The perspective shift
I can’t put my finger on when it started to happen. It’s easy to say that things have been different since my dad’s death in February 2018, that this was a tipping point, but the truth is that things had begun to change long before then. Maybe before he even got ill. The one thing I can be sure of is that something has lit a fire under me, and I’m striving for change in multiple areas of my life and work – striving to become the best possible version of myself.
It feels fantastic. In this piece I’d like to explain – or perhaps try to understand myself – what is happening right now.
Health and fitness
Time for some real talk: I’ve always been overweight.
At school, I was actually fat, and I didn’t start to lose weight until I started hiking and backpacking independently in 2002 at the age of 16. In May 2005 I walked 160 miles through the Lake District and shed a few kilos. At university, 2005-2008, I did a lot more exercise – walking to campus, climbing on the indoor wall, mountain trips with the Fell Club – but my diet was also abysmal and I drank a lot, so my situation never really improved beyond ‘slightly overweight and still a little bit chubby’.
I was probably in the best shape of my life in late 2008. 2012, when I was working at Carphone Warehouse but before I’d started cycling to work, was probably my low point. I only managed two trips to the mountains in that entire year and I suffered from my lack of fitness.
Since then, progress has been erratic and my weight has fluctuated, but things started to turn around at the start of 2017 when I announced my plan to walk 1,500 miles in a year. My fitness improved considerably, and – combined with a few long-distance trails – I lost a decent amount of weight. I continued the habit in 2018, and right now I’m walking between 25 and 50 miles each week1.
But guess what? I’m still overweight for my height. And that’s because, until fairly recently, I have never changed my diet.
Over the last six months or so, I have been gradually making a few changes. It started with eating porridge instead of toast each morning. Then I replaced sandwiches with wraps. Then I started eating more salads and vegetables. It’s only been over the past couple of weeks that I’ve experimented with cutting out all sugar and most carbs, and greatly increasing the amount of fresh vegetables I eat.
The early results have proven nothing short of dramatic. I seem to have boundless energy. No more mid-afternoon slump and brain fog. My ability to concentrate has improved remarkably. And although it’s almost certainly water weight I’m losing at this stage, I am already losing weight.
It seems that this is called the keto diet. I don’t know whether this is something I want to sustain in the long term, but I plan to use it as a catalyst for permanent changes. To drop those kilos I’ve always struggled to drop, to stop eating processed food and go cold turkey on sugar.
Why now? I don’t really know. In many ways it’s an inconvenient time; my wedding is in a matter of days, and there will be a lot of carbs and sugar at the wedding. But maybe it’s never going to be a convenient time to make a change like this, and I do know that change is needed.
The war on stuff
Since March, I’ve been on a frenzied decluttering quest. I’d estimate that I have sold, given away or thrown out over 30 per cent of my possessions, and I’m by no means done yet.
I’ve always liked getting rid of stuff. It has always felt good to remove something I no longer use or need, because I’ve always been conscious of how possessions occupy mental energy as well as physical space. I was never a minimalist before; I amassed stacks and stacks of books, as well as the accumulated stuff of several hobbies (vintage computers, vintage outdoor gear, cameras…). But, with very few exceptions, adding a new item to my hoard made me feel anxious in some subtle but unmistakeable way. I could try to mask this by justifying the purchase, or contriving some situation in which I’d use it, but the feeling remained, draining my focus and attention: you don’t truly need this thing, and now it’s there, taking up space in your mind as well as space in the house.
Even the things I did use bothered me, because I knew there was usually a simpler way of achieving the same result.
It started with the realisation that I couldn’t fit all my outdoor gear into the special wardrobe dedicated to this purpose. I told myself I would remove the items I did not need until all the gear fitted inside. But once I started, I couldn’t stop.
I listed dozens of items on eBay. I sold some of the bigger things on my blog: packs, sleeping quilts, winter hardware. By the time I thought I’d finished, I’d cut the amount of outdoor gear I owned by around 70 per cent, keeping only the items I truly needed – the best, most versatile, most reliable items. I set a couple aside to be replaced by new items that would suit my needs better, such as the wonderful new pack custom made for me by Tom Gale to my precise requirements.
Then I started on the study. And the piles of books stacked up on the landing. And the clothes in my drawers and wardrobe. No item was safe from evaluation.
I can’t even remember what most of these items are. When I sell, give away or throw away something I don’t need, it vacates the slot in my mind it used to occupy, and all the mental energy I needed to maintain it can be directed elsewhere. I no longer have to think about when I last used the thing, or maintaining the thing, or feel guilty about not having used the thing, or anything else. I feel more able to focus on the things that are actually important.
My hope is that this will extend far beyond mere decluttering. I want to cut off the problem at its source, by not obtaining further items I don’t require.2 Future purchases will be carefully considered to fulfil genuine needs, and the one-in/one-out rule will be adhered to religiously.
Over the last year, I’ve been getting gradually better at saying no to most things.
Now I am fortunate to be in the position where I can focus more on the big things – in life as well as in my work. The important goals and dreams.
This week, I’ll be marrying Hannah, the love of my life. We first met eight years ago when life was very different for us both, but through dramatic highs and lows – including a couple of major life shifts for me – she has remained a constant. I want to focus more on building a home with her (we have literal building works planned for later this year) and maybe finally getting that camping trip to the Lake District we keep having to postpone.
As a minimalist – or perhaps intentionalist is a truer word – my other life goals are modest, but important to me. I want to hike big trails. I want to thru-hike the Haute Route Pyrenees next year, maybe head to America to hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail the year after (I’ve been dreaming about doing this for three years, and the idea hasn’t left me for a single day). I need to be lighter and fitter to do these things.
I want to do what I can to protect wilderness, nature, and biodiversity, and to help others to understand these issues. I don’t yet know how I can best affect change here, but the more I learn about wilderness, the more I understand that protecting it should be one of the biggest priorities of our time.
Finally, I’ve already articulated my priorities for Pinnacle Editorial in my recent piece Mission Statement.
Distractions are falling by the wayside as I gradually realise that my time on this Earth is limited, attention is finite, and only I can choose how I spend these precious resources. I will gladly sacrifice trivial things like simple carbs and all the junk I used to own if it puts me a few steps closer to doing the things that truly matter – and being the person I want to be.
- I keep toying with the idea of giving running a try, but honestly, I hate it. ↩
- As a reviewer of outdoor kit, this is only possible to a certain extent – but I can be far more selective about the items I choose to review, and I can be more pro-active about giving them away or sending them back when I’ve finished the work. ↩