Last year I couldn’t wait to pen an article looking back at my year and introspecting all the takeaways; the highs, the lows and ultimately, strategising how I could have an even better year this year.
As I wrote at the time, 2019 was hands down the best 12 months of my life to date and one of the few years I can say I was truly happy for almost all of it. It only took 28 years to have such a year but have it, I did.
Funnily enough, my 2020 began as I’d spent much of 2019: In another country.
I was lucky enough to visit France and Belgium over the new year period (Dec 31-Jan2). This trip was wild for many reasons………..the company, the unpredictability, the spontaneity and the aftermath that was waiting.
I clearly remember thinking to myself as New year rolled in, I would most likely have nowhere near the same year as 2019. How could I? If everything just got better and better we’d all be billionaires enjoying space travel by the time we’re 40. We’d have prettier and prettier women, higher incomes, keep getting stronger, keep aging well and above all, avoid tragedy at all costs.
Like I often say, nature doesn’t care. Certain laws of nature don’t care how self inflated your ego gets, they will keep operating in cycles that has kept this world spinning for billions of years. You need closure for openness. You need backward to go forward. And you need dark for light.
So it may seem pessimistic to assume 2020 wouldn’t be as amazing as the year previous but it was just a realistic acceptance of reality, based off high probability. Nevertheless, I vowed to attack the year as best I could and with maximum effort and enthusiasm.
Ironically my first lesson for the year was right during my Europe new year celebrations. And that is: there’s always sides to someone they don’t show you until it can no longer be hidden. They can sell themselves however from a distance but until you’re around them for long enough that filtering becomes impossible, you can only speculate as opposed to confirm your suspicions.
I also learnt here you can never underestimate the human capacity to twist events to suit their current narrative/feelings – especially women. By the same token, you will often be expected to accept and wash off any wrong doing on their part, while they will hold things against you forever for not getting their own way in the moment. No slack will be cut despite you giving plenty and much benefit of the doubt over months prior.
The craziest thing of all about this is I knew what I was in for; I knew the potential risk. But I went for it anyway just out of sheer intrigue and to find out how people really are. To solve a mystery you have to dive in despite the risk sometimes and in hindsight, I got all my answers looking back. The disappointing thing about this kind of situation is you question whether you ever knew the real person before or just the side they wanted to show in order to vibe with you………
March Onwards aka COVID BS
Like you, I heard the rumors about this weird virus circulating the globe but didn’t think much of it outside media hype and classic overreaction to said media hype. So I went about my business as usual until I heard the news of many fellow European countries being ‘locked down’ for weeks on end and in some pretty strict circumstances.
At the time there wasn’t tons said about Britain (my country’s) figures or how severe this all was. Although even then I did fear it was only a matter of time before we followed suit. Low and behold at the end of March the inevitable ‘4 week’ lockdown ensued. This meant gyms closing, pubs, restaurants and pretty much ALL non-essential shops/stores. As you read this I’ve no doubt no matter where you are in the world, you’ve had the same thing to some extent in your country?
The tough part of this was my line of work (fitness/personal trainer) was one of the strict banned professions. At first it was a welcome break from much of the mundanity of routine and I actually embraced the challenge of still getting the gains despite less than ideal conditions. In other words: I was far from complaining.
4 weeks became 12 and even longer………..
Initially many people here were freaking out and following every rule and every breath of the news reporters to the millimetre; I was always a sceptic, even from day one. I will be frank: I am of the opinion that we evolved as humans having to face numerous illnesses, viruses and general evolutionary challenges. And therefore, this is much the same. How much are you going to hold on to the present/past at the expense of the future?
What all this illustrated was how easy the one thing we thought was truly ours – our freedom – was to strip from us. We were essentially prisoners in our own homes, if you let yourself at least. Me and my friend went out training in parks and outdoors through the entirety of the first lockdown and just got it done. Even though the seasons were getting warmer, trusty old British weather was as unpredictable as your 22 year old girlfriends mood; all over the place.
This meant there were moments where we’d question why we had to do this and whether we’d ever get our version of normality again. Despite this thoughts though, we carried on with whatever we had. If it rained, we wore coats and hats. If it was windy, we’d find more shielded locations. Actually, we became experts in outdoor training spots for different purposes across Essex!
There were friends who decided to isolate themselves to the extent to which I still haven’t seen or heard from them. This is a great shame in my eyes.
There were also a swarm of businesses who failed to survive the financial strangling of such a definitive period. Many of which still haven’t returned and probably won’t. Some people, like me and my father, vowed to still work where we could as the support for the self employed during this period was as good as the drippings off one’s nose.
And those who did close their doors and to this day have to keep opening and closing their doors, have been subtly forced into this odd situation of being super grateful for the mere ability to earn a living. Whereas a year or so ago they’d fight tooth and nail to protect their livelihood.
Plenty of food for thought.
What I learned here was: you choose your attitude in any circumstance and you can choose to see things as bleak with no end line or you can live as though life will get back to normal and prepare for it. We did the latter and en route, realised how much of life’s creature comforts you can live without when all’s said and done. Stupidly, going for roast dinners was a secret guilty pleasure of mine but during this period we hadn’t done anything of the sort for 3 months +…….
This definitely further confirms all the self help guru’s claims it takes 90 days to truly form, or get rid of, a habit.
Bottom line: nothing is ever as bad as it seems in reality and your body can adapt to the unthinkable. As Viktor Frankl said:
‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves’.
Your attitude to obstacles not only determines how you tackle and overcome them, but also how you perceive them in the first place.
Summer – Mountain Climbing & Gyms reopening
July 4th was a huge day for me/my friends and not just because of American Independence. That day marked the opening of Air BnB’s across the UK along with pubs, restaurants and various other pastimes we’d all taken for granted.
Leading up to this I’d been saying to my friends as soon as national travel was allowed once again we should aim to carry on our quest to climb the ‘Three Peaks’. First on our target list was Scaffel Pike in the Lake District. Thankfully everyone was on board and willing. The very next weekend we managed to secure a place to stay in the Lake District from the 11th of July to the 13th, pretty rapid all things considered!
I wrote extensively on this milestone here: Climbing Scaffel Pike (F*ck Comfort Zones)
Climbing this mountain was massive and not only for the usual confidence boosters mentioned in the article above. Looking back, this restored our desire for more tasks ahead and made us really appreciate things for what they are. Ok, we couldn’t go abroad and on paper that may pale in comparison, but we still had such a great time and where it had been so long, we really loved every minute – and definitely more so than if we had ‘better’ options throughout the year.
As international travel was becoming more and more available, we flirted with the idea of a European trip, although the lists of countries accepting Uk citizens was always changing. This gave me the idea of aiming to climb Big Ben Nevis in Scotland to round out all three of the peaks.
Low and behold, we did it exactly a month later and in STUNNING weather. Again, extensively documented here: ‘Three Peaks’ COMPLETED – Climbing Big Ben Nevis
To this day, that was one of the hardest physical tasks I’ve done particularly at the pace I climbed it at. But more importantly, it was probably my most fun trip to date too; we had a big group and a great group. The scenery was moving and none of us wanted the trip to end.
So, once more, what were the philosophical takeaways here?
This taught me there are always other options and often times beauty is closer than you think. As hippie as it sounds, there is magic everywhere and fun to be had in the most unexpected places. We did the best with the options we had. I honestly can’t think of a better alternative for trips this summer and I’d go as far as to say I wouldn’t even choose an international option over the trips I had this summer.
September Onwards – More lockdowns & Uncertainty While Combating Winter Blues
It’s strange. We were confident we’d hopefully seen the last of all the insanity of the spring/early summer. Lots of people were worrying that as the weather declined, the virus would pack a stronger punch and with immunity being naturally lower as well, it was one of those situations you almost went into denial about. Although the sceptic wasn’t going to be surprised by anything anymore.
I gradually built up a client base again after the summer crash and started a new calisthenics class that was rapidly gaining momentum. Then it was announced the UK would have another lockdown from the beginning of November to the beginning of December.
Back in April I repeatedly said if this happened in November it would be everyone’s worst nightmare, and look what happened…….
This meant gyms closing again and this time the weather wasn’t on our side whatsoever. Needless to say this was another punch to the gut for gyms and pretty much all other industries forced into closure. Interestingly, swarms of people this time didn’t adhere anywhere as strictly to the ‘rules’ as last time. And can you blame them? There’s only so much you can take and all the while more and more evidence was mounting tearing holes in the ‘research’ and ‘facts’ about Covid.
All my experience from the first lockdown paid off here as I knew how to handle outdoor training and how to approach it mentally. This time physical exercise was even more important. Moods are naturally lower during this period anyway, let alone with exercise loosely banned.
As per though, we got through it and it was fine. When the gyms opened back up life became easier again but for how much longer? The uncertainty is almost never ending – and this leads me to my lesson from this time of year: always have a back up plan in place or a back up plan at least considered. This doesn’t just apply to training and exercise, it can be applied to anything.
When you can only function in ideal circumstances, this leaves you immensely vulnerable to change and can uproot you totally when the unpredictability of life strikes. This doesn’t mean go looking for tragedy but it means you should expose yourself to trying conditions and embrace variations of things so that in times of forced change, you swim as opposed to sinking.
New Year 2020/2021 and beyond
I’m typing this sentence on the 16th of December 2020 which is scarily close to Christmas. I’m not a Christmas person and never have been really, so I don’t get all the fairytale Christmas feelings and excitement you hear about in the movies and on social media. For me the excitement lies in the catchups with friends, the new year getaways and celebration options as well as the group training sessions we have where we get to tear it up a bit and fuck off the rigidity of usual routine.
Obviously this year is nowhere near the same as distant friends are scared to travel or aren’t even ‘allowed’ to. And travel options are once again restricted and forever changing. I will remain optimistic that I could still travel to Europe once again and see a different city. If that’s not possible though, we will do the best we can here, rest assured.
In a strange way this year’s Xmas run up isn’t as bad as previous years and I think it’s down to a forced reduction in expectations. Not even in a negative way, just realistic. I know so many things are off the table this year. Therefore my gratitude for whatever is possible will be magnified. Which, as I alluded to earlier, is madness because if you told me these would be my options this year I would have stomped in protest. It’s amazing what brainwash and psychological programming can do to even the most free thinking of folk.
This already thorough post wouldn’t be complete without addressing the inevitable dip in motivation associated with the constant yo-yo of not knowing how much longer you’re legally allowed to do your very day job……….
Lately, due to a quietening client base and the natural reflections another year passing causes, I’ve been seriously wondering where my future lies. This isn’t me announcing my retirement, rather me sharing the thought patterns I’ve been through to overcome these uncertain thought patterns and associated situations.
Real world opportunities are hard to come by in an industry that’s been jack hammered all year and as a result, your own motivation to boost your own empire can dwindle as things slide around you.
Athletically this year has been even more humbling than last year, too. I’ve had injuries, lack of progress and not really achieved the goals I set out to 12 months ago. Granted, there has been many successes but sometimes you assess in a black and white mindset; did you achieve X, Y & Z? Instead of seeing this as negatively and wanting to give up, I see it as a clear indication of all I did wrong.
I didn’t rest enough, trained too frequently, tried to force the issue, didn’t adjust my approach to match my increasing athleticism and completely overlooked and disrespected the laws of recovery when it comes to exercise. Slowly the lesson is sinking in as already, I have been adding in more rest days and aiming to control various health markers – cortisol in particular.
One thing setbacks and ‘failures’ do is awaken your senses and intuition more and more. You get an innate sense of when something’s wrong and you have more confidence in making these calls on whether to stop or keep charging ahead. This is something textbooks can’t teach. Mentors/gurus can preach it to you but it doesn’t sink in. When you experience it though, then eventually you have to take note and adapt.
As I round out this post I’m going to set no specific goals as of yet for next year but I will remain constant in my habits and keep pushing forwards in all the important areas of my life. The last few years have been super goal orientated and when these goals are very wide spread, you can slightly deviate while still achieving plenty, yet somehow you will still feel a failure. Maybe it’s time for less obsession and more trust in habits and discipline, of which are actually sustainable?
If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for reading this post. I trust you could decipher the underlying messages within each section and I truly hope this has caused you to assess your own approach to the twists and turns of life, especially when things change unexpectedly and you realise you’re attached to things far more than you realised.
I also trust you respect the fact I cannot be super direct in some of my analogies out of respect for parties involved, and sometimes less is more when it comes to story telling.
Happy new year and I hope your optimism and habits carry you wherever you want – and deserve – to go.
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.