When was the last time you did anything really physically challenging?

For some people pushing their bodies to see what they can achieve is quite a regular thing. For most of us, it’s not. And I most definitely fall into that category. When I was younger I did Ten Tors (a 45 mile walk over ten of the tors on Dartmoor) I tackled some pretty gruelling treks when I lived in Nepal and I’ve done a couple of reasonably long bike rides. But until recently I had never really completed any kind of swimming challenge. When I was younger I was in a swimming club and trained regularly, so I am not too bad at swimming.  But I have been rather lazy as an adult and until discovering open water swimming I thought I’d fallen out of love with it. Clearly not quite……

Sometime back at the start of 2018 my lovely friend Claire Stone of Claire Stone Nutrition signed up to do the River Dart 10K, and somehow, because it seemed like a good idea at the time I decided that I was going to do it too! For the uninitiated, the River Dart 10K is a 10 kilometre swim down the River Dart, starting in Totnes and ending in Dittisham. You have to wear a wetsuit which was a whole new thing for me and need to not mind that you can’t see the bottom. We both swam it for a charity called Level Water that provides swimming lessons for disabled children so we got to feel good about what we were doing one way or another.

And last month, in 2 hours 59 minutes and 52 seconds I did it! I swam the River Dart 10K as did Claire and fellow Bristol businesswoman Mel Bound, and about 1300 other people. I was very happy to get my mug of hot chocolate afterwards.

River Dart 10K success

It was an unbelievable experience, one I thought I might just be able to get through, but not one I thought I’d particularly enjoy. It was a whole mix of adrenaline, fear, trepidation, bloody mindedness and actually when it came down to it, great camaraderie that made it so brilliant. But while I felt elated afterwards (and rather wobbly), it was the actual being in the water that I loved, it was the swimming with 500 odd other people that I loved, it was embracing the whole craziness of what I was doing that just made it totally incredible. I imagined that I would put my head down, push myself to get from one milestone to another and grit my teeth. Of course I was so pleased and relieved that I had managed it, rather euphoric in fact but a little sad that it was all over. It was the opposite to what I thought it would be, it was all about embracing the moment and really concentrating on my whole self, welcoming the intensity of the time and place and engaging with being. It wasn’t simply about finishing.

And it reminded me of the process that I often go through when I facilitate a workshop.

You agree your goals, create your process and do all the work to create as good a workshop as you can possible develop. Just like swimming training in a way there’s some kind of special challenge in hitting upon a good process, in finding the right tools and having those lightbulb moments when you can see how they knit together. You set everything up in the best way you can, then your participants show up and you start to facilitate. You work through that process that you have lovingly created and you really throw yourself in. It’s quite an immersive process. If you are not really fully in the moment when you are facilitating then you run the risk of missing something, or not listening properly, or getting distracted. You run the risk of thinking about things outside the workshop and your flow might get disrupted. Or maybe even worse not seeing when things aren’t going quite as you’d though they’d go where you need to think quickly on your feet to provide a different direction. If you are not fully in the zone, then it’s quite hard to be truly present to deliver the group facilitation in the way that it is needed. It’s all part of feeling your way through the workshop, being connected and engaged with it as a facilitator and it’s quite all encompassing.

Active Listening whilst facilitating

So in the zone is where I am, as I am when I am swimming. I think sometimes this is almost like being given permission to tune out of everything else. These days there is so much to distract us and I am easily distracted by a whole variety of things! I think some of this comes with being a parent and having 15 different conversations at once, meeting a constant stream of different demands and attending to different needs in some fit of extreme multi tasking. So facilitating a workshop almost feels like a luxury in that respect, an opportunity to shut out the noisy world and be fully present where I need to be. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to be able to focus on what I’m doing, with my whole self involved in the job.

Swimming for 3 hours is like that. There’s not too much to distract you when you are clad in a wetsuit swimming a long way down a salty river (assuming you don’t have a goggle crisis or a cramp or something that threatens to pull you off course). There’s a lot to look at – it was actually rather beautiful and there are other swimmers, a lot of other swimmers that you need to not swim in to! There are two feed stations where you stop, drink water and stuff as many jelly babies in your mouth as possible whilst trying to smile and be nice to the people that are feeding you. But it’s all part of the same experience, it’s all part of the adventure and my mind stayed pretty much where it needed to be. Sometimes I though of the end and what it might be like, or reflected back to the lake I trained in, but mostly I was in the here and now. I think the moment you start to thinking about other things, you are in danger of losing that focus and for me I needed my mind to be at the front, supporting my body through the swim.

Facilitation flow

A big goal can be rather a frightening thing and when you set that goal it can feel impossible. More than once I had a huge wobble in the lead up to the event, accompanied by tears, and woe is me, and I can’t do it. I knew I wouldn’t pull out, but I did doubt my ability to finish, a lot. I think imagining the different stages in the swim, learning everything about the event I could and really mentally preparing myself for the swim had just as much to do with me getting there as the physical training. Facilitating a workshop can feel like a bit of a physical challenge, not least because you are often on your feet all day, but not of course in the same way. But the preparation and planning to get there, to get in the zone is just as important from both a needing to know what I’m doing perspective, to the mindset needed to be absolutely in the right mental space.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say in both my swimming and group facilitation work, I have found my flow, my happy state by being totally immersed in what I am doing.

Will I do the River Dart 10K again? Absolutely! I was exhausted when I finished, but in the same way that group facilitation is a little bit addictive, so is swimming crazy long distances. Now I get why you runners do it, although I won’t be buying an trainers just yet.

When do you really feel in the zone?

If you or your team are in need of a group facilitator, or just want to know a bit more about what facilitation is then please give me a shout. I promise not to go on about swimming (too much)…….



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