Last Sunday was the St Albans Half Marathon. I didn’t run the half marathon. I didn’t run in the 10K either but I did run with my kids in the 1.5 mile fun run, and that ladies and gentlemen is entirely down to AXA PPP healthcare helping me in owning my fear of decrepitude and channelling it into something positive!
Vangelis is blaring out; I’m running in slow motion, aiming for the 4(+6) minute mile and frankly I might as well be Roger Bannister. All five of us ran the fun run but the two older kids went off at blistering pace, and wifey followed to make sure they didn’t get lost in the throng at the end. That left we running with Ned, who is six. Ned is a natural at pretty much everything but his one weakness with running is not pacing himself. Fortunately, running with me he had no choice but to run a bit slower. Even so, we passed a lot of parents, kids, teenagers and sole runners, which was heartening.
I had a plan though, and it wasn’t entirely down to my fitness or Neds aged either. As we came into the home straight, with crowds down both sides of the course, I turned to Ned and said, “Do you think you can sprint as fast as you can to the finish?” and of course he could. He might as well be modelled on Dash from the Incredibles because when he started really running, I had to put everything into it to keep up with him. We must have overtaken 40 or 50 people on that stretch, me crying “Run Forrest Run!”, Ned weaving in and out of people and as we approached the finish line, being cheered on by the crowd, we held hands and crossed the line together!
I’ll tell you this, it might have been hard work getting even this far, but it felt damn satisfying to cross the finish line of a 14 minute run at full pelt, holding my six year olds hand.
My fear of dying prematurely and leaving my wife and kids on their own was crushing and it was holding me back in so many ways but I’ve owned it. Now you can too, you can submit your fears here on the AXA Own Your Fears website and start your journey too. Did you know that 60% fear dying early and leaving their children? I wasn’t alone and the chances are you aren’t either.
Just remember, pretending that everything is all right doesn’t make it so, and that anxiety will be sitting there at the back of your mind nagging away at you.
Aside from the culmination of the the fun run, this past month has seen me double down and concentrate on not stuffing up. For me apathy to change and general can’t be bothered-ness has always been a problem but having a target to aim for has helped tremendously.
Talking to Becky, my support from AXA PPP healthcare has given me some great tips for keeping going, focusing on the lifestyle I want to achieve, rather than just specific targets, like losing X kilos, or being able to run 10K. I’m never going to be the sort of bloke who appears in a shaving advert but I could easily be one of the people to appear in a popular lifestyle product advert if I put a bit more work in and that’s what its about in a daft way. It’s much easier to buy into a lifestyle than a set of dry specific targets and that piece of advice has really helped me a lot.
AXA PPP healthcare have made me realise that owning my fears is structured much like a blockbuster movie or bestselling novel, just without the film stars or edge of the seat action sequences (if you don’t count me out on my bike, which you shouldn’t as it’s not very action packed).
Any good film starts with the set up, the heroes find out their challenge and go about achieving their goals, suffer a potentially fatal setback but then struggle through to redemption at the end. Unfortunately I’m at the “suffering a potentially fatal set back” phase in the movie of owning my fears and I’m very much hoping I’ll be able to power through to the final act and big climatic finale but you just never know do you?
As I mentioned last time, my big issue has always been sticking things out. Whether it’s failing to watch Breaking Bad, or neglecting not to eat all the chocolate in the house (including the stuff badly hidden behind the aubergines and eggs at the back of the top shelf of the fridge), I always get off to a good start with the best intentions but fail to stick it out. I’ve managed to get off to a good start owning my fear of an impending early death by making adjustments to my diet and lifestyle but now I’m facing a set back, like our nameless movie heroes. That set back is my arch nemesis: Apathy.
I don’t know about you but I tend to suffer from the process that when an immediate shock wears off or the initial impetus of doing something dwindles, I convince myself that things will be all right in the long run because things always tend to sort themselves out in the end anyway. It’s a comforting lie but it’s a lie none the less.
In the last 3 months I’ve lost almost six kilos and feel much healthier. I’m also sleeping better (both in terms of length of kip and how deep I’m sleeping) and feel generally quite a bit more energised than I have in the last few years.
This month has seen me backslide slightly. My alcohol consumption has gone up from nothing to not very much and I’ve had a ****** (a calorific sandwich with lot of sauce from a popular fast food establishment). Many would poo-poo the consumption of a ****** but for me it’s akin to a gateway drug; the first step towards a downward spiral that will eventually see me sitting down with a four pack of lager and an entire KFC Bargain Bucket to myself. Nobody wants to be that person do they?
It’s been a struggle because there are things I miss like bingeing on chocolate (the pre-diabetes scare has held this in check), eating lots of chips, battered sausages and assorted other junk food, and sitting around on my backside playing video games and watching TV. When the news reports said drinking a certain amount of alcohol could reduce your life expectancy by a few months, I thought, well that’s a pretty good trade off because life probably isn’t going to be much fun when I’m a creaky old 80 year old.
And the thing is, it isn’t fairly weighted. If I want to eat a bag of crisps, something that can be done sitting on one’s posterior on the sofa, I have to be aware that it’s going to require 10 minutes of jogging to burn through those calories. That’s almost criminal and probably the single biggest reason that I’ve always reached the “potentially fatal set back” part of the movie narrative and failed. You don’t see that in the cinema, apart from perhaps at the end of Terminator 3, where Judgement Day actually does happen, much to everyone’s surprise.
This is where being held accountable to someone has really really helped. Becky from AXA PPP healthcare hasn’t only been there to hear my moaning (she hasn’t even been silently reproachful down the phone for goodness sake), but she has provided positive action to help me muddle through the difficult third album phase of my challenge.
Part of that is looking at it positively- I’ve consciously not used the word struggle because that has negative connotations- I can look behind me and know that I’ve succeeded so far rather than looking ahead and seeing failure. Becky has also helped in practical terms too, she sent me some really excellent advice on habit stacking, which you can see from the infographic below, involves taking an existing routine or habit and “stacking” a new positive routine you want on to it in order to make it stick more.
I am a creature of routine and this had never occurred to me but it’s genius, especially when the good habits you want to build aren’t particularly fun or something that might come naturally to you!
As I work in an office environment, it’s quite easy for me to append a 15 minute walk onto my lunch every day (weather permitting). I’m a creature of habit and always tend to eat my lunch at about 12:15 everyday, so at 12:30 I now go for a 15 minute stroll around the block. It’s a simple as that and after a couple of weeks I already associate lunch with a bit of exercise- hurrah! This is something I’m looking to extend to drinking a pint of water after my morning ablutions to make sure I’m properly hydrated and having a vitamin D tablet with my first cup of tea of the day in the office to make sure my vitamin D levels are kept up (I’ve tested low for this in the past).
In some of my other posts I’ve started off with a quote from a film and then applied that to my situation. I had a couple of ideas how to end this post with something similar. I was going to quote the rather excellent Hey Duggee! Stick Song:
Because sticking with something is really powerful but in the end, although my youngest loves Hey Duggee, I’m slightly less enamoured by it and there is no excuse to not shoehorn a Star Wars quote in wherever possible.
During the attack run on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars (or a New Hope if you’re not as old as I am), Gold Leader starts his attack run, covered by a couple of support craft, including Gold Five. Gold Five constantly reminds Gold Leader to “Stay on target” and that they’re “Almost there” as Darth Vader and a couple of Tie Fighters come to attack. Those words of encouragement are important because without support, we all have a tendency to doubt ourselves and once you start doubting yourself, you’re in trouble. Actually, thinking about it, that’s a bit of flawed analogy because Gold Leader, Gold Five and the rest of that squadron all get blown up by Vader, because nobody but the named hero, Luke Skywalker, is allowed to blow up the Death Star, but you get my point don’t you?
Napoleon and I have one or two things in common. I’m not a short French dictator with a complex but I’m pretty rubbish at a war of attrition, and good old Napoleon did rather famously fail in his invasion of Russia. Facing my big fear- my own mortality, and doing something about it- is in many ways akin to invading Russia. The first bit is easy but then all you see is the enormity of it and feel trouble – but it doesn’t have to be this way if you can just see past the initial panic.
Fortunately I’ve not been driven to eating my own horse. That’s probably because I don’t have a horse mind you.
Feeling galvanised from my first conversation with Becky from the AXA PPP healthcare team, I finally got around to booking my 40+ health check at the doctors. Only three years too late but you know me, never put off until tomorrow what you can put off indefinitely. My fear of being told something was seriously wrong with me (I’m quite a bit overweight) made it much easier to avoid. But now I’m into the swing of facing my fears and using them to motivate myself, I thought it was entirely the right time.
So imagine my surprise when I received a phone call a few days after having my blood tests asking me to come in immediately as I was a high risk of diabetes. I happened to take the call while taking the cat to the vets to have the pus drained from a bite on his head, so couldn’t go in immediately. And the doctors being the doctors, immediately didn’t have the option of not quite immediately but very soon anyway. No, I had a wait of a week which reduced me to a nervous wreck. Fortunately I was able to draw on the expert help of Becky from AXA PPP healthcare, who as well as being a physiologist, also happens to be a pre-diabetes councillor.
Becky was able to talk me down from the cliff I’d put myself on (metaphorically, I’m scared of heights too), and pointed out that one in three people are actually pre-diabetic and there were some really practical steps I could take right away. For me fear is quite strongly rooted in passivity and the inability to effect outcomes, so having something practical to do before I saw the GP really really helped me. Sometimes you need a little help to own your own fears, and AXA PPP healthcare were able to provide that.
The biggest problem I have generally when it comes to achieving any goal is keeping the focus and not either backsliding or losing interest over a period of time. I have a short attention span, and even less sticking power. About the only thing I ever really finish are books, and I’ve lost count of the number of video games I’ve only ever played the tutorial on (hint: it’s most of the video games I’ve ever played).
That’s not to say I’m lazy (although my wife might disagree!) but I don’t easily see things through. For example if you were to ask me how good I thought Breaking Bad was, I’d tell you it was utterly fantastic and one of the best TV shows I’ve seen. I’d then go on to tell you that I got as far as episode six of season two and never got round to watching the rest of it for some reason or other. I am terrible.
This is were Becky at AXA PPP healthcare has really helped. Being held accountable, especially to someone I don’t really know, has helped me stay focused and the scare over being potentially diabetic has also played it’s part too. Knowing that I’m still in the woods as it were, and not free in the open has a certain immediacy to it that is helping.
With regard to the targets we set last month (get down to under 100KG, eat better lunches, and the third one?) I’m slowly getting there. I’ve lost three kilos in total, despite being busier at work and in the office longer. I’ve also enjoyed some great left overs and had some positive comments from others over what I’ve been scoffing. I’ve even managed to cut down the drinking significantly, not that it was excessive to begin with mind, but it all helps doesn’t it?
If you’ve been putting off something like a check up or a well being check, I can heartily recommend you grab the bull by the horns and make that appointment now. The simple fact you’re actually doing something will actually be empowering because the fear of being afraid of what you don’t know can’t be any worse than the fear of what you do know and are dealing with!
Now I’m facing my fears with the help of AXA PPP healthcare, I’m actually facing my fears with help from AXA PPP healthcare– I spent an hour on the telephone with one of their physiologists who is also a mental health first aider. It’s all very well girding your loins and setting your goals but sometimes you need a bit of help in facing, what many perceive to be, the peril. In this instance, my peril, in inverted commas, is the fear that I’ll have a premature death and leave my family to cope without a dad or husband (the kids without a dad, my wife without a husband before you get any funny ideas). Rather than thinking of this fear as a peril, I can harness it positively, by taking steps to improve my fitness and with a healthier diet. Unlike Sir Galahad, who obviously needed no help facing the peril:
Lancelot:You were in great peril. Galahad: I don’t think I was. Lancelot: Yes, you were. You were in terrible peril. Galahad: Look, let me go back in there and face the peril. Lancelot: No, it’s far too perilous. Galahad: Look, it’s my duty as a knight to sample as much peril as I can.
If there’s one thing I’m never backwards in coming forward about it’s talking about myself and the AXA professional Becky was super awesome in focusing the Alex stream of consciousness into the areas that needed it the most. In fact by the end of our session I was in full on Galahad mode and wanting to face the peril, no matter how perilous. It’s funny how some external input can really help you harness the positive potential of those fears full on isn’t it?
We worked through my issues, which were a mixture of diet, exercise and a lot of apathy, and Becky came up with a three point plan:
Reduce weight to less than 100kg – as you mentioned breaking this number is a big barrier psychologically. Don’t forget you have already dropped a trouser size through the addition of walking to work so you are well on your way to achieving this.
Increase activity level, keep up with football and walking to work but build core strength too. Could you link this with the children as supports, just like running with your 9 year old, could you find an activity to do with the others once a week too?
Improve the quality of your diet, specifically lunches when you are away from your wife. Don’t worry too much about calories, let’s look into nutritious rich foods. Take leftover dinners to work or cook yourself something – don’t forget you enjoy cooking so hopefully this will be a positive aspect of routine rather than a chore. Planning is key here!
Right now my knees are aching something rotten; I played five a side last night and by the end of it was really beginning to suffer (I am 43 and overweight!) but I was still out today racking up the steps. And while steps don’t mean prizes, they do mean kilometres, and in the long run the prize is conquering my fear of an early departure from this mortal life, so I suppose it is a prize in a way. I walked to work so fast on Tuesday that the GPS assisted activity tracker I was using categorised it as a run rather than walking! Every time I feel like dawdling on my walk to work, I think about lying in bed worrying how my kids would cope with everyday growing up milestones- transitioning to secondary school, sitting their GCSEs, getting a first girlfriend or boyfriend- without me there to help them along the way. To be honest it’s still very easy to lay awake at night with those worries but I am at least utilising that fear to drive me on to a healthier me.
I was particularly impressed with some of the tools and resources AXA PPP healthcare gave me to help with this progress. There is a great resource called Food for Thought that Becky emailed me that not only did the normal sort of “eat brown bread because it’s better for you” jazz, but also had a mood & food diary, with specific minerals and foodstuffs that could help improve your state of mind. I never knew that processing alcohol, your body uses thiamin, zinc and other nutrients and this can deplete your reserves, especially if your diet is poor.
After my first hour consultation, I get 20 minutes a month to catch up to make sure I’m still on track. This weekend, I’m following advice and taking the kids for an excessively long cross country hike followed by a nice swim to warm us all up!
To find out how fears can hold us back and watch a video by leading psychologist, Dr Mark Winwood, about ‘How to set your fear’ so you can turn it into a motivating tool, visit AXA PPP healthcare’s Own Your Fears website: www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/ownyourfears.
AXA PPP healthcare are launching a new campaign called Own Your Fears, looking at the way we can use our fears in a positive way to motivate us to change the way we live for the better. While fear is a natural instinct, we needn’t ‘fear’ fear or let it hold us back. If only there was a way to positively harness these fears and use them as a springboard into something better…
I can vividly reminding lying in my bed at the parents when I was ten or eleven, the realisation that my parents were mortal and one day would die striking me with such force it was almost akin to a physical blow. I’d been on the Junior Four (year six in new money) activity week at Butlins on Barry Island, back in the day when there was a Butlins on Barry Island*, it was the first time I’d been away from home and I missed my mum. When I came home they seemed older than I remembered, and it had me worried.
The only good thing to come out of the Phantom Menace was Yoda’s comments on fear:
Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering
It can control you if you decide to let it.
I might not be ten or eleven now, in fact I’m actually 43 but in a funny way things have come full circle in terms of fear of a loved one dying. I’ve now three children and a lovely wife (or is that three lovely children and a wife? Probably both, just to be on the safe side) and my thoughts have turned more frequently to what would happen to my little family if I suddenly die. Part of this has been precipitated by both our sets of parents getting older, and in the case of my parents, battling illness, part of it by the realisation that my epiphany of mortality that struck me as a child happened at exactly the same age that my eldest is now.
I had a minor health scare myself last year that saw me get a ECG to ensure that the hyper-mobility I’d be diagnosed with hadn’t affected my heart. It hadn’t but there’s nothing like a heart scare to act as a wake up call is there? Every 40 something that works in an office environment, has three children and a wife is probably carrying a few extra pounds- offices are sedentary places, kids drive you to comfort eat and wives cook lovely lovely food- and things like that, along with the advancing years don’t help allay the fear.
I’m lucky in a sense that my family wouldn’t be financially ruined if I passed away tonight. There is enough in life assurance and death in service payouts to ensure that the mortgage would be paid off and my family would have about 5 years worth of my wife’s salary left over. The thing that causes me genuine gut wrenching fear is the idea that my family would be bereaved and have to live without me. That sounds a bit big headed but I found it difficult dealing with the death of my grandparents a few years ago and we weren’t even that close. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a parent in your formative years. It certainly never seems to go well in those gritty Channel 4 dramas when that sort of thing happens.
Our littlest wouldn’t have me there to cling to my leg and whimper “I want Dadda” whenever I take him to a party round a friends house that he’s been to hundreds of times. My daughter wouldn’t have me there is give her a cuddle and tell her she’s brilliant when girl playground politics get too much for her. My eldest wouldn’t have someone to nod in (feigned) understanding when he talks incessantly about Warhammer. And my wife would be stuck if the router needed rebooting. Parenting is hard, I find it incredibly difficult at times, and I know I’d struggle without my awesome wife there, so I sort of figure that more or less the reverse is probably true (it might not be, she does make it look easy at times).
I have a choice, I can comfort eat my way through this fear, putting it to the back of my mind and having another bacon and egg muffin, or a I can face it, use it to motivate and empower myself and make a difference. People, it’s time to make a difference.
It’s too easy to make New Year Resolutions and then watch fatalistically as they slide when real life gets in the way. Besides, my kids aren’t going to feel safer if I tell them I’ve been out running a bit and my lower back aches as a result. No, to do this properly I’m going to have to enlist my family to help, give them joint ownership of Project Me, and trust that they can help me see this through. After all, we’re all in this together aren’t we?
I’m aiming to get fit and involve my family in getting me fit. I might exceed the weight limit for the mini trampoline we’ve got by a third (75KG maximum!) but that doesn’t stop me putting Eye of the Tiger on and doing my own training montage of press ups, sit ups and running on the spot, with one or more children either joining in or shouting encouragement (or insults). Nobody is immortal but being fit can help me live longer with a better quality of life.
I’m lucky of course that it’s fairly easy once you get over the initial hurdle of embracing it, to tackle a rational fear like your own mortality. Irrational fears are harder to tackle but AXA PPP healthcare can help you there too, as articles like this one on resilience show.
As I begin my journey, inspired by AXA PPP healthcare, they’re going to provide resources, like their Own Your Fears microsite, and support to me, to top up what my family can do. Together we can ensure that my kids won’t have to face the same worries about their parents dying that I faced, and I can harness the positive aspects of the fear of leaving them all to fend for themselves in the big mean world…
*it actually closed after Christmas that very year. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.