Guinness World Record: Motivation

‘To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life’
— Life Magazine's motto in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (2013)

Really? You’re going to start this with a cheesy quote like that? Vom. That’s vacuous motivational blogging 101.

Genuinely though, the curiosity 'to see behind walls, to find each other' is one of my primary motivators. Asking questions of what I’m capable of, seeking answers to those questions, and putting myself in situations where I could fail helps me learn, grown and discover more about myself. It’s personal exploration really. It’s why I started doing these bike tours, and why I started in triathlon. I wanted to see what I was capable of, what I could do when I was really pushed. Attempting the Guinness World Record for Most Countries Cycled in 7 Days was just a natural progression of this curiosity.

The trek to Everest Base Camp was a new type of challenge, 2013

The trek to Everest Base Camp was a new type of challenge, 2013


Why this record?

Getting over the Furka Pass helped grow the adventure muscle, Switzerland, 2014

Getting over the Furka Pass helped grow the adventure muscle, Switzerland, 2014

With aspirations of completing a round-the-world cycle trip, but not being in the financial position to be able to support one yet, I looked for a shorter but still exciting undertaking.  Previous bike tours had all involved kicking my brothers out of bed half an hour after we were scheduled to start cycling; meander about on our bikes until we found a nice restaurant or bakery; eat a civilised lunch and finished up with another few hours on the bike.  Don’t get me wrong, they were epic trips, but having developed the adventure muscle on previous bike tours, I wanted to ask new questions of myself: how far could I go; how could I manage trips solo; what prevented me from doing something no one had done before? Finding the answer to these questions excites me.  Not necessarily just in the context of pedalling a lump of metal across Europe, but because of the values these trips can teach you about life in general. How far can you go, what can you achieve, what restrictions have you created in your own mind?

Discovering online that the record for ‘Most Countries Visited by Bike in 7 Days’ stood at 11 countries, I began scouring the map for potential route options. After a few days of studying Google Maps and understanding the Enigma Code that is the Guinness World Records evidence criteria, I had a route of about 1100miles through 13 countries. I’m glad I planned for 13 as shortly before leaving I discovered someone else midway through his attempt to break the same record. He finished at 12 countries, we were all good.

Settling into Day 5 of the World Record attempt

Settling into Day 5 of the World Record attempt

The trip was going to push me, and take me to a level of endurance I hadn’t experienced before. There’s fun in attempting something beyond your known skill level, stepping out of the comfort zone. Part of the excitement I think is not knowing whether I can complete a challenge, and this adventure certainly fit that billing.  Cycling 1100 miles in a week with an estimated total of 70,000ft of climbing was daunting. I’d never cycled more than 125miles in a day (technically I cycled London to Paris in 24hrs in 2015, but there’s a break on the channel ferry for a few hours), and I was to now average 150 miles a day (240km). My biggest climbing day had been crossing the Alps a few years ago - it had been 13,000ft of climbing and it had near broken me. I was to be doing just shy of that elevation every day.  

There were two ways of looking at this trip as it was significantly beyond anything I’d tried before.  Either I could decide it was too much, cancel the plans and watch Netflix in bed, or re-frame the daunting task and think about how great it would be to be standing at the finish line, having completed a trip that looked so imposing. Which way I view it really depends on how I viewed myself: either I believe I’m capable of achieving, or I don’t. There’s no right answer (although there certainly is a more enjoyable answer), or an external moderator who decides if you’re worthy of achieving. It comes down to a choice you make in your own head, and how you deal with the inevitable setbacks you’ll face. For example, if I broke the record and reached the goal, I’ve opened my mind to new realms of possibility, reinforced ambition, and reminded myself to keep exploring the boundaries. If I didn’t quite make it, I can ask new questions of my training and my planning, make adjustments and come back having grown stronger. Either way, I don’t fail. The only way I’d fail from giving the record a go is if I didn’t learn anything in the process.  By firmly believing that I am capable, I can take setbacks as events that force me to ask questions of my methods, and not a determinant of my ability. That way I don’t have to take a setback as a failure, but as an encouragement to ask new questions and a mere stumbling block on my road, not a dead end. Had I viewed the trip as a determinant of my ability, and by extension of me as a person, and I’d come up short of the record, I would have had to consider myself a failure.  But by believing I am capable, I can't fail. I'll know if I come up short of the goal that I just picked the wrong method for getting there.  I've found it a much more helpful thought process than entering a cycle of crippling self-doubt every time I face challenges. 

A great way of challenging your fears, Whistler Bungee in Canada

A great way of challenging your fears, Whistler Bungee in Canada

 I believe this translates to whatever challenge you set yourself in life. These trips are just a good illustration of life’s challenges.  Whether you’re taking exams, starting in a new job or creating your own business, the fundamental belief that you’re capable of achieving shouldn’t waver. A setback doesn’t make me question whether I am capable of doing things, it just forces me to ask questions of how I can do better. If you start questioning your own worth or your own ability you’re asking the wrong question.  Setting a confidence in your ability and your value as a human being as an unshakeable platform to operate from, you’re then forced to question your methods, your work ethic, your management of pursuing your goals. Asking how you can improve, rather than questioning your fundamental capacity to succeed is the only helpful way to overcome setbacks, in my limited experience. 

One of the hardest things I've done, James Bond Bungee, Switzerland

One of the hardest things I've done, James Bond Bungee, Switzerland

One thing I do believe, from my own experience and from various readings, is that if you can ask yourself trying questions about your methods for achieving, and not wait for others to ask questions of you before you’re motivated to seek answers, then you’re well on your way to being successful, in whatever it is you do. If you’re always questioning, learning and growing from your own curiosity, then you’ve achieved habit one in Stephen Covey’s famous ‘Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’: proactivity.  It’s been a pretty influential book, so you can’t be going far wrong.

In short:

-           I attempted the record out of curiosity – the human desire to see behind walls, to climb the next hill.

-           I think that regularly pushing my perception of where I think my limits are teaches me good life values and reinforces ambition.  

-          Operating from a place of total faith in my own ability, events that challenge me will either encourage me when I complete them, or force me to ask questions to grow, learn and improve so I can later complete them. Either outcome is helpful for my personal growth.

-          Proactively asking the right questions, and challenging yourself is a great self-development tool.