(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. And part two here.)
So that’s Hell Week done for another millennium – I am now, apparently, if I’ve done it properly, my “Best Self.”
The last three days of the “Week” involved lots more pre-dawn exercise, but one of the bigger and least expected challenges comes on Day Six with this headline in the Times:
“Why too much exercise could be bad for you.”
After being urged to fresh levels of physical intensity to illustrate how pathetically I’d underestimated my limits, here comes new, late-in-the-day intel insisting that such behaviour is a potentially deadly mistake.
In his book, Erik Larssen says that when the special forces trainees are at their most knackered in the real Hell Week, the instructors shout foreign words at them to learn.
Is this a similar cunning test?
Has the Norwegian military planted a story in a foreign newspaper to add an infinite zen riddle (“Pushing yourself harder is good for you, but pushing yourself harder is also bad for you – what should you do?”) to its specially crafted layers of weariness?
Unlike the real Hell Week, which appears to build to a crescendo of suffering, Larssen’s Hell Week plateaus out into a last 48 hours of introspection, which may be less physically demanding, but I think harder to accomplish.
This is because the mental tasks for the last two days veer a little too close to the over-optimistic, sort of “Now let’s spend the last five minutes breathing through our hair” instructions found at the end of one of the more untethered yoga classes.
For example, Day Six is for something called “Controlling Your Inner Dialogue”, which here means imposing a blanket insistence on total positivity.
“Saturday is intended to be a so-called ‘happy day’,” he says.
This has a similarly dismaying effect to being ordered to “smile” by a homeless person.
I’m all for making strenuous efforts to up the positive, and for everyone doing whatever it takes to address their forces of unhappiness, but attempting to switch it on at will produces the wrong sensation.
For example, I’ve always found the expression “Self-help book” to be something of an oxymoron.
The idea that you hand over money to a third party suggests that it’s possibly not primarily yourself you’re helping, and “you’ve been self-helped” sounds a lot like “you’ve been had.”
As soon as the advice strays into “the more you put in, the more you get out” variety of platitude, attempts to feel positive emerge as something that feels a lot more like suspicion.
Walking past some grotty pay-day loans operation called “Happy Money” doesn’t help in locating happiness on my emotional map either, and the quest for positivity becomes more of a process of grim determination than the California-sunny, borderline insane “I’ll be your waitress” type cheerfulness Larssen seems to be urging us to produce.
Sunday is devoted to the even more vague “Putting Your Life in Perspective.”
I feel, by now Mr Larssen may be wishing the week only contained six days as his advice is getting a little thin.
Here, one is supposed to meditate on one’s mortality (guess that’s it with the forced cheerfulness, then) and “Look for role models”. Hmm.
Overall though, if one is looking for a sudden and vigorous defibrillating jolt to show the rut you’re stuck in for the pothole it is, then Hell Week is not bad in its brevity and violence.
Also to its credit, it’s more about doing things, rather than thinking about doing things.
However, if you’re looking to breathe a little more confidence and ambition into your to do list, you could do a lot worse than mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s as recorded in Walter Isaacson’s new biography.
“Get the measurement of Milan and its suburbs,” in order to “draw Milan”, reads one entry.
“Ask…by what means they walk on ice in Flanders.”
“Get the measurement of the sun”, “describe the tongue of the woodpecker”, “inflate the lungs of a pig and observe if it increases in width and length or only in width.”
Perhaps it’s not all about running around at five in the morning.
It’s more about working on the quality of your to do list, then finding out whether you can do it or not the hard way.