Setting goals is often a new school year task. With younger children you may be setting goals for them. Older children may be setting their own goals for the year. They may be little goals like getting a particular letter or number formation right (and we all know that is HUGE when it finally clicks) or it might be bigger goals like reading a particular book, improving their level in a certain subject significantly or being brave enough to speak in assembly.
Whatever goals you are setting for your children and yourself this year, I wanted to tell you a little story about my holiday to encourage you to be a little more brave than you might be inclined to be. I am a huge fan of the power of story to inspire so whilst this tale isn’t related to teaching I know you will see the relevance. It is the holidays after all.
Every year I go on holiday with lots of my family. Last year we were limited to numbers but because of that we were all the more determined to get all the gang back together this year. As soon as dates were announced we booked the biggest house we could find (one we had visited before as it turned out), in Edenhall near Penrith.
This beautiful old farmhouse and its little annex accommodated all 17 of us ranging from 18 months to 70+ and we had a week of love and laughter, as always, just enjoying each other’s company.
My Big Goal!
On the second day my brother in law, Tom, suggested that some of us might want to tackle one of the many mountains in easy reach – Penrith is just on the edge of the Lake District, a truly stunning part of the world. The discussion began; who would be interested, who had the necessary equipment with them, which peak would we attempt…
I desperately wanted to attempt this challenge. When I turned 40, five years ago now, I set myself a challenge to climb a mountain with my sister (she’s incredibly fit and my best friend so she was the perfect choice). I knew I needed to be fitter, so needed time for that, then finding a weekend we were both available, deciding which to tackle etc became difficult with family committments, then of course the pandemic stopped everything. All of which meant it never happened. It never stopped being one of my goals though.
During the first lockdown, I did what many people did and sat too much, ate a little too much and felt generally lethargic. However, we did go for our permitted daily walks and I loved it. As time ticked on the need to be outside more grew and I started walking further and further. I also bought a cross trainer/exercise bike so I could squeeze workouts into busy days. I have been slowly building my strength.
Over the years there have been several occasions when big family walks have happened and I have never been brave enough to join them. My joints aren’t great due to my acromegaly and between that and my children being too young to join us, I have found excuses.
The truth is I was scared.
Scared of holding everyone up. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it, or I would get up and my joints wouldn’t let me come back down. Worried my family would see me differently because my body fails me sometimes.
It all felt completely legitimate at the time, but in reality it was just excuses.
While being too afraid to do these walks, I did however, begin to gather equipment. Over the years I have bought walking boots and poles and I had both with me. The boots I knew would come in handy for the usual walks we go on together, the poles, fortunately, live in my car boot!
So I started to explore the idea with Tom that I would go with them. He could see that I desperately wanted to do it this year and he chose a route that he felt would be ok. It was decided that we would attempt one of the easier routes up Blencathra.
The big day…
From our party of seventeen, eleven of us wanted to attempt this mountain so we picked our day, gathered our equipment and off we went.
Now I knew that it would be a challenge but I prepared myself as best as I could, I visualised myself reaching the top the night before and got an early night. What we couldn’t prepare for, was the car park we intended to use being full, meaning an extra 1.5km there and back on top of the walk (and mostly uphill too!). By the time we reached the start of the climb my legs were already feeling it.
In an attempt to prepare myself, we had done a 10km walk the day before to a bronze aged stone circle so my muscles and joints were already a little sore. But we set off and a combination of the beautiful weather and the company made me determined to keep going. The first few miles were much steeper than any of us were prepared for though and as I dropped further and further behind the rest of the group my morale dropped and I got frustrated with myself.
My amazing Mum, who was facing her own challenges (she went over on her ankle last autumn and has had her confidence knocked a little as a result), my 10 year old nephew, and my stepson’s partner, were amazing though. They hung back with me and took it in turns to spur me on with motivational talks and distractions.
Blencathra is a series of three peaks on the route we took. It took many tears and lots of determination to get up the first, steepest, peak. The only thing that got me up there was thinking “If that’s the only summit I reach today, at least I can say I have climbed Knowe Crags”. Of course once I got to the top and was reunited with the rest of the group, who were having their lunch, I sat and refuelled. I saw that the rest of the distance was a much easier walk and got my determined head on. No way was I going to get so close and not actually achieve it – my Dad had promised me a Blancathra, Wainright badge if I managed it and we all know how motivating a badge or a sticker can be!
Psychology at play
It was fascinating seeing the difference between the first stretch and this last leg.
I realised that starting the walk, already tired from the walk from the car park had knocked my confidence in my ability to do it. It felt as though I had just about believed that I could do the mountain walk but that extra distance was just too much.
Being so far behind everyone else had also had an impact. I felt I was holding everyone back and spoiling their walk (remember all those excuses I had made for all those years?). I realised that if I let myself have a good cry though, it released something and I walked quicker for a while. So I got up there on stubbornness and tears.
In reality my family were concerned about me. They were willing me on. My sister was so proud of me when I said I was going to keep going at the top of the first peak that she burst into tears. Even my 12 year old son was sending me text messages to keep me going – he was right at the front with the fastest walkers, my little mountain goat!
I did it!
When I reached the 868m summit I was overwhelmed with relief and pride. There had been so many moments on the steep ascent when I had doubted my body’s ability to get there. I was so proud of my Mum, who had been telling me how proud she had been of her Mum when she had walked the Lyke Wake Walk at the age of 65 many years ago. Well she had climbed a mountain three days before her 69th birthday and as she will never tell anyone about this amazing achievement, I am telling you. I couldn’t have done it without her and I am so grateful for the incredible example she has always set me. She is determined, compassionate, encouraging and stubborn and I love her so much.
It was an incredible achievement for each and every one of us and a massive reminder to me not to listen to my own self talk and to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
It doesn’t matter what the goal you are setting this year, with the right motivation, cheerleaders and a little bit of sheer determination, you can achieve it, we all can.
It might not be easy. You might take a little longer than you hoped (I know I did!). It may take tears, a little pain and a lot of gritting your teeth. You may need an incentive to keep going, some good company and someone to hold your hand but you can achieve it if it means enough to you. I believe in you and I know you in turn believe in your children and will support them to achieve all their goals this year too.
When you set little, easily achieved goals, it gives you a little easily achieved boost. When you dare to set a great big, challenging goal, you get a great big boost and a feeling of pride and achievement that will keep you going for a long, long time.
I learned so much about myself through challenging myself and pushing myself in this way. I learned that I can push myself so far beyond what I believe I can do, physically. I was reminded of the importance of mindset. I was grateful for the love and support of my family…
…and yes, my Dad did buy me a badge!