Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The fire

At this time of year, I often get manic. Im not really sure why. I know it’s not related to the season, because I’ve had the effects at other times in the year also. In a gradual process that takes many weeks to build up, I notice a string of quite striking mental and physical changes.

My mind tends to race all day long. When it gets to 2am and I’m still working or training, I’m exhausted and can barely conjure a rational thought. But I don’t want to stop. Going to bed and sleeping is so obviously required, but the other part of my mind resists it to the last. I find that I have amazing daydreams while driving or walking and find that these yield some strong ideas about whatever I’m working on, and all sorts of other things.

Because I’ve noticed this happening to me before in most years over the past decade of my life, I don’t mind it. It’s a kind of polariser of everything. It can cause me some serious problems, chiefly insomnia and being quite unreasonable. But I also find that I have the kind of fire of motivation that can drive a lot of things forward. The challenge is to tame it to harness the great benefits and try not to let it turn me into a sleep deprived zealot.

The first time I really became aware that this was not normal was in 2006. I was living in Dumbarton. I’d just done the first ascent of Rhapsody and after having pulled my climbing up from the odd 8b sport redpoint to 8c+ in a little over a year, I hadn’t done any work and was completely broke. I was counting out 2 pence pieces from a jar in my flat to by tins of beans and realised that I needed to change my life if I wanted to move forward onto new horizons in my climbing. The fire at that time was directed (outside of my climbing of course) onto starting to write this blog and trying to learn how to communicate what I’d learned from my life as a climber and student of sports science to coach other climbers. My accepted cut off for going to bed got later and later and I used to forcefully press the off button on the computer when I saw the sun start to rise out of my window.

My best effort at harnessing it was while I was writing my book 9 out of 10 in 2009. I found that I had so much mental energy that I was able to focus for up to 12 hours a day on writing with only trips to the kettle as breaks. When I don’t have the fire, I find it desperately hard to concentrate for long, uninterrupted periods. After I’d read, thought and written furiously for my shift, I’d attack my board at 10 or 11 at night, for a couple of hours. In less than two months, I got to the end of the book, and left for a sport trip in Spain.

The fire hadn’t gone, but I was physically exhausted. On the first day of the trip, I let my partners climb as a pair while I set up a rope to work on A’ Muerte (9a) by myself. After I’d set up the rope, I sat down at the base, put on my rock-shoes and paused for a moment, realising I felt pretty tired. I sat back against the rock to take a moment’s rest. Four hours later I woke up, and stumbled off to my sleeping bag. Despite being deprived of real rock for the previous two months, I started the trip with three days in bed before I felt recovered enough to begin climbing. But two weeks later I climbed the route for my first 9a, and felt in really great shape.

Right now, every night I feel like I’d need to hit myself over the head with a frying pan to stop my mind racing into the wee small hours. It’s really good being at home for a little while after spending most of this year out of the country on climbing trips. I wonder if it’s that opportunity to focus on climbing, training and work projects for a spell has brought on my current state of agitation. One minute I’m falling asleep over my dinner, the next I feel really good climbing on my board. One thing I have learned is that trying to work against what your mind and body want to do doesn’t really work. Not working, when I want to work, makes me depressed really quickly. Yet a mind that doesn’t have a diurnal ‘off switch’ is trying to square a circle. Like many problems in productivity, it may come down to an issue of habit replacement and self-discipline. I’m not really strict in following the simple rules of overcoming insomnia. I ought to be. An extreme problem requires an extreme intervention. I probably need some formal coaching in the field.

Complaints aside, I don’t really want this period to end. I know that I’m pretty lucky to have the feeling of burning motivation for the work I do, and I do enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave. I go through periods very similar to this, where I am very productive (much more so than normal) after dinner right through until I go to bed. This productivity makes me not want to 'waste' my time sleeping and so the lights stay on later and later. One thing I have noticed is that I gradually get depressed when this period ends...whether I forced myself to stop, or it came to an end naturally.
    Anyway, it's 12am so time to get some work done!