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  • Writer's pictureM Marzuki Mohamed

A Self-Coaching Conversation that Saved My Life

Slightly over three years ago, I fell seriously ill. Apart from the physical pain and weakness, I noticed that I was sliding from sadness into despair. In as much as I mustered all the strength that I could, I felt frustrated and helpless that I wasn't able to. Why can't I manage my state? What's happening to me? Then I realised that my weak physical condition was working against all my best effort to pick myself up and I began focusing on regaining my physical strength. It took me a month to begin to walk and I began to regain my energy. I realised that I need to keep working out and I decided then to work out every day, no matter how little. As I did that, my energy began returning and my recovery became more and more rapid. Making a decision to work out daily is one thing. How do I remind myself to keep doing that until it becomes a habit? That was when I noticed a posting that an acquaintance made about putting a group together to climb Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest peak in April 2018. It would be slightly under a year away and that would give me time to train. "This would be a good goal to set that would keep me exercising daily", I thought to myself. I signed up for the climb. MOUNT KINABALU Starting off from Timpohon Gate (Elevation 1,866m) I covered 7 km in 5 hours, a climb of slightly under 1,400 m. It had been such an exhilarating climb. However, with only 700 m distance to Laban Rata (Elevation 3,273m), our stopover before the final ascent to the peak, I began feeling nauseous, my legs were heavy and every step was a struggle. By the time I reached Laban Rata, I felt totally drained of energy. As I stumbled into the hostel room, the chills just hit me full force. "HYPOTHERMIA!!", my head screamed and I began to shudder uncontrollably. The wet clothes that I was wearing merely contributed to the cold I was feeling. I stripped off the wet clothes completely and slipped under the quilt, trying to get some warmth. I was feeling totally cold, miserable, frustrated, scared and helpless. I was slipping in and out of conscious awareness. It was under such a situation that the conversation took place. Will I make it to the top? The final ascent will start in 5 hours, at 2:00 a.m. Will I be able to recover in time? What if I can't make it? I will be ashamed. But, it's so cold! It's 7 degrees C here. It will be zero up there. The wind. I don't think I can stand any colder. What if I get hypothermia up there? I might not make it down. But, I have to make it up there!!

THE SELF-COACHING CONVERSATION Q Have to? Yes, I have to make it. If I quit now I'll be a quitter. Q Quitting now will make you a quitter? No. That's a generalisation. No... But if I fail to reach the top, it will mean that I'm a failure. Q Does failing a goal mean that YOU are a failure. No. It just means I have failed in this quest. I am not a failure. But it still means that I have failed. Q If it means that you have failed, does it mean that you are less as a person? No. I am NOT less as a person. I am more than my failings or achievements. Failing only means that I lacked the right strategy or preparation. But I must strive. I shouldn't give up! Q Who is that talking? My ego… Q Why is reaching the peak important to you? Well, not really that important. I set it out as a goal to remind myself to work-out regularly to keep fit. Exercising regularly is the real goal. I have used Kinabalu as an encourager to keep working-out. Q Does it work? Yes, it worked. I have pushed myself to exercise, even when I was away; in Botswana and in the Philippines. I have achieved my goal of exercising. Q Why is exercising important to you? So that I can be fit. When I am fit, I have the energy to conduct training well; and, more importantly, I will have the energy to play with my grandchildren. Q So, what's important to you? To conduct training and play with my grandchildren. Q How does pushing yourself to reach the peak serve this? It doesn't. If I am not ready and I push myself, I may harm myself. That will not serve me to conduct training and play with my grandchildren. If I get injured up there, I will not only endanger myself, I will also put the lives of others in danger; my group and mountain guides. Q So, what's your decision? I will only scale the peak when I have recovered completely. I will sleep now to let my body rest and recover. When I wake up, I will check if I am fully recovered. Q How will you know that you are fully recovered? What criteria will you use to make that decision? The supper before the ascent. If I can stomach the supper, I will know that I have fully recovered. If not, I will know that I have not fully recovered. I slept and woke up at midnight. I dressed up for the climb. I proceeded to have my supper. I couldn't stomach the meal. I felt nauseous. I knew that I had not fully recovered. I was calm when I accepted my decision to not proceed. I informed my group leader of my decision. I wished the group members a safe outing and returned to the dormitory to sleep and rest. Naga, our guide leader, joined me in the dormitory to keep an eye on me. He was one of the heroic guides who led 160 stranded climbers down safely from Mount Kinabalu when it was hit by an earthquake in 2015. When I woke up in the early morning, I knew that I had fully recovered. I waited for my group members to return to Laban Rata. Then, we trekked down the mountain and I arrived safely at the base in 4 hours of gentle descend.


I was glad that I had the conversation. It did not happen exactly the way I wrote. There were numerous loops and spiralling about, as I was slipping in and out of consciousness. However, I managed to capture the defining bits. My intention in sharing this here is to demonstrate the power of such a conversation. Had I not had this conversation, I may have been consumed by my emotions and made decisions in error and could have harmed myself and others. However, I did have that conversation and I am grateful that it saved me from harm. I hope that this is useful to you in some way or another. If you found it useful, it may also be useful to someone you care about. Please SHARE 🙏

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