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Conquering Santis

At the weekend my wife and I were extremely lucky to be invited to Switzerland to go hiking in the nearby mountains with one of her best friends and her husband who live in Zurich. It was our second visit, following a similar adventure around the same time last year, in what promises to be an annual pilgrimage.

The experience of our two-day hike prompted me to write this blog. I have been doing a lot of work with clients around adopting the right mindset at work and in life, so it was interesting to observe the different mindsets at play, as people contemplated whether to venture into unchartered territories in the Swiss mountains.

The previous year we completed a 5-hour hike along a picturesque yet challenging ridge and stayed in a remote cabin nestled in a valley by a lake overnight at approximately 1,400m of altitude. The next day we hiked back down the mountain, along a gently meandering trail adorned with goats and cows, bells clanging around their necks in true Swiss style. This year, we planned to hike along the same ridge on day one, but then climb to the top of the mythical Santis, which stood over 2,500m tall in the distance.

As we sat around the table for dinner in the log cabin at the end of day one, eating our way through a traditional rösti (fried grated potato laden with cheese and topped off with two fried eggs) looking forward to the next day's adventures, we couldn't help but overhear another group of hikers sitting nearby who were having doubts about the prospect of scaling Santis. Whilst our group was excited about the idea of reaching the goal we had set ourselves, the other group were focussed on how difficult it would be.

A change in focus

As we listened-in to their conversation, I appreciated the different mindsets at play. Our group was focussed on the end goal as well as the stunning vistas we would encounter en-route, paying very little attention to the 1,500m + of ascent we would need to conquer to get to the top. The other group were busy dissecting each laborious step needed to summit Santis. They had all but forgotten about how exhilarating it would be to reach the top or to witness some of the stunning scenery along the way.

Where we focus our attention, influences how we feel about a challenge. Focussing on the more challenging aspects of a situation without seeing the positives, triggers negative emotions which drain us of energy, zest for adventure and resilience. Focussing on the positive aspects on the other hand, fuel us with positive emotions that can help us conquer metaphorical mountains, as well as real ones such as Santis.

We set off the next morning with a spring in our step. The mindset we adopted made the ascent seem almost effortless, despite the steep inclines and buckets of sweat dripping from our foreheads (mostly mine). As we approached the top of the intermediate ridge some two hours into the climb, we were greeted with a near vertical drop to negotiate. There may have been a few expletives along the lines of "what the cr#p" and "you have to be kidding me" - Switzerland, it transpires, has a very different definition of health and safety. However, after a brief pause to collect our thoughts over a handful of (mixed) nuts, which included checking to ensure our life insurance policies were valid, we managed to re-compose ourselves.

Living life on the edge

Testament to the power of mindset, we remained calm, embracing the challenge (and our emotions), and proceeded to navigate our way down the cliff face. Embracing challenges in a positive way has a tangible effect on how we experience something. I found it exhilarating. A mere 12 months ago, I would have felt the very opposite seeing that I suffered from mild vertigo. Mindset is a powerful tool in our armoury. Mindset is a constantly evolving process and its power is something which continues to fascinate me.

The final ascent towards Santis’ summit was not for the feint hearted. However, we were reminded that anything humans can do, mountain goats can do far better, as we passed a group of five goats, defying the laws of gravity, perched on the side of the mountain. It took us just under 5 hours to reach the summit that day. It was the most difficult and technical climb we have attempted to date, but it was also the most awe-inspiring.

The experience was also a great reminder of the power of mindset. How we experience a situation in life or at work is ultimately within our control. Whilst it may not always feel like it, we can choose how to experience any given situation. Our thoughts trigger the emotions we experience - negative thoughts trigger negative emotions that impact our resilience and our ability to reach our goals. If you find yourself in a negative thought loop, remember to take a step back and put the situation into perspective. Challenge yourself to see the positives, not just the negatives and try to stay focussed on those positives. If you’re in an argument with someone, it is also worth trying to think about what is going on from the other person’s perspective (we rarely know the full picture) – step into their shoes and try to help rather than aggravate the situation.

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