For obvious reasons, 2020 has been an unforgettable year that many will try to selectively obliterate from their memories. On a personal note, it started weird for me well before the global pandemic kicked off.
Not just surface level weird, but A Clockwork Orange kind of weird.
After starting the year visually impaired, with frost-bitten fingers and a couple of missing teeth, I flew home to Thailand to heal both my physical and mental wounds. However, as I had a non-refundable trip booked to Yemen a few months later, I ended up travelling without being 100% recovered and during the extended trip I managed to get deported from Sudan and held in an airport cell in Cairo.
So I was already primed for what fu**ery 2020 had in store and it did not pull any punches.
There are much bigger, better and more important things going on in the world than how my year went and what I plan to do in the next one. I honestly mulled over writing this article this year for that reason.
But these entries have been really good to me over the years as they allow me to mentally touch base with myself, reflect on who I was this year and ponder what kind of man I want to be in the next one.
Personal goals are important to me and taking them seriously since 2010 has transformed my life beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve had overall positive feedback from readers in the past, who struggle to set concrete goals and they have copied this template for their own objectives.
I also believe it’s important that bloggers/social media people are honest about any failings and vulnerabilities that they may have encountered whilst banging the “look what cool thing I just did” drum.
Physical Achievements: 8/10
I’m often told by loved ones that I’m too hard on myself. It’s true but sometimes you have to be as nobody else is going to push you to get to where you want to be, and the cold hard truth is high standards often leads to higher value results.
However, in the category of physical achievements I’m very proud of my effort this year, especially considering the fact I started it with my body absolutely wrecked.
When lockdown hit Chiang Mai I was just about to hit the weights in the gym after researching the hell out of all things gains and had customised a strength training programme for myself, in the quest for muscly glory.
Then all of the gyms closed.
Determined not to be stifled by the unprecedented limitations brought on by quarantine, I ordered a cheap set of gymnastic rings and put on a healthy 5 kilograms thanks to getting busy with online calisthenics advice. I had lost a hell of a lot of weight after my accident in Argentina and it was good to feel stronger and get some confidence back.
I found training with gymnastic rings a lot more fun than traditional weights, but the masochist in me missed the pain of a hardcore challenge…
…so I ran a 198 kilometre self-governed ultramarathon for charity!
Goodbye recent gains and hello training for torture. As with anything I took it very seriously, opting for a ultramarathon periodisation running programme that I had put together. In my peak week of training I run 4 half marathons in 4 days and on the 5th I ran 30km, all in the full kit, in the Thai sun for the proposed big day.
We knew it would be hard, but it was much more punishing than we could have ever possibly imagined. But it was well worth the grind (and the bleeding bum holes) as we made over 6000 meals for a slum in Bangkok and I got to share the experience with my mates Johnny and Gareth.
You can read more about it here:
Right now I’m back into weight training and if I talk myself into any activity in the next 6 months that will get in the way of building muscle mass, you have permission to kidnap me and glue my hands to gymnastic rings.
The current situation has affected pretty much everyone negatively, so it was no surprises that one of the hardest hit industries (travel) took a real beating. On top of that, I have let my blog momentum die a long time ago, so it was double whammy and a valid punishment for me.
I’m not going to complain about it as I’m thankful for what I do have in such extreme circumstances. I did make some reckless gambles this year with money and they didn’t really pay off, but that’s just the way it is sometimes.
Mental Health: 7/10
2 points up from last year’s, I’ll take that. I obviously started the year down in the dumps post-Aconcagua and when the pandemic situation resulted in me self-isolating in my apartment. In a way it was good because I finally didn’t have the excuse to not work on many of the things I’ve talked about doing for so long, but never even started.
In other ways it was absolutely awful. Not seeing or interacting with other humans took its toll and the lack of flexing my social muscle left me feeling hollow. After lockdown and the good fortune shining down on Chiang Mai, I joined a co-working space and it pretty much fixed my dejection immediately.
Meeting new people who all have something going on in their lives was an instant cheer-up. Another pick me up was choosing to go on an information diet, where I only allow myself to consciously watch, read, or listen to something that is aligned with my personal growth.
No nefarious news channels, I deactivated my account on the internet toilet wall that is Twitter, unsubscribed from a bunch of Youtube channels and I actively avoided losers and energy vampires.
It’s basically like avoiding junk food for your brain.
I slipped up in the late stages of the year, but stuck to it for most of 2020 and will certainly be getting back on that horse in 2021.
One of the main battles for me regarding mental health is my sleep issues. This year I made it a priority to get more sleep and it was marginally better, with some purple patches where I slept around 8 hours for about 5 days in a row, which is a foreign concept to me.
I’ll take the mini triumph and aim to build on it next year. Sleep is everything. People worry about their exercise programmes and diets, which are all valid concerns for wellbeing, but once you look into the science of sleep (or lack thereof) you find out how vital it is and you should view it as a superpower.
I have spent so long running on empty and have probably been performing all of life’s tasks subpar when low on sleep. Every time I have a good night’s rest I always think THIS is how we are suppose to feel in the morning.
So, Let’s Talk About Alcohol
Alcohol could have gone in the mental health, or physical achievements category as abuse of it can affect both of those things. Last year me and one of my best mates Johnny (onestep4ward.com) opened up to each other about our concern for how much we were boozing.
He’s Irish and I’m British. Two very boozy nations.
I’m well-travelled and I confidently put the UK in the top 5 countries that have the worst relationship with alcohol. I’m from the northeast of England (we are basically the Wildlings from Game of Thrones) and I honestly believe it’s even worse there for alcohol abuse.
If you asked me to name alcoholics around my area, names would roll off my tongue and I would barely have to think hard about it. I’ve known people to die from it (including family members) and I know countless stories where people’s personalities have changed and lives have been ruined because of alcohol.
Yet after knowing all this, I am constantly gaslighting myself into finding reasons why it’s ok to not just drink, but get absolutely hammered.
I’m not a bad drunk person, but I am a terrible hungover person. It’s the morning after where I suffer the most and I endure what is knows as “beer fear” more than anyone I know.
Beer fear is a neurotic, often irrational feeling that you may have said or done something wrong the night before. I make up stories in my head and catastrophise, feel overemotional and my self-loathing mixes in with existential crisis.
The cogs in my brain started churning when I was drinking with a friend on a plane in 2019 and he said something along the lines of “it feels pretty weird being drunk on a plane, I’ve never done it before,” and my reply was something like “mate, I can’t remember the last time I was SOBER on a plane!”
I’m not bragging, because I don’t think it’s cool or funny.
There were a few other similar conversations that went like that with other people who don’t have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and it was very (pardon the pun) sobering for me as I decided that I needed to take quantifiable action, because I was becoming a degenerate loser.
Drowning in our sea of self-hatred, me and my mate agreed to a drink token challenge of 75. The rules are simple; one beer with a friend is as much as a token as it is the next day going on a massive bender.
If alcohol touches your lips one day; you have forfeited a token.
I have 20 tokens left, so I drank 55 times in 2020. People who drink a lot and aren’t in a state of denial will find that impressive. People who completely abstain from alcohol, or simply have a healthy relationship with it will not understand why I am happy with those numbers.
I’m happy because it’s a huge, massive, colossal improvement on the depravity of the last 5 years or so. It’s probably around one third less than the year before. And hey, I didn’t even use all my tokens! I also went 3 months without any alcohol during lockdown.
However, I won’t be happy if those are the same numbers this times next year, so I’m going to raise the bar and only give myself 50 tokens for 2021.
On top of that I’m going to give myself some extra rules to keep myself in check and set up an environment where I won’t be seduced into drinking. I’m jumping right on the Dry January bandwagon, implementing a “no drink on a school day” policy for at least the first quarter and most importantly I am completely banning drinking on my own for the whole of 2021.
I’m often told that I’m too extreme when I give myself rules like this. I find that weak talk. It’s good to know who you are, what weaknesses you have and to set boundaries for yourself.
I’m feeling positive and confident about drinking less in 2021 and looking forward to walking my talk.
Goals Achieved: 8/10
Another year of success for personal goals for me. The ultra run pushed that score up a bit and I finally wrote (the first draft) of a book I have been banging on about writing for ages. I won’t say what it’s about (yet) because it’s not complete and I don’t want outside influences on this topic, so I’d rather unleash it when I’m happy with putting my name beside it.
“Consume less, create more” was my war cry for 2020 and I was consistent with it.
Meditating every morning and turning off devices 2 hours before bed was an extra help in my hyperfocus and I went after my goals aggressively. However after starting the year in such a bad physical and mental place, getting my health back to normal beat the feeling of any accomplishments that followed.
I really wanted to start blogging consistently but after reviewing it, there is just so much that needs fixing first. I constantly cringe at old articles that have zero information or any value, so I’m editing most of those before I write any new content. I bit off more than I could chew with this goal.
I didn’t save the amount of money that I wanted due to an income drop, but I don’t feel too bad about that as it happened so sudden.
I didn’t put on 10 kilos of muscle mass, but I did put on 5 in a relatively short space of time and the run was for something better than my own ego/vanity, so I don’t really care about sacrificing this goal for that. I’m starting to think the scales are a bit of a false god when it comes to fitness and health.
Resting heart rate, body fat percentage and being naked in front of the mirror with progress photos are much better indicators of health.
Travel/Favourite Country of 2020
Before the world closed down, I visited the following countries, those in blue are countries that I visited for the first time:
I was sent back to Egypt on the same plane that I arrived in Sudan on (long story for another time) so I’m not adding Sudan to the list.
My favourite trip out of all those was Afghanistan. I’m sure there are a lot of professionally-offended wankers out there licking their salty lips, dying to accuse me of exotifying a war-torn country. This is not the case, I will write honestly about the good, bad and ugly of Afghanistan and the dangers of travelling there but what made it special was how unique it was as a culture.
Travel is addictive and the first few countries that you visit are like a gateway drug. The more you do it, the more similarities you notice as cultures often intertwine. Lack of familiarity becomes a craving and Afghanistan is a big, complex country with a heartbreaking modern history. I’m not sure I know of any country that has managed to avoid adopting so little of western culture in its own.
I felt like I was on a different planet over there.
The rest of the year was pretty quiet on the travel front, Socotra was phenomenal and I’ll be magnanimous by saying Egypt just wasn’t my cup of tea.
I’m falling in love with Chiang Mai (Thailand) more and more even more every day. Finally finding a place that I call “home,” whilst building up real connections and the feeling of peace that this gives me is impossible to put into words.
Best Book I Read in 2020: A Thousand Splendid Suns, By Khaled Hosseini
No man has ever made me cry as much as Khaled Hosseini. If I could write something as beautiful as any of his big 3 and die tomorrow with that as my legacy, I’d take it in a heartbeat. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a masterpiece fictional tale about two women in Afghanistan with nothing in common, who are brought together during the war with the Taliban.
That’s all I’m going to say because no one likes a spoiler!
Best Movie I Watched in 2020: Lorenzo’s Oil
Thanks to Jeremy at theworldorbust.com for the recommendation. Susan Sarandon is fantastic as a dynamic mother of a son with a rare, degenerative brain disorder. Based on a true story.
A little tip for indecisive movie watchers; download the IMDb app and rate every movie you watch. They will all go on a list and when you click on each movie you will be recommended similar vibe/genre movies that you’ll probably like, depending on your rating.
My Goals for 2021
Bring it on…
- Squat and deadlift 1.5 of my own bodyweight. Instead of talking in kilos on my body I’m talking in terms of performance, which will in turn put muscle on my frame.
- Start learning Muay Thai kickboxing. The long-term goal for me is to have a Muay Thai fight. My blog is all about getting out of your comfort zone and I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than getting in a ring with another man who wants to beat me up, in front of a crowd of people. For me that’s the absolute mecca of comfort zone challenges, But for now the goal is to at least start training at some point in 2021.
- Mobility stretching. Every. God. Damn. Day. I need it, I am so inflexible and immobile and if I don’t fix that I will not fare too well in a Muay Thai fight or life itself.
- Learn to handstand. Looks cool, is an indicator of good bodyweight strength and is a bridge to learning other hardcore calisthenics exercises. I will be learning how to do that with this handstand mastery course.
- Fix my tennis elbow. I have an annoying tendon issue and if I don’t get it seeing to it will stand in the way of the above goal.
- Run a sub 20 minutes 5k.
- Read 10 of the top 100 classics. I am trying to read the top 100 classics before I’m 40. I’m almost half the way through the list.
- Increase morning meditation to 20 minutes from 10.
- Go for a walk as soon as I wake up in the morning. Apparently it’s good for regulating your circadian rhythm and I also want to walk more.
- Fix my daytime Bruxism. I grind my teeth. I don’t do it during sleep, I do it during the day so a mouth guard doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been for consultations on botox in my jaw, but I wasn’t convinced. It’s annoying.
- Catch up on my blog. What I mean by this is edit every travel-related post I have ever written so that it offers value and make sure I have an extensive travel guide to every of the 100+ countries that I have visited. This could take longer than a year, it’s a lot of work!
- Increase my net worth by £50,000.
- Get a full health checkup. Full checkup including how I’m doing with my eating habits (so as many vitamins and minerals as possible) and also a comprehensive hormone test.
- Alcohol restriction rules. To reiterate from above: No drinking between Monday-Friday for the first quarter, no drinking alone for the whole year, 50 drink tokens and have a Dry January (feel free to join me on any of those for accountability).
Best of luck to you all with your own goals and health in 2021!