How context can assist you to avoid anguish and overcome self-sabotage

Context is akin to perspective – which is the ability to understand a moment in time relative to all the parts that made it possible.

Why is context important?

Context is seeing each piece of a puzzle versus simply looking at the entire picture. One of the most disingenuous things I see online is people selling ‘how to’ [insert solution here] for body, health, or wealth product usually followed by a magic number: 30 days, 3 weeks, 10 days. It’s catchy because honestly – who doesn’t want a quick fix?!

I have no problem when people share their success, as long as they’re honest about the process (each puzzle piece) and how long it took to achieve – the length of time between connecting each piece to build the puzzle (the result). It’s not about doubting whether they’ve achieved it. Success is valuable social proof it’s achievable, as long we’re honest about how that happened. It gets muddied because the effort isn’t sexy.

This is why context is both important and necessary.

What is the harm caused by misleading self-sabotage?

Without context, it’s easy to get excited about a 30-day challenge to achieve X sold by person Y. Remember the old TV commercials where muscle toned bodies used product X? ‘Just 5 minutes a day on blah blah blah will sculpt your abs!’ I guarantee that model didn’t build that body with that machine. That’s context. I can follow the program to a T and fall short – immediately defaulting to ‘what did do wrong?’ What’s wrong with me?

Most probably nothing.

Well – not entirely – I’ve defaulted to looking for, and ultimately falling for, a quick fix. There is always a share of the blame that lies with us. Being duped into creating a false expectation lies squarely on our shoulders. If it sounds too good to be true – it usually is.

Let’s take dieting as an example. The US diet and weight loss industry are worth $72 billion. Yet six out of every seven overweight or obese person will lose a significant amount of weight in their lifetime, but 95% of them will regain all the weight they lost within 3 years! That’s insane – not to mention a lot of anguish generated.

The biggest ‘secret’ the 5% used to maintain or keep it off?

They chose what their diet would be, enabling them to live a lifestyle they can maintain.

So simple – but when has simple ever been easy? Side note here – what we eat is more complex than simply losing weight; not all food is equal; some act as assets giving us energy and nutrients to fight disease medicine – while others act as liabilities slowing our system down and, if abused – harming them.

I highly recommend following Dr Norton https://www.biolayne.com/

There’s no magical pill. No one diet, although there are tons to choose from – veganism, carnivore, keto, paleo, Atkins…. It’s endless… yet the long-term studies show that it’s not the diet defining the weight loss – it’s adherence

This is a great example to show why focusing on the result versus the process can lead to negative thoughts about our lack of willpower or how we self-sabotage our progress. If we have unrealistic expectations, our lack of results in a certain time frame will aid our self-sabotage.

Up till now, context has been used as an external evaluation tool, but now let’s switch that inwards. Let’s get real here for a second – if I have zero value on being healthy, whatever diet I start or exercise I begin – I’m going to land up in that 95% pile, clearly – because 95% tells the story.

The good news is I can become more educated about how the 5% keep their weight off, like how the 1% generate tremendous wealth. The better my understanding of their actions linked to values, the greater my chance to build sustainable habits.

It’s why I build context into my talks when speaking to others about my world record attempt. My health and fitness is built on 22 years of experience. I’m sad to say I didn’t start with the right motivation. As a shy, insecure teenager – I started training at the gym because my internal dialogue was ‘A girl would only be interested in me if I had a great body.’ How’s that for low self-esteem? Mercifully, working at a retail store covered in pimples forced me to talk to the public and build relationships with my co-workers; and that bubble popped.

This is an example of having the wrong motivation with the right outcome! I’m grateful this happened so young. I did love playing sport all through school, which gave me a taste of being fit. Gym kept me linked to that world after school, and I’ve been training ever since. When I lived in Cape Town, the outdoor life is what excited me the most. Hiking in the mountains on a clear winter’s day after rain gets my juices flowing – even as I type that! I don’t need extra incentives to get out and enjoy nature, it’s my soul food. Thus exercise became intricately tied to the value of being outdoors. I’ve now since linked it to two core values: self-development (answering the question ‘what am I capable of’) and using my capabilities in service to raise money for housing and education.

These powerful values bring me immense joy and gratitude for the body I was gifted at birth. After 22 years, I’ve experienced the ebb and flow of training hard, followed by lull periods (usually the cold dark rainy winters in Cape Town). Still, I have always managed to get back into it. My major puzzle pieces are:

  1. By training naturally at the gym (no steroids or other enhancers), my muscle memory helps me return quickly – and I know that.
  2. No matter how long the lull, three weeks back is all it takes to feel an increase in energy levels throughout the day – that feeling of optimizing my body is ingrained.
  3. I was never a morning person – but training in the morning gives me more energy for the rest of the day, and I feed my body. I’ve felt the physical difference testing out different times, and mentally having that achievement done and dusted instead of hanging over my head.

It hasn’t all been gym work and hiking, I also enjoyed nine years of playing touch rugby league every Wednesday night; I loooooved trail running for two years before my injury; promenade walks in Sea Point and New York; road cycling for eight years (thanks to living in Cape Town with incredible scenery and the worlds largest timed cycle race in the world as an incentive for training). These are important puzzle pieces to build the full picture of how I climbed a mountain every day for a year.

I bet you’re thinking – so what does this have to do with me?

Building context reveals the small changes needed to build sustainable practices

Simon Sinek talks about understanding ‘your why’ in business, and as an individual, I speak about linking goals to values. The better we understand ourselves and be brutally honest – the greater our chance of building sustainable practices. Deep down, you know what brings you fulfillment – but there’s a wonderful tool from Dr. Demartini that can help you determine your values today (values are a fluid concept.) I’ve used that in conjunction with a numerology report to understand why I feel so passionately about certain things and not others. If you’d like an evaluation send me an email. No matter what – there’s help to begin your journey to understand who you are.

Brutally honest means unpacking why something is important and whether it’s my dream or planted by someone else (maybe even society). To see if it’s ours, we can distill any goal by asking: ‘is this helping me with my mission in life?’

No? Then that’s why you’re feeling resistance and possibly exhibiting symptoms of self-sabotage like procrastination, substance abuse, or negative self-talk in pursuit of your goal.

I remember my accountancy lecturer telling my mom I was lazy. Did she know I hadn’t taken accountancy at school? Did she know I was an A student in maths? Did she know I am the type of person that needs to understand how something works – the principle – by having things explained in detail?

Nope.

Thankfully, my mom knows me well enough not to judge me based on this assessment. Instead, we came up with a plan to do introductory self-paced courses going over the basics in six months. I went back the second year and passed. This experience showed me accountancy wasn’t for me. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson around the word lazy – so often attributed to children. 

We are incredibly diverse as a species. Think about how many facets shape us:

  • Our bodies and how they function;
  • Where we are born;
  • Our parents;
  • Our greater family;
  • The schools we go to;
  • What inspires us;
  • What we love doing;
  • Our education (inside school and outside)
  • Where we get our worldly information;
  • Opportunities along our path;
  • Our exposure to different opinions;

And we keep searching for ‘the one thing’, a template to follow for happiness, fulfillment, success, and health.

I can understand why wealthy people with money as their success metric end up unhappy. We can follow a formula laid down by someone successful – but without their motivation, how can we possibly expect to feel the same sense of fulfillment? Or be surprised when we don’t feel the satisfaction they do? Imagine trying to bake a chocolate cake with ingredients meant for a soufflé?

Fulfillment comes from satisfying our soul, not our senses.   

I’ve been on a loooooooooooooooooong journey to understand this. When I climbed Table Mountain, I lived 100% according to my values, ignoring the outside world’s commentary. The noise deafens our soul’s words whispering to us gently, which is why I now understand the value in sitting in silence – meditating. It gives me the chance to embrace the void, where inspiration, creativity, and ideas to excite us are born. The irony is we believe we must work harder, longer hours to reach our goal.

That’s like running faster and faster on a treadmill wondering why the goal in front of us never arrives.

I often battle internally about where I am – versus where I believe I should be. I’m falling for the puzzle picture versus looking at each piece that created it. That generates anguish. It’s been my unease about teaching goal setting. While working on a goal-setting course, I realized that the most important element of setting attainable goals is a deep understanding of who I am and what I want.

That idea from the void set my soul on fire. It was as if a star ignited inside, unleashing unlimited energy within me. Sure I can break down how I executed that idea to make it a reality. Still, I didn’t consciously choose to climb every day – that gift came neatly wrapped up in an idea perfectly expressed in a sentence of eight words. If anything, the first step in goal setting should be learning to sit in silence.

The irony about self-development is that the journey isn’t about discovering anything – it just uncovers what’s already inside us all along. We currently have it all backwards. We’re more concerned with goals giving us something, than realizing it’s what we give that builds the foundation of achieving our goal.

So what next?

I hope you can see the value in developing a curiosity to understand the context of something before comparing yourself to others? A journey by definition requires action – which means movement, which involves taking a step. May I suggest your next step be putting this into practice? I know the more significant the inspired effort, the greater the corresponding result.

Here’s a suggested step by step guide to understanding how to build context into your life to unpack your goals and, who knows, maybe even uncover what sets your soul on fire:

  1. Context requires effort and research. Sit with this word and what you’ve read above. Take some time to digest it, and then write your thoughts on what resonates and what doesn’t.
  2. Articulate why you feel that way on each point. If you’re reading this, I’m 99% sure you have an internal drive to discover what you can become.
  3. What comes naturally to you? List them and goals associated with them.
  4. What fills your days and thoughts? If I asked, you could talk at length on? List them and correlate with the above.
  5. Now think about all the times you’ve beaten yourself up for not achieving a goal. Was that goal important to you? If so – did you dissect reasons preventing you from persevering? Was it simply because you gave up?
  6. Did you understand the context of what was required to make it a reality?
  7. Do you look at this post as a puzzle piece or the full picture? (I hope you answer puzzle piece!)
  8. Do you follow people that share how long they took to achieve what they did?
  9. Are you prepared to be in it for the long haul? Or want a quick fix?

I’m deeply committed to teaching others the benefits of pursuing their highest values because I’ve experienced how fulfilling it is and know the value it brings all of us if we do this. I have zero doubt about the purpose of what I share – whether in my writing, speaking, advising, or workshops – it’s to empower others to find their puzzle pieces – not follow others. Would you go on a treasure hunt and be happy there’s no treasure left after following someone else’s map?

The most exciting moment of my life always happens when I get a new piece of the puzzle – and take the first step on that path. I’m no longer constantly plagued by the anguish (it still pops up) that comes from trying to build my puzzle with someone else’s pieces. I still battle self-sabotage – but I’m kinder with myself as I master these ideas and keep pursuing what feels right, even in the face of steep ridicule or opposition.

Will you take the next step on your journey to living your purpose?

Learning Perspective

 

365 Ubuntu Climbs PerspectiveOne of the gifts bestowed upon me this year comes in the form of perspective.

It’s easy to make snap judgements on what I see or hear; because let’s face it – most things I comment on (socially, politically, environmentally) are based on my own experiences and beliefs.

I’d like to share some mind shifts I’ve had through dedicating a year to climbing the same strenuous route up Table Mountain – Platteklip gorge (a route most people detest) every day.

I’m going to relate them back to the three organisations its supporting: Habitat for Humanity; One Heart and The Sunflower Fund.

  1. Don’t you get bored doing the same route every day?

Stuck in a hospital room

When you understand peoples behaviour reveals who they are, then you realise this question gives me an insight into what the person asking me is going through.

The short answer is the mountain and climb are different every single day. However,your mindset determines exactly what the outcome will be. Instead of saying “You’re doing this for a year?” I say, “I’m only doing this for a year”.

First statement creates struggle; second one generates gratitude – and all with one word.

It goes deeper than this, which I discovered when I was constantly asked the question and realised I needed to think deeper about it. I realised boredom is a lack of appreciation for the gifts you have every day. Your health, your legs, your eye sight.

Just ask a Leukaemia patient who’s not just stared death in the face, but upon receiving a transplant must face up to three months of solitary in hospital to reduce risk of infection during a vulnerable time.

Three. Months.

No outdoors. Limited interaction with friends and family. Now let’s talk about boredom and whether they would trade that room for a chance to climb a mountain every day.

  1. ‘Bad’ weather as an excuse

drowned shacks

I use inverted commas there because I no longer believe there’s bad weather; just bad preparation.

I’ve climbed in all kinds of treacherous weather ranging from heat waves to bitter cold; insane winds reaching 100km/h to torrential rain. Sometimes these can be combined.

The reality is: my challenge lasts 2-5 hours (depending who’s with me and weather conditions) and then I get to go home to secure flat that’s warm and dry.

It’s over for the day.

For the thirty million South Africans living in informal houses, every storm brings with it the panic of what will happen to my home. Flooding is most often a cause from torrential rain and the first family member home from work will start ‘emptying’ the water from their shack and attempt to dry what little items they have.

Wind means there’s potential for other homes to become missiles and your homes relentlessly battered on the Cape Flats by the wind. Until it stops – there is no respite.

shackfires

We can throw in fires on the mountain. These may mean having to choose different routes, but in an informal settlement can devastate thousands of shacks. All because one person may have been reckless causing many to lose every single item they own. The mountains vegetation and life will recover and so too will most people – but the people have nowhere else to go.

Not knowing how to read; living in poverty and time before a donor is found – are all 24/7, 52 weeks a year challenges until help and empowerment are given.

  1. I Can’t leave Cape Town

 

Klapmuts primary school 365 Ubuntu Climbs talk
Children at Klapmuts primary at the handover where I had the privilege to speak about what I’m doing and why

It’s true that committing to climbing every day means I’m ‘stuck’ here. Most people we are helping can’t ever leave Cape Town; never mind just one year.

This was highlighted to me when visiting Klapmuts primary where the principal and teachers explained most children have never seen Stellenbosch (15km away) and if they do – exclaim how big the buildings are. At most they’re seven stories high.

I love that on their school hall walls they have four murals: The Sphinx; The Statue of Liberty; The Sydney Opera house – and Table Mountain.

By helping teach these children to read they have a chance at an education and a chance at going there one day. And that – is priceless.

  1. Pain and Fatigue

I’m adding this one even though it’s not part of who we support because it’s such a valuable lesson.

My legs and body having no day off was always the great unknown. Becoming fixated on the pain and weariness of my legs on each climb is easy, and then I was taught a lesson by a special man.

Lifa broke his neck playing rugby and decided the doctors were wrong when they said “you’ll never walk again” – he’s slowly but surely taught himself to sit upright; then stand; and now walk with crutches. This man is beyond special.

Having successfully navigated Lions Head up and down with friends he wanted to climb Table Mountain. The people at Petro Jackson Fund had met me and sharing my story suggested getting in touch. He did – and only because he’d made it up Lions head, did I entertain the idea.

On climb 145 we made it to the Waterfall and due to time constraints – had to deliver the bad news we were turning around. We’d never make the cable car in time and going further only risked more chance of complications to climb back down. Repeat – time was why we wouldn’t make it. Remember, he’s climbing with crutches – and with more time I believe he would’ve made it.

Lifa Rock climb 145 365 Ubuntu Climbs
Lifa’s rock is the one in line with his head – yes he got up there!

For two hours I watched the human spirit in action with determination and smiles to match. I named that rock he sat on after him and every time I go past it, I think of him and I’m reminded that whatever pain I have in my legs – it’s something he and others hope to be able to experience one day.

His achievement fans my flames and that pain and fatigue reminds me what a gift the ability I have is, to do this every day.

 

  1. Graffiti on the Mountain

Bonus lesson.

On climb 106, I started for a late afternoon climb, with enough time to see the sunset. Within fifty stairs, I saw the first of fourteen rocks spray painted. Not tiny things – entire boulders with the last reminder two thirds up.

It was disgusting and hideous to think that someone could do this. I was trying to contain my anger when something completely opposite occurred. I had two missed calls for the Safety Mountain Tracking people.

Andrew, we have a hiker in distress on Smuts track and you’re the closest – can you help us?

At this stage I was at my fittest and still feeling fresh, so I was able to climb the rest (a little more than halfway) in thirty minutes and then trail run along the eastern table to the highest point, Maclears beacon, and then down smuts track to where the five people were with two SANParks rangers.

Thankfully, because this would be crucial later.

The helicopter was unable to land on the incline and so rescue teams had to carry the woman down. I’d stupidly taken my torch out my bag thinking there was no need for it. How wrong I was.

The ranger asked if I could lead the four people back down Skeleton gorge but with fading light and no torches, I suggested radioing the cable station to ask to wait for us. They agreed and the safer option along the top was what we took. Before setting off, I saw one friend removing the woman’s jewellery and phone; it was only then I realised she’d passed away – a heart attack.

Fading light climb 106 365 Ubuntu Climbs
The cable station sits alone (middle) in the distance as I race to the distressed hikers

Life and death climb 106 365 Ubuntu Climbs
View south as I race along

Those spare minutes gained earlier enabled us to navigate the climb back up to the top table in twilight safely. Along the top, we passed two rescue teams thankfully with spare lights for the final stretch in darkness. Darkness wasn’t what made this the most difficult walk of my life though.

The four friends were in a complete state of shock and showed immense gratitude when we finally arrived back down safely.

At the bottom, I was no longer thinking about the graffiti.

Final understanding

I used to misconstrue having something that others; like legs that work, or opportunities, or money, as something to feel guilty about.

I’ve subsequently learned guilt is wasted energy. Instead I now do two things:

  1. Appreciate what I have even more
  2. Use my gifts/opportunities to empower those born into more challenging circumstances than my own.

The choice is ours.

See you on the mountain.

perspective quote 365 Ubuntu Climbs

Andrew Patterson has climbed every day in 2018 to raise money for three incredible organisations. To be part of the change you wish to see in the world head over to http://www.365climbs.com and add your voice to become part of the Ubuntu Family