“Humility is not thinking less about yourself, it is thinking less of yourself” C S Lewis
Humility and inner peace go hand in hand. The less compelled you are to prove yourself to others, the easier it is to feel peaceful inside. However, ask yourself the question, how often are you trying to prove yourself in front of others?
Humility makes us aware of our personal limitations and the limitations of humanity more broadly. We acknowledge that there is much we do not know, that certainty is impossible and that our understandings of the world are provisional at best. Humility opens us to growth and love and to accept change where necessary by going with the ‘flow’ as a normal everyday occurrence. We most certainly do not need to be anyone else other than true self.
Proving yourself can be a dangerous trap. It takes an enormous amount of energy to be continually pointing out to others about your accomplishments, bragging or even trying to convince others of your worth as a human being. Bragging actually dilutes the positive feelings you receive from an accomplishment or something you are proud about. To make matters worse, the more you try to prove yourself, the more others will want to avoid you, talk behind your back about your insecure need to brag and at worst perhaps even resent you.
I personally got to learn about humility following my abortive attempt with a colleague to row across the Indian Ocean nearly 15 years ago. We did alright, in that we rowed unsupported for almost 2000 nautical miles from Western Australia en route to Africa, until a tropical storm damaged both me and the boat. This meant we had to stop and abandon our world record attempt. Up until that point, I will admit, I was full of it – telling the media and anyone else in my earshot how great a feat this was, and therefore how great I was! And that lack of humility lasted after we returned to the UK, and accompanied me throughout the next couple of years giving public talks and chatting to friends and strangers alike. Then one day, I realised that I was fooling myself and started to look at the deeper messages of that expedition and how they had changed my outlook on life. Lessons like tolerance, awareness of the world around me and a good dose of humility developed my inner being and ultimately my inner happiness.
Ironically, however, the less you care about seeking approval, the more approval you seem to get. People are drawn to those with a quieter, inner confidence, people who don't need to look good, be ‘right’ all the time or steal glory. Most people love a person who doesn’t need to brag, a person who shares from his or her heart and not from their ego.
The way to develop genuine humility is to practice. Practicing is good because you get immediate inner feedback in a way of calm, easy feelings – in other words you feel good about yourself. The next time you have the temptation to brag about something, resist it. Instead, listen hard to what the other person is saying and calm your inner talk.
So, when we are humble, we can laugh at our self importance and sometimes, even set it aside. We can see our own faults and the strengths of others, and we recognize how much we have been given, unearned. It is but one step in finding out more about yourself and finding an inner peace that leads to a much happier being.
Here is a story that I use often in my leadership training as part of the ‘knowing thyself’ modules (you may have already heard of this, but a reminder is always blessed):
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
What wonderful messages for us, the key one being that whatever we tell our brain will manifest in front of us.
What’s the difference then between two capable people with different lives?
Why is it that some of us live up to our potential while others don’t? Is it something to do with what they are telling themselves?
These are interesting questions, and there are no blanket answers. It would be naive to reduce the complexity of different people and their circumstances down to a singular and easy solution. Still, let’s dig a little deeper.
Let’s eliminate things like genetic differences and general luck factors, and let’s pretend that we have two people with similar ambitions, similar opportunities, and similar skills. Will they both be equally effective in life?
The answer is usually no. There is something more, and it’s often the biggest differentiator between those who get what they want and those who don’t.
Grit, determination, willpower, mental resilience and motivation are all terms commonly associated with success of any kind. Much of the recent research has come to that conclusion, and broadly speaking, these things matter quite a bit.
In different contexts, they may mean different things, but overall, being able to harness each of them comes down to one thing — the ability to control your own mind and align it with what you need to do.
There are no shortcuts to do this, and I’m not going to pretend to provide one, but foundationally, there is a simple mental habit, that if mastered, will give you a disproportionally large return on your investment of time and overall happiness.
But first, let’s look why controlling your mind is so difficult to begin with.
The Mental Battle
Most of the psychological issues we face can be attributed to a single conflict.
We have two prominent and largely opposed parts to our brains. An old reptilian part that was programmed to help us survive and reproduce in harsh and varied climates thousands and thousands of years ago, and a modern part that allows us to operate in a world suited for longer term thinking.
The reptilian brain is incredibly efficient, and it’s very quick to respond to stressors in our environment. That’s where it primarily takes its cues from. It’s emotional, and it enables us to stay in motion without thinking.
The modern brain is less efficient, but more calculated. It takes its time, and its deliberate in evaluating the circumstances of our surroundings before it decides to act. It takes its cues from the rational mind before it responds.
By default, the reptilian brain is in charge. It allows us to function on autopilot, and it requires less effort than deliberate thinking and planning.
However, in order to exercise control over your mind to get it to do what you need to do, you often need to put the modern brain at the helm. That’s what will guide you to take on short-term disappointments (pain) to meet your long-term goals. That’s how grit, determination, willpower, and motivation are harnessed.
But if the reptilian brain is in charge, what can we do to consistently inspire the modern brain to take control? The answer is practice, practice, practice.
A Simple Question
The primary driver of the reptilian brain is your environment. It’s reactive to the cues in your surroundings, and it then follows a comfortable pattern.
The modern brain, on the other hand, has to be driven proactively. It has to be called upon. It certainly can be influenced by your surroundings, but only if something out of the ordinary occurs. Otherwise, it takes the backseat and is unwilling to act.
For many of us, there are a lot of easy distractions in our environment that guide our mind into reactive behavior to derail us from doing what we need to do. A temporary solution would be to remove those distractions.
Over the long-term, however, you want more than that. You want to be able to resist things not because they’re not there, but because you have the mental control to do. That’s where the following question comes in:
“Am I being mindlessly reactive or am I being proactive?”
Next time you start to procrastinate, ask yourself this question. Next time you begin to feel unhappy, ask yourself this question. Next time you think you’re ready to prematurely quit on something, ask yourself this question.
Almost every time, you’ll find that your initial response is reactive. Something in your environment nudges you into these feelings and they catch on.
When you make a habit of asking yourself this question, however, you stop and pause right before you dive into the spiral of despair. It won’t always inspire you to suddenly change your behaviour, but when you acknowledge that you’re being reactive, you make a choice to either stick with it or not.
Most of the time, you’ll take control and think purposefully and nudge yourself towards the desired behavior. Sometimes, you’ll stay where you are. Either way, you’re activating a part of the modern brain to make a deliberate choice, and that’s helping you practice a sense of control over your mind. Even just a feeling of control is one of the biggest motivators to be better.
If you make this a habit, over time, you will also see quite substantial results.
Which Will It Be?
When you’re reactive, your environment decides for you.
When you’re proactive, you get to decide because you’re in control.
A reactive person lets the world shape the outcome of their life. A proactive person takes the world as it is and shapes it into the world they want.
If you can successfully train your brain to deliberately question the state of mind it’s in and use that question to give you more control, you can do almost anything. You can quite literally reprogram yourself.
This is not a quick fix, and it will not happen overnight, but with one small step at a time, you can slowly align your mindset with your potential.
The choice is yours. Get feeding the good wolf…
It was my birthday the other day. Another number to add onto my personal life’s journey experience that we call time. And yes, although it is a bit of a cliché, it most certainly is only a number.
But birthdays are special, as they become a celebration of all that you have learnt during the previous year. Quite often they are shared with family and loved ones, but that of course is not always the case for everyone.
For me this was special, as it was mine (and my twin sisters) 60th birthday, but I was absolutely blown away by the love and words that came my way.
Firstly, I was humbled with the fact that most of my birthday celebrations had been organised by my 3 loving children. They gave up their time (a precious commodity for anyone) to mark this occasion for me, and one that I will never forget.
Secondly, I received through the power of short video clips, messages from family and friends. These had an incredible effect on me as I listened to people’s thoughts about me. I am not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up with tears throughout almost 30 minutes of playtime.
Thirdly, it was not just one evening of laughter and celebration – it actually took over 2 days, many activities (swinging in tree tops as an example!) and fun time.
It then came over me like a wave – that I was so grateful for all the people that made my life. As I paused and looked around myself, I knew that it was me that should be saying wonderful things to all those beautiful souls smiling at me! A return of gratitude is a lesson that I have learned but perhaps I do not express it as often as I should do. Time to focus on that a bit more…
I also started to think more about taking a closer look at the very small things that I might take for granted. So, the message for everyone is don’t just focus on the big and obvious things you can be grateful for.
Think about what very small things you can be grateful for too.
Like the plant just in front of my laptop that I am writing these words on.
It is not a remarkable plant. But its simple beauty in the vibrant purple colour, how it keeps growing on just a little water and sunshine and the faint smell of nature is something simple I feel grateful for.
Another thing that I am grateful for today – that I may sometimes take for granted – was my breakfast. It was a beautiful smoothie made for me by my wife. It was delicious. And, more importantly, I don’t have to go hungry. I am in the very fortunate position of being able to eat breakfast every day. Not everyone around us has that.
So, ask yourself:
Opening your eyes to the small and daily things you can appreciate lets you truly see more of the simple beauty in life.
But how do you get the gratitude habit to stick and not just become one of those things you forget about or abandon after a few days?
Two things that I have found effective and might work for you are:
Try one of these tiny time commitments every day for a week and see how it impacts your life.
Remember to be grateful and express that.
Don’t just keep the gratitude on the inside. Express it.
Make other people happier too by expressing how you are grateful for having them in your life. Plus, their smile and the joy in their eyes when you tell them this will make you happier too. Words cost nothing but can have a lasting effect.
So tell the people in your life how grateful you are of them. And a promise to myself is not to leave expressing gratitude until a birthday comes along…
How to Build Self-Confidence
I was visiting a friend the other day and we were talking about confidence in young people. But then, I had a look at the general figures for adults as well. There are some crazy statistics going around which if true, tell us that well over three quarters of all people suffer from a lack of self confidence and self esteem. This is turn most definitely has an impact on our happiness and success in life and how we interact with those around us.
Self-confidence is the single, most important attribute to personal success.
It is one of the major topics in self-development that is believed to be relevant to most people. This is not surprising since confidence is needed in every aspect of people’s lives. A person would not be able to successfully finish a race or perform on stage without a fair measure of self-confidence.
Self-confidence is a state of being, a state of the mind and body, where a person believes in him/herself, in what they can do and in what they can achieve. Without this self-belief, they cannot accomplish their dreams. If you believe it, it will have a good chance of coming true. For sure if you don't believe it, it will also be extremely difficult to achieve.
Self-confidence is not only limited to one’s beliefs.
It affects behavior and actions. It affects the way a person moves and speaks. It affects the choices that a person makes. A common image of a self-confident woman is one who stands tall, holds her head up high, and freely speaks her mind. She has an aura of positivity and optimism that affects the people she interacts with.
While this is true, self-confidence is also shown is other ways. A self-confident person also does the right thing even if he/she is criticized or ridiculed. A self-confident person is open to try new things and take on new opportunities. A self-confident person is humble enough to admit mistakes and accept compliments. Many successful leaders have self-confidence. People follow leaders who are confident and those that are sure of their cause or stand. It takes confidence to be a great leader.
A lot of self-development studies and articles have connected or linked self-confidence with success.
Confidence begets and leads to success.
Those who lack confidence or have low self-confidence struggle with success. Renowned author Brain Tracy says that those who absolutely believe in themselves can overcome barriers and do what it takes to succeed. He believes that real obstacles are in the mind and not in the external or outside world. Winning internal battles is important because it is a huge step to success.
Is confidence learned, or is it something that a person is born with? There are coaching and self-development articles, books and services that talk extensively about self-confidence. The good news is that it can be learned and developed. Where do you start?
Well, it all starts in the mind.
The first step is self-assessment. Take a good look at yourself – what you have done and what you have achieved so far. You have to know where you are to get to where you want to go. Part of self-assessment is to know your strengths and accepting your weaknesses. This is important because this can help you identify and anticipate future drawbacks and difficulties and can help you avoid them.
The next step is goal setting. Plan, research and write down your goals. It is important to set deadlines since these push you to get things done in a timely manner and help you move on to the next step. Without deadlines, it would be easy to lose track of what you want to achieve.
Another important step to building self-confidence is managing your own mind.
Negative self-talk is counter-productive and may sabotage your chances of succeeding in life. People sabotage themselves all the time. They work hard to improve themselves, they read self-development books, and they get on a program or set course on a certain action. Then after a while, they stop and go back to their old ways. You can avoid this by having positive self-talk and by feeding your mind positivity and optimism.
After the first three steps, it is time now to commit. Commit to your goals and consistently build habits that help you attain them. Write down any doubts that you have and challenge them rationally. Committing also provides motivation. It motivates you to stick to your goals in spite of difficulties and trials.
Sometimes, a person has low confidence because he/she lacks the knowledge or skills needed to accomplish a task. Increase your knowledge and skills by reading books and articles, by attending workshops and seminars or by getting coaching lessons.
It is important to start small at first. Start with your easy or small goals. Once you have achieved them, you can move on to bigger goals. Remember, a self-confident person gets out of his/her comfort zone and takes on new opportunities to learn and grow. In taking on new opportunities, he/she gains more chances and ways of succeeding.
As E.E. Cummings said “once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
Don’t be afraid. Live and be self-confident.
Day 33 - Friday
I woke up early at 0445am and had a quick but filling breakfast. I then moved all my gear up to the gate area where Buffy could easily pick it up and put into the van. I could not expect her to lug it all by herself and I am not sure if one of the boys would accompany her down for this last trip to the bothy.
At 0730am Buffy arrived and dropped the items into the bothy that I was hoping for - floppy hat, apples and perhaps a spare warm Norwegian shirt. I heard her talking to someone, probably Simon the NT volunteer who normally checks on the cattle at this sort of time.
By 0815am she was gone and I conducted my farewell ceremony. Some of my friends have taught me the power of a modest smoking ceremony when you leave a house/area and another at the other end when you settle into a new place. That makes sense to me: a smoking ceremony (by which I mean some smouldering sage leaves in a dish, with no deliberate inhalation) to signal to the ancestors that you’re leaving and to thank them. Indigenous tribes from around the world particularly the North American Indians and Aboriginal tribes do this.
I will sort of miss the bothy, but not, if you know what I mean! I had cleared the garden of my 'structures' minus the pebble glyph which I kept in place as I think it needed to be there for others when they came to stay. My serpent and heron driftwood sculptures were going home with Buffy I could really see them occupying space at Coombe Dingle.
At 0900am I took in a deep breath and lifted my pack on my back and set off down the hill towards the cliff tops for the last time. As I left the garden area I turned to look at the bothy that had been my home for 5 weeks. Would I ever return in the future I mused? Right, down to the business of walking around 170 miles home.
My first 'leg' of the journey home was to get over both the River Torridge at Bideford and the River Taw at Barnstable. This would be following the coastal path - much of this route I had already walked, although not as far as the towns. I have to say, I found the day really taxing due to the rucksack weight, the weather (hot) and the number of people using the path. It was like a motorway of people, which meant constantly stopping to let others pass as my 'frame' filled the path! I quickly realised that I had now had to forego any of the privacy that I had so enjoyed over the past 5 weeks, and without being rude just to walk as best I could without getting involved in too much talk with others.
I took a short cut from Westward Ho! to Bideford to try and cut down the time it was taking me, but also to escape the crowds. Bideford is probably a beautiful town by the river and sea, but I found it unpleasant with all the Friday shoppers on the streets and seemingly endless traffic on the roads. Crossing the old 'Long Bridge' I saw a plaque on an old building telling me about the last witches in England to be publicly hung, who were from Bideford. This happened in 1682 and one could only imagine the fear that these 3 ladies went through before a cruel death.
Moving onto Barnstable and the heat increased which meant plenty of water stops. Looking for public water taps was a challenge as there appear to be vey few outdoor taps either in towns or villages. This was to blight me throughout the next 6 days. Barnstable was similar to Bideford in that I crossed the River Taw via the 'Long Bridge' and had to walk up what was the old quay from yester year. Interestingly enough, it was from the old quay that 5 ships sailed in 1588 to join Sir Francis Drake in his fight against the Spanish Armada. Of the five, 2 of boats names caught my attention, 'Unicorn' and 'Dragon'!
Onwards and past Chivenor military base which is still an active air station but occupied by the Royal Marines. It was getting late (gone 8pm) as I approached the Woolacombe area, and I headed off inland to escape the walkers and found little wood with a stream close to the village of Ossaborough. I was truly exhausted and very hungry, so I cooked up one of the tagliatelle meals that Buffy had pre-made for me and washed it down with a sweet cup of tea. I had been feeding off nuts and special protein bars that Buffy had given me during the daytime walk, so this was my first proper meal following breakfast all those hours ago.
I was in my little snug pack and sleeping bag as the last vestiges of the light gave way to the dark evening sky. Looking at the map, I reckon I had done close to 27 miles (44 kms) in 12 hours which was a good effort and the kind of mileage I would need to do most days if I was to get to the end point on time.
Day 34 - Saturday
I got woken at around 0230am with the sight of lightening flashes away in the distance at sea, but clearly getting more pronounced so probably coming my way.
An hour later the thunder started and boy, what a noise and light show! It was true test for my waterproof shelter system but absolutely amazing to witness from my vantage point on earth. We are very often inside a building when this natural phenomena occurs, so I counted myself extremely lucky to be outside watching the aerial drama unfold above me. Goodness knows what the animals thought!
Around 0400am the rain started and it was biblical in the amount that fell over such a short period of time! I kept on poking my head with torch out to check the small stream close to me was not rising - otherwise I would be getting very wet! It started to get light and with that the heavy rain turned to fine drizzle, so no impediment to getting away as I wanted to for 0700am.
With my full wet proofs on, I was off again and back onto the coastal path, to be met with a steady trickle of walkers going in both directions. I decided to cut off the corner between Morthoe and Lee and thus avoided Morte Point, which although dramatic and stunning as a coastal viewing spot, I could do without with the rain and plethora of walkers. I passed a sign which said that Morte Point (literally meaning 'death point') was an notorious place for ship wrecks where in the winter of 1852, five ships were wrecked in the space of 3 months! Obviously quite a place, but a visit there for me would have to wait for another day.
By 7pm I had reached Henstridge Woods south of Combe Martin and decided to call it a day and get something warm to eat, with a view to setting off early (perhaps even in the night) tomorrow as the walk and weight had taken its toll on me.
My shoulders and legs are most definitely sore now after two days walking, and I rummage around into my first aid pack to rub on some white tiger balm. Tonight’s culinary feast is Japanese noodles with peanut butter and copious amounts of tea!
Looking at the map I can see I have walked 22 miles (37 kms), so I am happy with that. For sure I aim to leave in the night so I can get across to Barbrook which is south of Lynton on the coast. From Barbrook I will be in range of Exmoor which I am really looking forward to.
My route will basically take me over the whole west to east element of the moor and I intend crossing over the highest point on Exmoor at Dunkerry Beacon. There are also, like Dartmoor, many ancient sites and pathways to walk and discover. Parts of Exmoor have some circles and stone avenues very similar to those I experienced last year on Dartmoor. I was also looking forward to getting away from the sea and onto ground away from cliffs and sea birds - in other words back into the countryside after 5 weeks of living by the sea.
Day 35 - Sunday
I am up very early at 3am and have an early breakfast of special oats from Buffy's made up packs. The wind is slight but from the north which is why it feels cold - I will start my walk with a jacket on as a fine drizzle will soon soak me if I am not wearing wet proofs. And, blow me down, if it wasn't Dartmoor revisited again with the unmistakable 'thump, thump, thump' of a deep bass playing and drums somewhere. A 'rave' was going on somewhere to my north on the coast. At least it wasn't as loud or as scary as last time on Dartmoor!
I got to Barbrook not long after dawn with the sun desperately trying to show itself through the clouds. Through the tiny village, and apart from one dog barking it was deathly silent - of course it was Sunday, and not many people would be up and about at 5am!
Climbing slowly but steadily out of the village I can across a sign which welcomed me to Exmoor National Park. Fantastic! The history of Exmoor is one long story of how people from Mesolithic times to the present have tried in different ways to live on and around the moor. They have traded, travelled, worshipped and buried their dead up here on the moor. A wide range of animals also live on this moor and I was lucky enough to see many of them doing a couple of days walking across it.
I started to follow a little river system called Hoar Oak water and gently found myself on moorland. The place is alive with Exmoor ponies which are native, tough little ponies who are wary of humans and like to herd together. Having gained some high ground at 10am I stopped for a cup of tea and a snack.
On the map, I am indeed at Hoar Oak which once upon a time was a shepherds building high up here on the moor, characterised by a very old oak tree and its off shoot close by. I would like to know how old these oaks were, since there were very few other trees up here, other than blackthorn and hazels following the streams. With buzzards circling in the sky above me, I munched happily on a fruit bar and an apple and noticed three deer on the skyline. They are not big but have a reddish coat and antlers, so I think they are roe deer - a bit different from the fallow deer at Peppercombe who were larger and grey in colour.
Physically, after 2 days walking I felt a little sore but only in the shoulders. My pace had been good so far, with a ‘slowly slowly’ approach going up the hills and a rather more brisk pace on the flat and downhill. It was still a long way to go, but I was heartened and encouraged to be back in a ‘quiet’ place on Exmoor with its remoteness and beauty.