As many of you will know, I have just returned from two weeks in Norway. The plan had been to ski from Finse, on the edge of the Hardangervidda, down to Hellevassbu and then back (distance of about 500 km).
Sadly, my skis were not loaded onto the plane at London, a delay that cost me two days. Worse, the region was hit by a number of storms which reduced visibility to almost zero and made travel dangerous. Coupled with thick mountain mists and very deep, soft snow I was forced to adjust the overall distance planned. In the end I managed to cover about 250 km in eight days and a half days.
To be honest, I am fairly happy with the mileage I got out of this small expedition. The conditions made the journey more draining than last year's trip to the North Pole (I mean that). Pulling a 70kg pulk through snow drifts, some knee deep, was hard work. Each night I slept sound in my sleeping bag (except the night i forget to zip up the fly sheet - a mistake I discovered in the morning).
And there's another reason for the big smile on my face - I found away to keep the loneliness and doubts at bay.
This is no big secret, but before I go on I'll explain a little about positive thinking (a practise I don't believe in).
For many years, gurus and scientists have produced books and seminars showing how you can propel yourself to success using only the power of positive thoughts. You know what I mean - visualise yourself achieving your goals, picture your perfect future, and it will all come to be. Once you've planted the seed in your mind those clever neurons will find a way to make it happen.
There's only one problem - it doesn't work!
And why not?
Because of this...
Our Lazy Brains
Really, I mean - my brain is lazy and so is yours. That lump of grey matter in your head will do all it can to find a way to make life a little easier.
Here's how it works:
Scientists have found that visualisation can be an effective means to motivating us to complete the challenges we take on. Imagining a desired outcome should motivate our brains to achieve. Sadly the human brain doesn't really recognise the difference between imaging and doing. By simply picturing your wishes you make you mind think you have already completed what you set out to do. In other words, there is no longer any motivation for you to continue striving for what you want.
But more recently traditional thinking has been turned on its head. You see, the visualisation process works, but instead of simply imagining myself achieving a result you have to picture yourself going through the process - imagine the potential problems you could encounter and then mentally rehearse overcoming them. And it does work.
There is one little issue - the problem of the here and now. Often we'll find ourselves bogged down in some difficult or arduous situation and it becomes all to easy to give in; our willpower flags and before you know it we have surrendered. And that's something none of want to do.
So what is the trick?
A simple smile. Really! Putting a huge smile on your face and, instead of telling yourself, 'I can do this', you say, 'I am doing this.'
This little mind hack works. There were a number of times during my Norway ski where I found myself exhausted. I was sometimes knee deep in soft snow as I dragged a 70kg pulk over the mountainous terrain of the Hardangervidda. This alone was enough to drag me down into what felt like an inescapable pit. It was during these lows that I recalled Richard Wiseman's advice in '59 Seconds' - smile and you'll instantly feel your spirit lift.
The advice Wiseman gives is counter to the old adage of think good thoughts and instead focusses on acting to promote good vibes. Research by Wiseman and his peers has shown that by forcing yourself to smile you trick your mind into believing you are happy. Sounds crazy, but it worked for me as it did for many of the subjects of his experiments.
Obviously feeling good doesn't remove the feelings of fatigue. What it does do is squeeze out any doubts you may have in your mind - there's simply no time or room for negative thoughts.
And this is one very powerful method I used when times looked bleak or when my blisters started to complain.
Crazy as it may seem, lifting up your head and letting a huge grin spread across your face could mean the difference between success and failure.