By: Stuart White 15-05-2020

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,

Looks like we’re on a slow crawl back to business, hopefully the start of regaining a semblance of order and familiarity when those deserted streets, closed shops and traffic-free roads will be naught but a memory. But before the new normal, lets reflect.

From a business perspective we have learned a considerable amount in a very short time: we have learned that future thinking is an essential component of business, along with agility - as organisations were forced to rapidly change their business models. I used to urge clients to interview remotely and they would say it could not be done and now managers who two months ago did not know what Zoom was, are now in virtual meetings every day as if it’s as familiar as using the phone. 

Inevitably there have been changes and realisations on a personal level too. Change can force you to look at things in a new light and challenge your current beliefs, values, and knowledge. There are things which we do in life that are important to us, not just as activities or hobbies but because they extend way deeper than that and become integral values.  I myself spent the best part of my adult life running. I was never a great runner if you are measuring competitiveness and ability but I did a few marathons, even an ultra-marathon, but all very modest and fun achievements. I ran everyday. I loved to run. I loved calling myself a runner. I loved associating with runners.  I even wore Nike running glasses casually –  it felt like I was the real deal!  It was my passion.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that I stopped. I recall continual, crippling discomfort when I ran and, because I had Degenerative Disc Disease (don’t be fooled by the big name – it’s as common as wrinkles in older people). I discerned that a condition caused by wear and tear and aging would be ill-served by pounding the pavement and with this  I concluded I had to stop. That was hard because some of the happiest times in my life have been when my running was going well and some of my greatest revelations have come when running. Running was both a companion and teacher. It taught me resilience, meditation, working through pain and discipline. Running taught me that every hill eventually ends, pain is temporary and how easy it is to be in the moment when it is just yourself, with body working with breathing on the road. 

My language changed to I used to run, I loved running and when I ran. I tried to fill the vacuum with gym and yoga and although I really like yoga, it has always felt like a poor second best. There has always been something that I got out of distance running that I have been unable to replicate elsewhere. I was envious of others who could run, often feeling a pang of loss and envy when I saw others running.

During lockdown it hit home that life is short and everything can change overnight. The impermanence of life felt illuminated and although there was not a single’ eureka’ moment, my musing took me to the question ‘why did you stop running? The answer I found was because I believed I could not anymore. No doctor’s diagnosis, no proof positive, just an untested belief and one that made me quite dissatisfied. I was only one Google away from “can you run with DDD?”, a question I had never asked but when I did found a positive answer. 

At the same time my state of mind and thinking was being influenced by a Dutch extreme athlete called Wim Hof, noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures and who holds the world record for a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow and for climbing Kilimanjaro in two days wearing only shorts and shoes! As I have run both a half marathon and climbed Kilimanjaro, albeit suitably clothed, I was intrigued by my kindred spirit.

Known as the Iceman, Hof proved that we can voluntarily influence our automatic nervous system, something previously thought impossible. And before you think that he is unique and a freak of nature to be able to do this, he proved that through his methods of mindfulness, breathing and exposure to cold,  he could get others to have the same control and achieve the same results. The power of mind over matter demonstrably personified.

So, I started running again and so far, so good. I don’t deny it’s humbling as my speed is gone and no amount of wishful thinking will change that. It’s a struggle but one of those pleasurable struggles, like trying to finish every last morsel of your gateau. While I am not young anymore, the muscular memory is still there and it’s just awesome to be running again. So, I can run with DDD.  Is my back still sore? Yes. Can I feel the stiffness and pain?  Yes. But I get to do what I love again and is it any worse? No!

This is not just about mind over matter its about changing the constantly running stories we tell ourselves about who we are, what we deserve, what we need, what we can do (or can’t). You can’t play the R Keely song ‘I believe I Can Fly’ and then meditate and expect it to happen, because that’s not practical. But how often do we envy freedom looking through the bars of an open cage? How many lies do we tell ourselves about what we can and cannot do? How many opportunities are we missing because we are finding reasons why we should not instead of why we should? How many of our passions have we killed when the reasons are not justified? 

I will be grateful for the lockdown for giving me back my true joie de vivre and letting me literally run free.  How about you?