So here we are in week 2 of self-isolation. We’re past the adrenaline surges of the first few days and are now well into the drudge. Now the whole thing is odd, and a bit strange and a bit stressful.
I found myself thinking who has been through something like this before? Monks? Astronauts? I know. Me! Together with Jamie Fitzgerald I’ve spent six weeks in a boat that had an area of less than 14 m². And that was palatial compared to spending eight weeks trekking to the South Pole sleeping in a tent of about 4 m². So here’s nine lessons that I learned. I hope they’ll be as helpful for you as they have been for me.
1. These are the hard days (it gets better from here)
The emotions in the first day or two of any expedition always seem to range somewhere between excitement and terror. On just day 2 of the ocean rowing race we had storm that blew winds from almost exactly where we wanted to head. It wasn’t until the fourth day that we finally lost sight of land! And on the trek to the South Pole we were dropped off in the wrong location (long story!) A mistake it took three gruesome days of hauling to fix.
Next comes the grief, as you start to realise all the things that you will be missing out on. Your calendar reminds you of birthday parties you won’t be at, weekends away you won’t be having, Easter get-togethers that will now be shelved.
For these reasons I think that Week 2 is the hardest week. You only just started and you’re feeling rubbish, and the end seems a very long way away. You just need to remember that every big challenge you’ve ever taken on feels like this. Psychologically, the first 20% takes a while to get through but then before you know it your a third of the way through … and then halfway! Halfway is an awesome milestone but can be bittersweet as you wonder whether you can handle twice more of what you’ve just been through. But then two thirds creeps up and before you know it you’re getting very close to 90% – and then you can see the end.
My advice? Whatever mood you’re having at the moment don’t project it out, it will change.
2. Keep a journal
It might feel like nothing is happening minute by minute, but day by day these are strange times. Your grandkids are going to ask you what the lock down of 2020 was like, but long before then there are plenty of mental health benefits about getting your thoughts down on paper. In the row boat there was little time for writing as sleeping was so precious, but I did try and dictate some notes (so quite a lot of me snoring).
3. Get a ‘quick win’
Just before the gun went off at the start of the trans-Atlantic race, there were 15 other boats floating in the harbour. All the crews were eyeballing each other. Everyone was trying to work out who were the contenders and who were the pretenders. It was impossible to tell.
A few days after that storm finally passed, we were very surprised to found ourselves 25 miles in the lead. We were winning the race! To get our noses in front ‘proved’ to ourselves that we had what it took to do well. Even after we lost our lead a week later we still felt that way.
Invest time this week into getting a ‘win’ for your bubble. Having a games night, or a meal that you all cook a course for, or a family game of cricket or something that shows that you can have a great time together. That you are going to get through this.
4. Share the laughs
We can learn a lot from free divers. They have to have complete control over their negative thoughts. When they are 100m underwater they can’t start to wonder if they left enough money in the parking meter. World record holder William Trubridge says, the trick is ‘…to give your mind something to do in the same way that you would give a baby a pacifier to suck on’.
I suggest getting your mind to suck on some comedy. In the rowing race I used to listen to the classic Ali G interview of Posh and Becks (you can find on Youtube – not safe for kids) just about every single shift.
Despite the bleakness, or perhaps because of it, this is a fantastic time for comedy. American late night hosts Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Seth Myers upload gems every weekday onto Youtube. Dip in and get hooked.
As a family, whether it’s playing charades, or watching Mr Bean, or asking Siri for a ‘Knock Knock’ joke, time spent laughing together bonds the family and blows a raspberry at Fate.
5. Plan to get something done
The row and the trek were manageable because we had a clear reason for what we were doing. We were trying to win the rowing race in world record time, and be the first unsupported to the South Pole. What might that look like for you in this instance? What project are you taking on Is it to help flatten the curve?
Or are you going to try and get up to 100 press-ups? Or finish that gardening project? Or clean every room? Or finally tidy the garage? My son Tom is trying to learn all his times tables.
A red light can take forever to change – unless you have to do something, like find that things that’s falling down the back of the seat, or get something out of the boot, then it turns green in an instant. The busier you are the faster the time will go.
6. Keep track of progress and have something to look forward to
The most powerful source of motivation (after chocolate and strong coffee) is making steady progress towards a clear goal.