(According to Scandinavian motivational type Erik Bertrand Larssen, I have huge untapped reserves of energy and potential. You do too. Everyone does. So to get at them, and in order to help me start a new business with the vigour of Hercules, I’ve been following his book Hell Week. You can read the first part of “my journey” here.)
With its vile slush, burning sands and people turned into trees, since Dante described hell in all its lurid fifteenth century glory it has become known as a concentric arrangement of unpleasantness.
And in the way Erik Bertrand Larssen, a former member of Norway’s special forces cranks up the suffering in his self-help book Hell Week, his Scandinavian interpretation of hell shares a certain similarity with the old Italian poet’s.
For just as in Dante’s multi-layered torture park the nastiest stuff is located right in the core, so in the Larssen version the hardest part to endure comes in the middle of the week, rather than at the end.
For him, Monday and Tuesday are all early to bed, up at 5, forget about drinking, exercise as if the Olympics might be an option, and sever all contact with anything electronic that steals your focus and drains your time – but days three and four ask a little more of the traveller.
The Wednesday is all about planning.
“If you want to achieve greater success throughout all areas of your life, you must plan for it,” is his sage advice.
And so you have to turn your life into one gigantic yearly, monthly, weekly and daily schedule that becomes less flexible the smaller the unit of time.
Tough, but no plunge pool of raw sewage.
But then on Thursday, with the goal being to get you “out of your comfort zone”, you are expected to miss a night’s sleep.
From 5am Thursday to 9pm Friday, you’ll find that that plan you’ve drawn up in such precise detail on Wednesday doesn’t seem to include going to bed at all.
Unfortunately, as I had some theatre tickets on Friday, and didn’t wish to sleep through the performance, I couldn’t do the night of no sleep on Thursday.
So I did it on the Wednesday instead.
(The book isn’t clear on where the Norwegian military stands on reconfiguring Hell Week to accommodate one’s commitment to musical theatre, but doubtless they’ll let me know if I’m no longer eligible for a medal.)
Larssen says this is the part of his Hell Week that most people feel is beyond them.
The goal of Hell Week though, is to reveal to people how dramatically we underestimate our potential, because of our ability to imagine all sorts of things to be afraid of.
Staying up then, is an exercise in facing one’s fear of failure, and tearing off its taunting mask to reveal it as just another cowardly impostor.
Or in my case, sit at my desk until 5 am, run around The Regent’s Park for 45 minutes, then return to the desk.
In this way, one is given the key to the uncharted territory that lies beyond the comfort zone.
Whatever it’s called, it’s not the Utter Clarity Zone or Sea of Amazing Focus.
And whereas staying up all night is like having a whole extra day in the week to get things done, in the debit column, that extra day has to be paid for somehow.
Just dragging a day forward into the night time leaves a big empty space behind it where the next day was supposed to be.
At least, that was how it felt to my body, which reacted like a sort of grumpy employee forced to come in on its day off.
So while I can confirm that this sort of barefaced defiance of the clock and its conventions can – against all odds – be done, it’s probably best not to schedule anything of vital significance the day after staying up all night.
If coherent thought is formed by pulses of energy springing like fauns to link gaps in your mental pathways, then too many of those pulses were failing to make it to the other side.
Also on the plus side though, being deprived of a large part of the mental energy you take for granted leaves you with a razor sharp sense of what your priorities are.
When there’s not enough energy to go around, only the important stuff gets attended to.
Everything else falls away into insignificance.
Perhaps that is the real point of this task.
Either that or revealing the secret recipe to make jet lag in your own home.
But enough – having conquered sleeplessness, onward to Day 5!