In 2019, my partner Antonia and I took part in the world’s toughest ski race. To find out what we did, watch this video and listen to this podcast. Last month, we went on another Arctic adventure, which provided a valuable metaphor for overwhelm that I want to share with you. This one, called the “Arctic Circle”, was by Rat Race Adventures – which we signed up for a couple of years ago when penned in by lockdowns. And before we knew it, we’d flown out to Norway to take our position on the start line.
A tale of endurance
Arctic Circle is a three-day event that takes place close to the borders of Finland, Sweden and Norway. In fact, the finish line is the cairn, which marks the border of all three countries – you can literally cross three borders in less than 30 seconds! Day one is fat biking, which is, frankly, almost an impossible task. The total distance for this leg is 25km, though we only cycled for about 500m of that (and that was in stages). These events are full of very interesting people with minimal ego, despite all being quite accomplished. Typically you don’t realise what someone’s achieved until you go home and Google them. This meant opportunity for many engaging conversations, which really helps to take the mind off pushing a heavy bike through deep snow…
Day two is cross-country skiing over about 25km of undulating terrain, which we have experience of, and really enjoyed. We spent the night on the snow in two-man tents, before the final 20km push on snowshoes on day three. Blizzard conditions made for an uncomfortable start, but the 10km stretch across a nature reserve was worth the struggle. Aside from it being harsh and unrelenting, the downside of this terrain lingering smell of fuel in the air long after a snowmobile passes. But snowmobiles aren’t allowed in the nature reserve, so it was incredibly peaceful.
You might be thinking 20-25km is not a long way but don’t be fooled: the terrain is anything but flat and the conditions are unforgiving. Should you lose a glove, you’ll probably need rescuing. If you take off a glove or other piece of clothing for too long, that body part may not warm up again. Managing body temperature (and that goes for heating up as well as cooling off) is absolutely a top priority. Despite having previous experience in the Arctic, our mistake was to leave our mouths and throats exposed more often than we should. Once you get snowflakes and cold air into the throat, it can quite soon turn to a cough, sort throat and then a chest infection. We will learn from this and purchase a decent buff/balaclava for the next trip!
If you’re interested in seeing a video of our trip, click here to watch (with thanks to fellow competitor Chris Davies for the video).
What’s in this story for you?
All in all, it was a phenomenal experience and hats off to all competitors and organisers for a thrilling event. But what’s in this for you, aside from a good tale and a mental note to buy a balaclava when it gets really cold?
Well, it’s this. Every time I do one of these adventures, I learn things about myself. In the Arctic Circle Race of 2019, I learnt that my endurance mindset was terrible. I overestimated how much I’d achieved and didn’t leave enough in the tank for what was left. This time, I channelled that previous experience to combat any feelings of overwhelm. And this principle applies to all aspects of managing energy. That can mean an endurance race or working through a busy period in the office.
I’m frequently asked in keynotes about managing priorities and dealing with overwhelm in a business context. Whilst I don’t think there’s a neatly packaged answer to this. It all depends on the individual, their workload, and the context behind the question. Taking part in endurance events has significantly helped me deal with this.
When you’ve got a long distance ahead, and the terrain is challenging and you’re dealing with hideous blisters (as I was), you need to be able to break down the distance into chunks. Focus on small efforts, don’t look too far ahead, accomplish that small gain and then set the next target. It’s about slowing down the pace, quietening the mind and focusing on the next goal. I believe this is just as valuable in a business context.
Dealing with overwhelm? Break down your workload into smaller chunks. Celebrate completing each chunk and refocus on the next goal. Don’t look too far ahead. Try not to overthink.
Struggling to prioritise? Break down all the tasks you have and categorise into the most important. Get those tasks done first by following the principle above.
Now for some reflection…
Taking part in these types of events teaches you these lessons quite quickly, as well as providing an opportunity to meet new people, learn about yourself and human nature and to grow in ways you perhaps hadn’t anticipated by getting into your discomfort zone. I’d like to leave you with some questions for you to reflect on:
1. Do you have strategies for managing overwhelm?
2. How’s your endurance mindset?
3. Do you take yourself into your discomfort zone?
Let me know what you have planned and your thoughts on this blog – we love to hear from you. I’m @leannespencerkeynote on Insta and LinkedIn.