It’s definitely no secret that I have issues with the word ‘progress’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely, positive word and, when coupled with phrases like, “Your son is making such good progress in playing with the other children. He rarely spits at them now, and hasn’t thrown faeces at anyone since Wednesday”, it sits nicely (Miss Long, school report, summer 1988). What I hate is how the P word is used to describe a pointless high-speed railway that cuts through and destroys an abundance of ancient woodland in the process, or another housing estate of six five-bedroom houses built on green belt land that would be better sacrificed for twenty two-bedroom houses to at least attempt to tackle the housing crisis.

My real gripe with progress is technology. More specifically the ones sent to entertain and inform us. Using the internet as an example, the original creators of the world wide web, I believe, had the best intentions – to create a universal network of pages of information that can be shared for the benefit of the species. Only now, aside from the fake news and complete drivel found at every click, it’s the perfect platform to alienate eachother, as well as find reasons why any view you have, either good or bad, is valid instead of finding reasons to change your view or just see another perspective. I suppose a similar argument could be made about printing, and how it is now used to publish newspapers, or how photography is now used to record what you’re about to eat and share it with everyone whereas it was once revered as a miracle creation.

I’ve written before about the future, and how embracing things like artificial intelligence and virtual reality will ultimately extinguish the flame of what makes us human on multiple levels, and there is the concern of the Orwellian dystopia we are more or less living in now – the surveillance of our lives, both in our homes and our pockets. My biggest worry is how everything that is bad for us, generally becomes normalised. It’s great that mental health is openly discussed now, but why is mental health such a widespread problem nowadays, especially amongst the younger generation? Children having mental health counselling is now considered normal, whilst the same teenagers (screenagers?) are spending more and more time on devices, accessing things they don’t really need to know about, at the expense of a safer, more organic childhood. We’re very fortunate and privileged these days than previous generations, yet why are we less happy and less settled?

I’m a firm believer in rewilding, both ourselves and our environment, but it is becoming increasingly difficult in a world so hooked on commodities and mass consumption. I think it’s a healthy thing to be exposed to situations and experiences that make us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable – basically, things that our forefathers considered normal. I’ve written before about the art of being comfortable being uncomfortable, and I believe more than ever that living a life keeping your head down is betraying your potential. I’ve had a few days in the mountains where my nerves and resolve have been pushed to the edges of what I deem uncomfortable, but getting myself out of those situations has taught me a hundred times more than what I would have learned from a day that went to plan. It also made me feel very alive. Commuting on a train (pre-pandemic) was always interesting. The visible trauma some people went through if the seat next to them became suddenly occupied.

I’ve found throughout most of my adult life that going back to basics possesses a huge benefit. In times of struggle, mostly, the first thing I will do to set the wheels of recovery in motion or to begin the inevitable thought-processing, is to go for a walk. When life gets too busy or loud (not necessarily volume, just disturbance) I know a long walk and/or night spent out under the stars is all that is required to de-escalate the approaching negativity.

I’ve come to believe that having less ultimately leads you to feeling happier and more content and that stripping back to basics where feasible is hugely beneficial in the long run. Simplicity, in short. A perfect example of cheap progress (slowgress) is in my house, where there are two games consoles. One, is a once state-of-the-art PlayStation 4. All the mod cons, hooks up to the internet, has wireless controllers and enables you to play games with or against your friends, or strangers, without (God forbid) having to get dressed and leave the house. The other is a 1996 Sega Mega Drive 2. 16-bit graphics, wired controllers. Old school. Compare the two. 22 years between them. One simply switches on, the game loads within a minute, and away you go, playing. The other, more often than not, needs to ‘update’ for the best part of an hour before you can play, the controllers constantly need recharging, the graphics are so realistic it’s easy to forget it’s a game, and through the social networking capabilities, you stand a fine chance of being verbally abused by strangers while playing. That, to me, sounds like 20 steps backwards. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you progress.

Alignment and purpose

For most of this year at work, the powers that be have been drumming the importance of purpose, values and objectives into us on a weekly basis. Of course, this is mostly a smoke screen, as the Clash put it, to make a load of money and worry about it later. Despite it being very business-driven, I can relate to it and see how I apply something similar in my life.

This thought process began recently when I was thinking through a solo walk that I completed (post to follow, but I walked the 103-mile Cotswold Way). I was wondering about why I had decided to do it, and realised that it was inextricably linked to an objective from four years ago, and generally most of what I do is in alignment with this goal. It gives a tremendous sense of purpose and helps categorise what each specific exercise was for and where it fits in in the grand picture – in short, nothing is for nothing.

Whilst walking, I understood why I was doing it and where it fitted in. It’s refreshing, because as my end objective is to complete the Cotswold Way 100 ultra marathon, you could easily assume that in order to achieve it, I should be focusing solely on running, but not so. Completing the whole route walking, for example, is a huge mental victory, knowing I’ve covered every inch before, reducing the size of the monster in my mind. I employed this same tactic when passing the Fan Dance in 2019. I made trips down to the Brecon Beacons in the months prior just to walk and camp, familiarising myself with the environment instead of associating it with the struggles of the previous two attempts. It turned a previously intimidating environment into somewhere that I knew as intimately as my local hills.

There I was in 2017, looking for a challenge, and I found the Cotswold Way 100. “Great”, I thought, “I’ll get training for that. How hard can it be if I just train loads?” From reading the entry requirements, previous evidence of completed ultra marathons was needed, which I hadn’t got, so I entered two events in 2018. Straight away, my 2017 training and mantra aligned with this goal, which was aligning with the end goal. Most of my training had purpose.

Long term readers will know that I attempted the 2019 edition of the CW100 and failed, which is why I’m still striving to reach that goal. In the years following that, I have added more and more aspects to my training from physical and mental prep, to nutrition and purposeful training sessions which have, to be quite honest, refreshing and enjoyable. Every new habit, or daily exercise feels like all the small grains of sand pouring in-between stones in a bucket until it is completely full.

Why half-invest yourself in multiple goals and risk achieving none, when you can go all out to achieve a massive one? Have a think: quantity vs quality. Most of all, be patient and always believe in yourself. Oh, and don’t worry what everyone else is doing – we’re all as clueless as eachother.