Zoe at the river spey

10 Lessons from a long-distance hike

In late July, my friend Annabelle and I walked most of the Speyside Way in Scotland. It’s a moderately difficult pathway that doesn’t so much follow the river, as meander through forests and around hillsides, with the occasional glimpse of the river Spey. We had expected hot weather, but it wasn’t to be and it was wet and cold instead. We stopped short of the final finish point on the last day and took a taxi to the end instead because my feet were painfully blistered, and it had stopped being fun. It was an epic adventure and I learnt a lot on the way. I was also reminded of the importance of looking after our happiness and wellbeing along the way so I wanted to share some of this learning with you.

Summer in Scotland!

10 things I learnt from walking the Speyside Way

  1. Perspective can make even your biggest worries feel small
  2. Wonders are all around you
  3. Take a breath, slow down and enjoy the moment
  4. Always take care of your feet and your mind
  5. Know when to call it a day
  6. Every journey is better with laughter
  7. It’s always better in real life
  8. Find your Lois Lane, we all need support sometimes
  9. Going it alone can be fun
  10. Follow your own advice

Perspective can make even your biggest worries feel small

The scale of the landscape left me feeling like a tiny speck on it. Sometimes we can get caught up in our worries and concerns. Our problems can feel all-consuming, and it can be hard to get out of our heads and be in the moment. Getting outside and into a big landscape can make you feel really small. And if I feel small, my worries begin to feel even smaller. Seeing things from this new perspective enabled me to relax and not sweat the small stuff.

Wonders are all around you

I shrieked as something near my foot made a sudden, unexpected movement. A tiny frog was taking a detour through the bog by using the same duckboards as we were. I took a moment to wonder at how small and perfectly formed he was, and how tiny his little bones must be, the miniscule scale of his organs and cells. Awe is good for us, so taking time to be awed by nature is a really lovely way to support your own wellbeing.

Take a breath, slow down and enjoy the moment

I am often busy, rushing from one place to the next, or ticking things off a list that I need to get done. Even walking through this beautiful landscape, I was thinking about the route, the conversation, the weather, wondering how my family were managing without me, wondering about how the Olympics was going in Tokyo. Looking up at the spectacular view and taking a breath to really soak it all up changed my perspective, slowing down my thoughts and anchoring me in the moment. Being mindful can make even mundane tasks more enjoyable. Try taking a mindful breath and noticing everything about your current experience.

Always take care of your feet and your mind

As this was a walking holiday, taking care of my feet was a very pressing concern. When my feet were sore, it had an impact on my mental wellbeing. I kept focussing on the discomfort rather than feeling awe about where I was and taking in my surroundings. We are whole people; mind, body and spirit. If one is in pain, it will naturally affect the others. Taking time to stop, take off my boots and socks, dip my feet into icy cold river water, dry them with a towel and apply a generous covering of talcum powder felt so restorative.  Although the causes of the discomfort were still there, the act of taking care of myself and prioritising my comfort lifted my mood for several more miles. I also practiced wearing a smile and relaxing my body which gave me moments of respite even when I was hurting. When we are busy, taking time out to take care of ourselves can feel like a distraction. The uplift in my emotional wellbeing gave me a spurt of energy and inspiration that more than made up for the time spent looking after my feet. If there’s something that is on your mind, why not take the time to nurture yourself and deal with it so that you too can enjoy the benefit to your wellbeing of taking action.

Dipping my feet in icy river water felt amazing!

Know when to call it a day – quitting has a bad name, but slogging along in pain and despair isn’t a preferable alternative!

I hear many people saying that they don’t want to quit. Or fail. Some of my coaching clients come because they want me to help them to reach their goals. I’m not saying that we should never do hard things, because I absolutely believe that we can do hard things, but that they’ve got to be worth it, and they’ve got to be what we want to do. The purpose of our walking trip was to have an enjoyable time. When it stopped meeting our purpose, we replanned, evaluated the goal and eventually, when we realised that even the new goal wasn’t realistic, called it a day. We got a taxi to the final destination, and sat in a café, enjoying ourselves and having fun. We were still meeting the aim of our trip, just in a different way. There is no failure in taking a different route to the one that you planned if the new route is better, more enjoyable, removes pain or despair, and still meets your aim.  Take a moment to check that you’re not pushing ahead with something because you said that you would, even if it’s not meeting your own aims. Quitting doing something that isn’t working is a very sensible option. Changing your mind is perfectly acceptable and taking a different route is also your choice.

Every journey is better with laughter

Annabelle’s laughter echoing through the woods made me turn. She was lying on her back in the undergrowth having slipped while trying not to stand on a mushroom. When I pulled her up, the object she had been avoiding revealed itself to be some tree bark and not a mushroom at all. Every time we thought about this event we laughed all over again. We only had to say the words ’I thought there was a mushroom’ and we were off again. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. You don’t even need a reason to laugh, you still get the benefits from laughter even if you do it deliberately and with no cause. What could you have a laugh about today?

“I thought there was a mushroom!”

It’s always better in real life

The scale of an adventure, the difficulty of a challenge, the beauty of a place. These things are never captured in a picture. Some of the views over the Scottish hillsides were breath-taking. I took some photos, knowing that they wouldn’t really do justice to the stunning view. Some things are just better in real life. If you’ve ever had your own photo taken and found the result to be less than you’d hoped, just remember that the same is true about your beauty; the camera can’t capture the depth and emotion of everything. You are always more beautiful and more amazing in real life. And some things just have to be experienced yourself. Seeing a picture of something is never the same as seeing it with your own eyes. Get out there and see as much beauty as you can!

Find your Lois Lane, we all need support sometimes

Even Superman had trouble when Kryptonite was nearby. We can’t always do things by ourselves. Asking for help can feel difficult, but we can’t do everything and we don’t always get things right. I was on a walking holiday in July. While I had been packing, my main concern had been how I was going to keep myself cool. I had packed my lightweight walking socks, anticipating hot feet swelling inside my boots. I hadn’t anticipated getting soaked through for most of the first day and having to hike in wet socks and wet boots all day. My feet became a source of pain, my potential undoing. I’ll spare you the details of my blisters, suffice to say that borrowing a pair of thicker socks from Annabelle, made all the difference. Sometimes you need help. It’s OK to ask for what you need. Find your team, you don’t have to do things on your own, whether that’s in your life or your business.

Going it alone can be fun too

After getting me to Inverness, Annabelle and I went our separate ways. I had a whole day to myself in the city and I was a bit uncertain about what to do with myself. I had felt the same when I thought about leaving my safe employment and going out on my own with my business. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to start. I sat in a café and made a plan. I found an enormous second-hand bookshop and had a browse, I had an ice cream and took a walk down the river to find some islands in the middle that I had seen on a map. I took in some history, some culture, organised my meal and had an early night watching the Olympics. In the morning I made my own way to the airport and met up with some other travellers there. Despite my reservations about doing things on my own, I was fine. While we do need to find our team, we also need to be aware of the great potential in ourselves for achieving whatever we set out to. I am excited about running my own business exactly how I want to. And while I am building a team of amazing specialists to help me, I also know that I have the ability to make my own decisions and come up with my own itinerary.

Sightseeing solo in the city!

Follow your own advice

Finally, I wanted to remind you that no matter what line of work or business you are in, or what advice you give to others in whatever capacity you do it, you should also be ready to follow your own advice! I spent a lot of time on this trip practicing what I preach. I looked after my physical, mental and social wellbeing. I did some hard things but I knew when I stopped enjoying myself that it was time to call it. I took time to take care of my feet, I asked for help, I changed the plan, I spent time on my own and with others, I balanced rest and recovery with action, I took in as much as I could from the experience, I laughed readily and I enjoyed the tiny moments. “It doesn’t get much better than this” I had said to Annabelle, while we rested back on our elbows in the middle of a pathway overlooking the majestic river, during a rain shower, enjoying our lunch with our feet in the air to rest them.  And I meant it. I’ve made memories that will last me a lifetime and so even while it was tough in places and we didn’t reach the actual finish point, it was a huge success and I am happy and content with my Scottish mini-break.

About the Author

Zoe Carroll

Zoe Carroll is a wellbeing and performance specialist with expertise in neurodiversity and inclusion. She creates training and delivers coaching to develop team cohesion and improve communication within teams. She shares insights into how people can understand each other better in order to both communicate internally and externally to increase productivity and other performance variables while also improving the wellbeing of team members.

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