Use a Challenge for Focus and Motivation

The use of a challenge for focus and motivation has always paid off. Working towards an end result, an aim or the completion of a challenge gives me a buzz. It seems that I find this the most successful method of keeping me focused and on track. That and using my headphones. It was only about five years ago that I experienced a eureka moment. I spent many years denouncing headphones or earbuds as absolutely the worst bit of kit to use for concentration. One day I discovered that I could mark student’s work and fully concentrate while listening to music. It was a massive revelation, yet put the radio on and I would fall apart.  The choice was either silence or my headphones.  Eventually, it reached the point where I couldn’t focus at all on working on anything unless I was wearing my headphones.  On the flip-side of this, however, I refuse to wear them when walking or running… but that’s a different blog entirely!

Woman standing in front of a wall smiling, wearing headphones
The infamous headphones – those colleagues who have worked alongside me,
know I can’t concentrate without them!

Set a challenge

Back to the goals then; setting a challenge gives me focus and motivation, keeping me on track. Take away the challenge and it’s like the routine has been destroyed. Without a routine, most humans are lost and unproductive. I’m guessing that there’s a major proportion of the UK population (and across the globe), who suffer from this trend. No routine often equals zero purpose.  Zero purpose can lead to poor mental health, and so the cycle continues.  Fortunately, I don’t often struggle with my mental health but I know a great many that do. I’m fully aware that I don’t want to ‘float’ through my days. Having said this, I’m not one to get bored as I am always busy; there’s always plenty to do.  Despite this, it’s still far better for me to ensure I have a daily plan and a target.

In January 2018, I was losing sight of motivation with the loss of my annual adventure challenge focus, due to my elderly parent’s failing health. As a result, I concocted the challenge ‘100MappyDays’.  Over two years, this brought me outside regularly and kept me goal-driven. It ensured I was regularly ticking off new walks as they were completed and excited to start the next one.  Fitting in beautifully with these new, difficult circumstances I was faced with – it afforded me flexibility. I adapted well to the unfamiliar limitations.

Sunset coloured sky above a hill with two trees atop.
Beautiful sky over Colmer’s Hill at the end of my 46th 100MappyDay in Symondsbury, Dorset

Adaptability must be our friend

Here we are in 2020 and now the limitations are national.  A pandemic of global proportions, causing grief, stress, and curfews as none of us have experienced before.  Adaptability must be our friend then. We have adapted our daily routines to suit our roles as either key workers, supporting and serving on the ‘frontline’; employed and essential travellers; or ‘stay-at-home lifesavers’.  If like me you are the latter – your lives within lockdown will have likely changed in a dramatic fashion.  Following the recommended guidelines of only leaving the house for one session of exercise per day, supporting vulnerable people, essential travel only and limited shopping is not easy for a nation that has taken our freedom for granted.

An epic adventure

A new challenge that has been worked towards for months, would have begun on Saturday 4th April. Walking the Southern Upland Way in Scotland would undoubtedly have been an epic adventure. Motivation and focus was such a big part of the training for this. Bigger still was the opportunity to undertake it with two female friends who have never been on a long-distance hike or backpacked before.  Disappointing then, that shortly before ‘Thundergirls Are Go’, we had to pull the plug on our trip.  Picture my scenario as an analogy; it was like floundering in the middle of a partially-filled watery abyss – neither able to touch the bottom or float to the top.  There was only one way forward in my eyes and that was to create a NEW challenge that filled the boots of the Southern Upland Way.  What better challenge then, than a ‘virtual’ challenge of the same trail?

Inspired by another Virtual Challenge

Thankful that I have been following Rory Southworth on Instagram, I roared with laughter at his dry humour and witty posts.  Carefully selected images speak a thousand words, leaving little need for long, wordy posts.  Aside from keeping me entertained during some strange times, last week, he began a virtual challenge, climbing the ascent to Everest Base Camp, using stairs or steps and engaged a team of thirty others to join him.  This got me thinking.  I could cover the full 8450 metres of ascent from Portpatrick to Cockburnspath, a 215 miles national trail using the same concept; and I too would aim to enlist a team of intrepid adventurers on my expedition, using the hashtag, #virtualSUW.

Woman wearing a baseball cap and standing at the top of steep garden steps.
Ascending the great heights of my back garden steps!
An text example of how to plan for a virtual trail challenge
Sharing my graphic – this was my way of sorting out
what I needed to do, in order to undertake my virtualSUW challenge

Challenges don’t have to be big to be beneficial

As a result, my Corona Days are not, by any means, full of dread when I wake up in the morning.  I have never sat with my head in my hands and claimed to be bored.  I have a list on which I never seem to tick off all the entries (so not unlike my past life in teaching then!)  Above all, I feel great and I hope that others are consuming this challenge like medicine too.  Challenges don’t always have to be big to be beneficial. Even small, home-grown challenges can be used to focus our minds and for the motivation of our souls. Our circumstances are different now but not unmanageable.  Mental and physical health and the personal safety of all lives are paramount and that is why, when required to I subscribed to the guidelines, staying at home as much as possible.

June Daily Jaunt

Revisiting this blog, over a year after the pandemic began it’s spread in the UK, I’m maintaining my focus and motivation using other challenges. The Mon and Brec Bridge Bagging Challenge is one – walking from my home to a bridge on our canal, and back again. Then to another and back. It’s been therapeutic and given me a reason to head outside, though mostly only at weekends when I can fit in a longer walk.

I still needed a daily focus, so that’s where the June Daily Jaunt entered, stage right! Thirty days of walking daily, anything over a mile. Lots of people have joined in with me and it’s inspiring us all to get outside more regularly, instead of keeping our heads down and working all the time. It’s so easy and such a simple principle. Using a bingo sheet with thirty prompts, colour them in as each of them are completed. Some are harder than others – but then it wouldn’t be a challenge if there weren’t some physical or psychological demands on us would it?

This challenge has sparked my focus and motivation anew! You can download a free June Daily Jaunt bingo sheet here. It includes the full prompt sheet and a blank version for you to create your own. No need to do this challenge in June either – just complete it as a thirty-day challenge ANY time!

A sheet of white paper with printed text. Some text boxes have been coloured in.
The partially-coloured ‘bingo sheet’
for June Daily Jaunt
A woman, Zoe, smiling at the camera, with sunglasses on her head, curly hair tumbling over her shoulder and wearing a rucksack and blue t-shirt. There is a river, grass, trees and a hill in the background.
Zoe out on Day Three of June Daily Jaunt (*Urban Walk)

With a Challenge, everything will be ok in my world

In the meantime, as I listen to such artists as Pokey LaFarge and the Foo Fighters on my Jurassic MP3 player, I feel reassured that as long as my head holds both a challenge AND my headphones, all will be okay in my world.  One day, it will be permissible for us to Head Right Out once again. We will be able to use a different style of challenge for focus and motivation. When that day comes, the new me, alongside a nation of other newly-transitioned humans will emerge as butterflies.  We will surface from our hibernation of sorts, with fresh perspectives, greater tolerance and a deeper love and pride of our immediate community and national assets.  We will be ready for a new world, or at least our old, familiar world, full of people with new mindsets.

The HeadRightOut logo of a woman wearing a blue baseball cap and shorts, leaping forwards and carrying a lime green rucksack
HeadRightOut Hattie – HeadRightOut’s spritely logo – looking forward to emerging into the outdoors, beyond lockdown

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