Mind Games

A  person’s mind can either help or hinder them.

We see it all the time in the gym.

Regularly we have people tell us they are not fit enough to even start training. Convinced of this by the voice in thier head.

I recently hiked into the Blue Mountains and camped overnight on my own.

What I found in the bush during the night was not what I expected.

I’ve done some interesting things in my former career but this hike would become one of the hardest things I have done physically and mentally.

Thousands of people hike and camp every weekend. I’m not one of them until recently.

Apart from little experience, the other issue I have, is a habit of going all in on any new obsession I develop.

On the National Parks website it says this…

“If you’re pitching your tent at Acacia Flat campground, you can give yourself a big hug. You’ve joined a rare breed of intrepid campers who have walked into the Grose Valley in one of the most secluded wilderness areas in the Blue Mountains.”

Well then, I thought, I will be one of those rare breed giving myself a big hug. Not only that, I will take the long way into Acacia Flat... about 15km.

I had researched, equipped and tested things leading up to the Friday I was to head off. Yes, Friday was the day because then I wouldn’t be running into all of those weekend, non serious walkers. Unlike me, the Bear Grylls of the Blue Mountains, I needed a clear path!

I told my girlfriend plan, route and timings just in case.

Adding to my adventure and experience was the fact I had decided to go on my own.

We’ll get more into that mistake shortly!

Early Friday morning I was off. With my equipment on my back (about 15kg) I set off down the track.

The first thing I noticed was how steep the climb down was. I noticed this because it occurred to me how hard coming back up the next day would be!

I saw amazing waterfalls, picturesque rivers and secluded rainforest. A few hours in I stopped to make myself a coffee and sat there proudly drinking it.

The track was very overgrown in places but for the most part I could always tell where I was suppose to be going.

Then it happened…

Lying across the track was a snake. It had to be at least 12 metres long...well ok… it was maybe 30cm long.

One thing I didn’t mention is my huge fear of snakes. This makes bush walking kind of tricky but it was May, cold enough to keep the evil critters away. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I was later researching Copperhead Snakes, I found out they prefer cooler temperatures!

Since when has Mr Cold Climate snake existed!

There was no choice. I was going to have to “encourage” this reptile to be on it’s way. Thankfully he slid off into the bush deep enough for me to lose sight of him and I was on my way again.


The incident was enough to play on my mind for about the next hour of walking. Every stick, vine and twig was now a snake waiting to attack me.

About 6 hours in I made my destination...Acacia Flat campground!

I set up camp and settled in for the night.

Then my mind started...

I shouldn’t be here.

What if something happens?

My knees are starting to hurt, what if they pack it in?

What if I have a fall?

What if I break my ankle?

What if a snake bites me?

You have no phone reception.

You’re on your own...you shouldn’t have done this on your own.

The “what if’s” and mind games had me spinning. I fell in and out of sleep, each time waking with thoughts of how these scenarios get played out in the media and me always thinking… “how did that guy get in so over his head!”

Now it was me in over my head. Or more accurately...I was deep in my head and it was winning.

Any of you familiar with CrossFit will know what I mean when I say I had chosen to do this workout RX and I really, really should have scaled it.

Looking back, I freely admit I should not have done this hike on my own.

My desire for independance, self reliance and standing on my own two feet had masked the sensible decision to hike with at least one other person for safety. But now in the middle of the night I had started to review this decision as well.

At 4am I decided, come morning I would take a shorter route out of the gorge. It would be steeper but 2 or 3 hours instead of 5 back the way I came. I would ring my girlfriend to pick me up and drive me back to the car. All safe and sound. This comforted me enough to get a little more sleep.

Shortly after 7am I was packed and heading out, still unsure of which path I would take. The knees were feeling ok. I got to the crossroads. Short and steep or known and long?

I would regret being beaten by my mind.

Then the voice we all have inside said, “Let’s just go for it.”

I knew the track now. This would be the fastest way back to the car in the long run.

15km, 5 hours and I’d be on my way home.

But what about the climb at the end?

I started at a cracking pace. Mainly because yesterday’s snake was still on my mind. I wanted to get back before any sunshine had tempt them out.

I know some of these thoughts are irrational. Some of you are probably having a good laugh. But that’s my point. My mind was doing an absolute number on me.

I had to tell myself to slow down. I was reminded of all the clients at our gym starting workouts at a flying pace only to realise they’d gone out too hard too early.

At 10km I was soaked with sweat. I changed my top and knew I was close to the final push.

I got to the bottom of the ascent. I didn’t know how ling this bit was going to take. After a rest and drink I started one foot in front of the other. It was soon a shuffle. Steep inclines and stairs...so many stairs! I was stopping to rest every ten to fifteen minutes.

Reps!... I told myself. Each step is just a rep. “You tell members everyday to give one more rep.”

The breaks got even more regular but eventually I sighted the carpark and my car.

I’d made it.

30kms over two days, over ten hours of hiking through the bush and a night on my own. I was a “rare breed of intrepid camper” and if I had the energy I would have given myself the big hug.

So what did I learn?

Well, a lot. But one thing I got thinking about was all the times I have heard people’s concerns, worries and fears about training, exercising or joining the gym.

It’s too hard.

I can’t lift the weight.

I’m too unfit.

I’m overwieght.

It’s intimidating.

...and so on.

Whether it’s our training in the gym or hiking in the bush, at times we all have doubts. Especially when something is new for us.

The mind is an incredibly powerful thing. It will empower you to do that which you never thought possible. By the same token it can work against you if you let it.

Your mind will run away down a rabbit hole of self doubt and disbelief. When it happened to me, it happened very quickly and I struggled to see a way out.

The self doubt will win if you let it.

Things like preparation, research and experience will help you out.

So will support. Surround yourself with the right people.

Every so often it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, give yourself a scare and exercise the mind game.

Matt O'Brien