James Gwinnet traversing a mountain gap on a ladder with ropes

How 2020 helped me make mental fitness a key goal for 2021

James Gwinnett Posted on January 26, 2021 in Blog

2020 wasn’t all bad. Am I allowed to say that?

As is so often the case, it’s a matter of perception. Because in a horrible year that challenged us with some devastating lows, I was lucky to experience some mountainous highs. Don’t get me wrong, there were some tough patches (anger, deflation, desperation, even fear) but, all things considered, the ups vastly outweighed the downs.

I have a fascination with pushing my body’s limits and took on the challenge of running 250km in five days at the end of March, then 100 miles in one day in early September. “You must be mental,” is a phrase I hear a lot. But it’s precisely because these challenges are ‘mental’, that I do them.

Let me explain. Taking on any endurance challenge requires more mental resilience than physical stamina. You can be as fit as Mo Farah but if you don’t have the mindset that putting one foot in front of the other for 20 straight hours (the time it took me to complete 100miles along the River Thames from London to Oxford) will get you over the finish line, you won’t do it.

Five years ago, my mental resilience was practically non-existent. My motivation had all but left me after a serious rugby injury and I was walking an unhealthy tightrope of alcoholism and depression. I’d all but lost my sense of purpose and I was struggling to find it at the bottom of a bottle.

Fitness saved me. The opportunity – I’ll come back to that word – arose to run the London Marathon and it gave me the means to pour myself into recovery and the motivation to truly commit to something other than feeling sorry for myself. After completing the 26.2miles, I thought, “What else am I capable of?” Over a series of other events, a marathon turned into 50km, 50km became 100km and 100km was then 100miles.

But I’m not in it for the medals, the Strava ‘kudos’ or the likes on Instagram, although they’re nice. I’m in it for the opportunity – there’s that word again – to challenge myself, to set myself a goal that most would deem ‘mental’ – even impossible – and prove to myself that I can achieve it.

Alongside various fitness endeavours, I started a consultancy business in 2020 albeit at arguably one of the worst times to do so. Excitement was interspersed with moments of dread and fear at not having sufficient work to pay the bills but, with a little grunt work, from this has emerged the opportunity to do some important work in the field of mental health with a company that is growing in prominence by the day. 87% helps businesses and individuals measure, understand and improve their mental wellbeing and this type of support for the workforce has never been more valuable.

And to top off a rollercoaster year, I also got engaged. Lockdown presented us with the opportunity to take a leap of faith and move in together, and it could not have worked out any better. Planning a wedding in the current climate has its challenges, but we’re set on having our nearest and dearest celebrate with us this summer, once vaccines have been administered and life has returned to something resembling normality.

You see, it depends how you look at things. There is no doubt we have faced some testing times – and there will inevitably be more to come – but learning to reframe your negative or unhelpful thoughts can help change their impact and reduce subsequent feelings of anxiety. Then there’s goal-setting. It needn’t be an ultramarathon; why not make it a job promotion or simply to spend more time focusing on family, or your own wellbeing? Having tangible milestones to work towards can fill our lives with purpose and set us on track to have a more positive outlook on the eventualities that we can’t control.

So, what opportunities do you have in 2021? What goals can you set yourself?

James Gwinnett is a new speaker joining the Speaker Buzz roster. The former rugby player suffered a serious neck injury and later struggled with depression. Using exercise and fitness to transform his life, he is now an endurance athlete and is Marketing and Communications Director of 87%, a team of experts in psychology, technology and business that has come together to tackle mental health in the workplace.

James Gwinnet abseiling on a mountain

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