think the issue a lot of people have with person first language is that it kind of gives the impression that autism is an accessory. A bit like a handbag that you can just leave at home if you want. Really, autism can’t be cured or just used as an accessory, it’s a neurological difference that affects someones day to day life. You could argue that person first language would require you to say ‘person with gayness’ or even ‘person with masculinity’.” This wouldn’t really make sense. Some people prefer person first language whilst others prefer identity first language. I don’t really have a preference so long as people see me as more than my autism. I feel like often, when I tell people I’m autistic, they can’t see beyond it. I think it’s mainly due to stereotypes and lack of education. Hopefully in the future, this will change.
But to conclude – I think that my autism makes me me. It has caused me a lot of struggles in my life but also a lot of successes. I think that over time, I have learnt to flip the coin and use my autism to my advantage rather than let it be a negative. This has actually come from learning about autism and how it relates to me and my individuality in great depth. I know exactly how it effects me and exactly how I can manage those effects.
I saw something on instagram a few days ago that labelled smalltalk as:
For autistic people, this is a common belief. Autistic people are known for hating smalltalk, often going great lengths just to avoid it. For example, avoiding people they know in public, just to avoid smalltalk. Smalltalk often occurs in everyday interactions with acquaintances and people we don’t know. And there is good reason for such an endeavour as small talk is something that is not always done on your own terms and doesn’t exactly achieve a defined goal. It is very much superficial and neither party really gets any information of substance or use from each other.I think it is likely one of the reasons autistic people are often labelled as being so intense – because we often drive into the deep, meaningful conversations straight away.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, small talk is:
Conversation about things that are not important, often between people who do not know each other well.
However, looking more in depth reveals that actually, smalltalk isn’t actually about the context of the conversation but more to do with social connection. I always hated smalltalk. It made me uncomfortable and gave me the desire to just leave the conversation. Despite this, I’d say I’ve got the hang of it now as I understand its purpose more. It isn’t about the content of the conversation, but the context and connection. Additionally, having everything online during COVID really helped me to develop my skills in a “safe” environment ie. behind a screen.
I think that one of the reasons smalltalk was so beneficial in the past is because it signalled that people were not intending to be a threat to each other. In some respects, this is still relevant to today. If people don’t engage in smalltalk then they could be perceived to be unfriendly and therefore a threat. For example, a few days ago, I was waiting at the bus stop at 2am and it was only me and one other person around. If we had just stood there in silence, then we would possibly have viewed each other as a threat but a simple and superficial question of “Is this where the national express stop is?” meant that we knew we had a common motive.
If we think about it a bit deeper, small talk should be easy for autistic people. It is highly predictable. Almost like playing a game where each player knows the next move. People can have an entire conversation without even having to share any information of substance.
Beyond this, small talk can be termed as “social lubrication” and a mutual agreement for people to coexist. It can provide the means to slide into deeper topics and potential friendships. It is the way that we give people first impressions and make new friends and acts as a funnel into deeper relationships. It is highly important in the world of work for networking and there are a lot of courses out there to help business people perfect their skills in smalltalk as it can be the difference between making lots of money or very little.
So, now we have established the importance of smalltalk, how can we get better at it?
Be prepared for common questions
Like I said above, smalltalk is highly predictable and a lot of topics of conversation are often those that are equalisers. For example, the weather is a great thing to talk about as it is something that everyone experiences the same.
Other common questions include: What do you do? Where are you from? Why are you here? What was your journey like? etc
When you first meet someone, you could start with a direct opener such as “Hi, I’m Finty, I don’t think we’ve met before?”
Then you could ask open ended questions that the person can’t just answer yes or no to. Things like “Have you ever been here before?”.
2. Active listening
Show the person that you are listening by responding to them appropriately. For example, by nodding your head, leaning in slightly or saying things such as “uh-huh” or “mmm”. This way, you are showing the person that you care about them and giving them a good impression of yourself.
Whether it be through playing out scenarios in your head or making a conscious effort to speak to one stranger each day, practice makes perfect!
4. Learn how to get beyond the smalltalk stage
Really pay attention to what other people say and latch onto any personal information they give. A good rule of thumb is to tale one piece of personal information, give some information about yourself and then ask one question. eg. If someone says they like sports, I could say “I love sports too! I’m a runner, what sport do you do?”. This way you can get to know a person more and get beyond the smalltalk.
5. Plan your exit
It may seem contradictory but I know that personally, as long as I know that I have an easy get out, I am okay with doing something that makes me uncomfortable – such as smalltalk. One of the worst parts of small talk is worrying that you might be trapped in a conversation forever. Knowing that you have an escape just helps you relax a bit more.
You could say thinks such as: “It’s been great chatting with you. Maybe I’ll see you again some time” or “Sorry to rush off. but I hadn’t realised the time!” or “It was lovely to meet you. Have a nice day!” or “Sorry but I’m gonna have to dash off to another meeting!”.
Looking at the traits most commonly associated with autism, you could be led to believe that autistic people and employment don’t go very well together. However, it is important to remember that although autistic people struggle in some respects, they also have many strengths and good qualities that can be very advantageous to employers. Autism is a spectrum and no autistic person is the same, meaning people can present very differently. Just like neurotypical people, every autistic person will be more suited to some jobs rather than others. I think it is really important that autistic people are given a chance in the workplace, as well as the appropriate adjustments. Below are some reasons why.
Alternative perspectives & logical and creative thinking
People with autism tend to be very good at problem solving and take a logical and structured approach to work. This, coupled with creative thinking, allows autistic people to think up alternative approaches to things – which can be really beneficial. We are both resourceful and innovative. I think for me, my mind is constantly on the go and if I’m asked to do some brainstorming, I will come up with a multitude ideas. Maybe not all of them will be useful but I will keep them coming until a solution is formed. We are also good at seeing crucial things that may have been overlooked.
Loyalty, reliability and punctuality
Autistic people love routine so once they are settled into a job, they will usually stay there for a long time. Similarly, due to this need to follow strict structure and routine, autistic employees are very likely to stick to time limits and be punctual.
Focus and concentration
One so called negative autistic trait is the fact that we easily get obsessed with things. We can easily shut everything else off, just to focus on one thing – which is great if it is something to do with work! It means that we will often be devoted to projects and therefore do them to a very high standard.
Sense of right and wrong
We tend to have a very good sense of right and wrong. We will often fight for justice and not let things go until we get them. I think this often stems from our black and white thinking.
We are also very honest and, although our bluntness can sometimes be an issue, we will bring up problems in the workplace that other people may prefer to just avoid bringing up. Personally, I think this is good in terms of a workplace developing.
Knowledge and specialist skills
Many people with autism develop special interests. Their thirst for knowledge can often mean they can become experts in their area of interest with an in depth knowledge of the field. This is great when working in an area where this specialist knowledge can be applied.
Ability to do repetitive tasks
Often, people with autism find repetitive tasks enjoyable. In a chaotic and overstimulating world, repetitive tasks bring calm. We can do the same thing for hours on end, without losing concentration and making mistakes. We can happily do jobs that other people would find tedious and boring.
This is going to be the first post of a series on employability for autistic people.
A report by the Office for National statistics gives a shocking statistic that just 21.7% of autistic people are employed. This shows that the majority of people with autism are unemployed. Autistic people have so many strengths that they can give to society, so why do we have so many issues with gaining employment?
Lack of access to opportunities
One of the biggest factors in getting a job is being able to prove that you are well qualified for it. This is often achieved through past experiences. There is a definite lack of schemes that allow autistic people to gain skills that are required for work. The schemes that there are in colleges are often for the most well performing students only. Additionally, the education system pushes a lot of people into pursuing a uni degree when actually, there are a lot of other options! Especially in things that you may have a special interest and excel in!
I think autistic people can really benefit significantly from work experience and internships. These experiences provide opportunities for autistic people to develop their abilities as well as gain pints to add to their CV. However these are often highly competitive and require a lot of effort to secure.
Volunteering is a great way to get round this. It opens up so many opportunities for employment. Charities always looking for new people it looks great on a CV as well as being a good transition into work. Volunteering at St Catherines hospice was a great way for me to prove that I had the communication skills and dedication required for my degree and it really helped me develop my people skills. When thinking about starting volunteering:
Often, job advertisements are wordy and full of jargon that serves to deter autistic people. Questionnaires that ask you to rate how much you relate to certain characteristics are often misleading and hard to fill out. Often job skills are listed that aren’t absolutely necessary for the job meaning they are misleading.
For example, I worked in a warehouse for just under a year – A job that would be great for most autistic people however in the job description, it listed teamwork and communication s as a must. I very much think that you could get by without being particularly strong in those areas – There are much more important skills that should be focused on. Someone could be the best team worker in the world and not last a day in that place because of the fact the work is so repetitive. So don’t get put off by job descriptions!
Sections on application forms that allow you to disclose a disability are useful because employers are obliged to provide reasonable adjustments to overcome potential barriers or disadvantages. In my opinion, it is better for employers to know because sometimes, if you are attempting to mask your autism, you could come across as shifty or being ‘not quite right’ which may put employers off as they can’t quite put their finger on it. If they know that it is due to autism then it won’t effect the interview. (Plus it is good for them if they can prove that they employ a diverse range of people)
3. The interview
The interview is usually the hardest part of the process for both neurotypicals and autistic people alike.
Interviews are heavily orientated around social skills and first impressions which makes things harder for autistic people. Making eye contact, understanding verbal and non-verbal cues, knowing when to stop when answering questions, thinking in abstract ways and coping with the different environment.
The environment is a massive factor when it comes to interviews. They can be highly overstimulating in an already stressful situation and lead to an autistic person underperforming. Things like the noise of a busy work place taking your focus away from meeting the interviewer for the first time, bright fluorescent lights giving you a migraine, the smell of the receptionists perfume in the waiting room making you feel ill… These are all things that can render you unable to perform at your best.
One thing that I am really grateful of lockdown for is the fact that all of the interviews for things I applied for were over phone meaning I could focus on the questions at hand rather than an overstimulating environment. I had a lot less to focus on because I couldn’t see the interviewer so my answers were better.
Now, post COVID some interviews may be in person again. I think a good way to prepare for interviews is by watching a variety of videos online of people being interviewed and practicing their mannerisms. If I was to have an in person interview, I would make sure to prepare by making a checklist of worries to tick off before the day eg:
Do I know how to get there and how long I will take to get there?
Do I know how long the interview will take? Is it split into sections?
Do I know what time the transport home will be?
What am I going to do after the interview?
What is the dress code?
What will happen once I arrive? Is there a reception desk?
What questions might they ask?
Who will be interviewing and how many interviewers are there?
How can I answer general questions such as ‘tell me about yourself?’?
Some of these may not sound important but things like knowing what I will be doing after the interview are really helpful for me as I really like to know what I’m doing and when so if I don’t have a plan for the rest of the day, I will be thinking about it during the interview. Some of these questions are things you could ask the employer in a nice email.
A reasonable adjustment some people may have is having someone in the interview with them, to rephrase difficult questions. Some employers may also offer work trial periods. A good thing to look up may be the the Kickstart Scheme which is open to people that are aged 16-24 that are currently claiming Universal Credit and are at risk of long-term unemployment. They provide support in gaining employment.
A good place to find good general interview advice is at prospects.co.uk
Top 5 tips
Think about what you are passionate about and research jobs in that field – enthusiasm counts for a lot in an interview!
Consider getting some volunteering experience.
Try to think about how you can relate things you’ve done in the past to skills that are required for the job you’re applying to.
Get some interview practice.
Be communicative with potential employers about any reasonable adjustments you may need.
In my previous blog I mentioned that in order to overcome my loneliness, I tend to make myself really busy in order to feel like I have a sense of purpose. I thought I’d unpick that a bit more.
Just to put things into context – A few weeks ago, I had a two hour exam, followed by a meeting with a charity I’m a youth campaigner, a two hour meeting for a peer research job I have followed by a meeting with an environmental group I’m part of. And then, after all that, I still had to log some hours of work. So, when I say I’m a busy person – I really am!
I just feel like I function well in chaos. Everything I need to do is constantly whizzing round in my head. I like it like the though. It’s like my head is constantly being pulled in all directions. I don’t so much get stressed but excited. I think the emotions are very similar and my body confuses the two meaning I am not so much effected by having so much on my plate but rather in a constant state of being happy and looking forward to things.
I’ve not seen much online about hyper productivity and autism but I’m sure it must be common. In society today, I think it is extremely easy to be pulled into the trap of trying to find purpose. We are generally taught that we are valued by how we contribute to society rather than the value we give to our own lives and those closest to us. There are pressures from all round to be productive and as an autistic person, prone to take things to the extreme in order to appear normal – hyper productivity occurs.
A while back, I tried to change. I tried to do less. It didn’t go very well. I figured out that the issue wasn’t in the things that I do, it was in the way I did them. I am very prone to attempt to multitask but I think what I’ve learnt is that it is better to give my attention to one thing only, rather than multiple things at once – whether it be with studying or spending time with friends. I find that the more busy I get, the more busy I want to be.
There are two sides to the coin of being really busy and motivated to do things. It can be a bad thing. When I first started Uni, I really struggled with prioritising the things I needed to prioritise. I was clinging onto the things that had kept me busy throughout lockdown when really I should have given them up. I think that it was my way of coping with the change of moving out because it gave me a sense of normality while distracting me. I always that because I hadn’t reached burnout yet that I was fine, however I wasn’t devoting energy to the things I needed to.
So why might Autistic people be more prone to this?
Desire to fit in
I think a lot of the narrative in society, especially since the pandemic, tells us that we have to be productive all the time. Volunteering for things, even when our plate is already full. Making promises and having to rush tasks just to make it work. Being consumed by work all day every day. And then once you’re technically done with a something, you feel guilty for not doing more. It’s a vicious cycle. You judge yourself for what you haven’t done, rather than looking at what you have done. Yet being hyper productive is a way to feel worthy, fulfilled, and in control. And so you become obsessed.
A really common theme in people with autism is the obsessive nature. Obsessions give stability, security and control. Sometimes however, with people who mask a lot, we can fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with whatever is socially acceptable, just taking it that extra bit too far. Social media is definitely a place where toxic productivity festers, for example through tweets about spending the pandemic learning new skills and utilising every second. Many people focused on productivity during the pandemic. Many people felt afraid and uncertain so tried to gain control. If you are busy, you are distracted from fears of the future. It was all over – free courses online, really amazing experiences being offered online and widening access to things that we’d never have imagined doing before. But – How do you know when to stop? For me, that’s where I struggle.
Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. I’ve seen it described as having a role similar to a conductors in an orchestra. It manages and organises each musician. Tells them when to begin, how fast or slow, and when to stop playing. I struggle knowing when to stop things and when I’ve done enough. I get hyper focused and as a driven person, take on more and more.
I think Hyperfocus is a less talked about autistic trait. It involves a person becoming fixated on a specific thing, topic or event. It’s more than just concentration. It can mean that we are extremely productive and get a lot done. I can go all day going from one important thing to the next, sending email after email that would take other people hours to write. It seems easy because I am just in this mindset of ‘go go go’. However all this does have its draw backs in that we have less energy for other things – often the important day to day things like admin tasks or keeping on top of washing.
Something that I have used to help me with this is time blocking – assigning certain times to certain things. I find it so easy to get lost in doing something that it gets to the end of the day and I realise I’ve spent far too long on one thing to the detriment of another.
Time blocking is a time management tool that divides your day into separate blocks of time. Specific tasks are allocated to each block.
By setting reminders on my phone, I have to move on once the time is up. At first it was really hard to do because I hate leaving things unfinished and often my brain will keep looping back to the unfinished task but now, I just view notion (the app where I keep everything on my laptop) as a second brain so I can just tell myself that it’s okay because all the work I’ve done is still there, it’s not going anywhere and I can pick up from where I left off. Changing my view to this really helped me.
I think another reason I struggled with time blocking is the fact that I work best when I want to do something rather than when I’m being told I have to do it. What I tend to do to get round that is split all the tasks that I have to do up, and then give myself options that I can choose myself for each time block.
All of this has really helped me because before, I was consumed by my work and not balancing things very well at all. I was trying to just fill every minute with ‘finishing things off’. Now, I still fill every minute but I also have specific times for things like socialising, meeting people and running. And because I have specific times for certain things, I make sure to give my undivided attention to each thing I’m doing rather than trying to multitask.
When I first started running, I couldn’t go more than half a mile without getting a stitch, never mind a parkrun. When I started racing, I didn’t think I’d be winning races just a year later. I am someone who likes to be in control, and I think I used to focus too much on trying to control the outcome of a race. I’d focus on coming first more than anything else. But there are so many outside factors to winning – that aren’t in your control. I’ve learnt that it is better to control what you can. Things like training, sleep, and nutrition. With hard work, training, consistency and dedication you might surprise yourself. During the first lockdown, I really focused on my training and I really surprised myself with how fast I actually got.
2. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others.
Unless you’re getting world records or winning world championship races, there will always be people faster than you. If you base your expectations on others, you’ll be disappointed. Most of us want to be successful in running. But I think a lot of us don’t actually have a definition of what success would mean for us. We just strive for what society tells us too – to win and be the best. In my opinion, success is living the life you want to live now, and doing the things you want to do – now. We should be choosing our goals based on how much we’ll enjoy pursuing them. I could probably be an alright track runner, but I don’t enjoy track so I’m not going to pursue it. It’s like the saying ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey that matters’. The process is what takes up most of your time. The actual goal takes up a very small proportion. Think about an olympic sprinter. They spend years working towards a 10ish second race! I don’t think that you have to enjoy every part of the journey, but neither do I think it is good to do things for the sake of conforming. Your motivation should come from within yourself. I try to just focus on myself and my training. I focus on training where I’m at and don’t try to train at the times I think that I should be reaching. I was to be privileged enough to train with a talented group of runners but found that it just wasn’t for me so went back to training on my own.
3. Celebrate success – no matter how small.
The same way you might break up the sections of a race as you go along, you can break up any challenge into smaller steps. Celebrating these small steps will motivate you to keep going and achieve your goals. It’s not always about the end goal but more the smaller steps you take to reach those goals, and how you learn and grow along the way. At one time, a small goal for me would be managing half a day without having a panic attack. One of my goals now is to no go over my weekly budget at Uni! The biggest thing I’ve learnt about training is that consistency is key. Small steps taken consistently over a long period lead to the biggest result.
4. Embrace obstacles.
Things rarely go to plan. Obstacles are part of life, and it is important to learn how to overcome them and be resilient. Whether it is adjusting your training to ensure you don’t get injured or having to reevaluate your goals after missing out on a selection race – obstacles teach us lessons.
5. Look after yourself
In order to be our best selves, we have to look after our mind and body. It isn’t about striving for perfection but striving to be a better person whilst looking after ourselves.
Now, I don’t usually watch tennis but a few weeks ago, I heard about Emma Radu-canu winning the US open. It was all over the news because not only was she the first woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in 44 years but just two months ago, she withdrew from Wimbledon after suffering breathing difficulties and dizziness. In an honest statement she spoke of being overwhelmed and the whole experience catching up with her – which is to be expected because she is only 18. She said that it was a great learning experience and that she hoped next time she’d be more prepared. This commitment to looking after herself in order to build resilience makes her part of the growing movement of athletes, raising the profile of looking after mental health in sport. Other athletes such as Marcus Rashford, and Simone Biles are also showing that you don’t need to sacrifice your mental health for sport. In fact, Biles said that she would treasure her bronze more than her golds after taking a break for her mental health. You define your own success. Having aspirations is great but they can also be an issue because we end up focusing too much on failure when we should just be focusing on the present. You can see how much fun Raducanu has when she plays from her smile, and it just shows that you can still enjoy something and be the top of your game.
Personally, I will always respect someone who knows their limits and is able to stop when they need to. Being strong isn’t carrying on until you can’t no more, it isn’t pushing through no matter what. It is deciding to do what is best for you despite your inner ego. I love running and I do it because I enjoy it. I probably don’t train as seriously as I should, but I’m happy. That’s what matters to me. It has taken me a long time to reach a balance with my running and I want to keep it that way. Any winning is a bonus to me. I firmly believe it is healthy to have things to do outside of running. I am not my sport. It doesn’t define me because there is much more to me than running. I think sometimes we push ourselves too far because we want to prove something. Prove that we are good enough because we fear what people will think if we don’t perform. But this sport isn’t all about winning. It’s about making friends, having good experiences, and becoming better people.
There is so much research that shows the amazing benefits of running on mental health. I think the movement of just putting one foot in front of the other allows the mind to heal and get rid of any anxieties. I find the rhythm of my strides and breathing silences any negative thought patterns in my head. I use the same internal thoughts I use during a hard run such as “you can do this”, “push through” and “keep going”, to help me when I’m struggling with something. Running reminds me that I can have a positive internal dialogue. Exercise is the thing that reduces my anxiety the most. I feel like running is a way of directing the “flight” response into something within my control and something that I enjoy.
The harder the climb and the taller the mountain, the more I take from the experience because quite simply, I realise how insignificant my problems are compared to the grandeur of the mountain.
I love going up hills. I think mountains actually teach us a lot about getting through hard things. When I’m at the start of a climb, it is quite overwhelming to look up and see this massive mass of land in front of me. In order to overcome this, it is important for me to stay in the present moment and just focus on taking one step at a time because so long as you keep moving, no matter how slow, you’ll get to the top eventually. It is the same with other things in life. It can be overwhelming to look at the end goal but small steps and changes over time lead to big results. You can break up any challenge into smaller steps. Celebrating these small steps will motivate you to keep going and achieve your goals. It’s not always about the end goal but more the smaller steps you take to reach those goals, and how you learn and grow along the way.
There is something very special about being so high up and seeing everything in the valley gradually turn minuscule as you work your way upwards. You can look at things from a different perspective. A tree at the bottom of the mountain looks massive in comparison to me but when I’m at the top, that same tree will look really small. Just like the small issues in my life, all those little stresses, which in the big scheme of things are quite small. You look back and realise that they weren’t so big after all. The harder the climb and the taller the mountain, the more I take from the experience because quite simply, I realise how insignificant my problems are compared to the grandeur of the mountain.
Letting your muscles work whilst your brain has a rest brings a calm that is hard to find in the day-to-day demands of our society. In an ever-changing civilisation, the mountains will always be there. For me, climbing mountains is a time to rejuvenate my mind, let go of worries and leave them on the hill.