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'I used to have a fear of public speaking -- now I make a living from it'

Gerry Duffy chats to The42 about goal-setting, motivation and overcoming phobias.

Gerry Duffy is an acclaimed author and endurance runner.
Gerry Duffy is an acclaimed author and endurance runner.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER GERRY Duffy boasts an impressive list of accomplishments.

A consummate athlete, Duffy has competed in some of the world’s toughest endurance races, including running 32 marathons in 32 days, as well as winning the DECA-Iron Distance Triathlon — an event dubbed the ‘the toughest 10-day endurance challenge in the world’ and in which competitors were required to swim 24 miles, cycle 1,160 miles and run 262 miles.

Duffy is also an acclaimed author, releasing his first book Who Dares Runs in 2011, and following it up two years later with Tick, Tock, Ten, which was subsequently shortlisted for Irish Sports Book of the Year.

Moreover, he is also an in-demand corporate speaker, addressing the workforces of multinationals, such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Bank of America.

Furthermore, tomorrow, he’ll be featuring alongside Roz Purcell (nutrition), Kathie Stritch (fitness) and Alan Quinlan (mental health) at a Welnness Workshop in Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone, in which he’ll be discussing motivation and goal-setting.

Hosted by Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill (Rugbaí Beo, TG4), the event aims to provide people with “all the right information needed to make lasting changes in their lives”.

For such a high achiever, people might well assume that such success came easily to a confident-seeming character like Duffy. However, it was far from the case. For all the arduous endurance events Duffy has competed in, the Mullingar native’s toughest challenge was a test of a different kind.

“If I’m being honest, my proudest achievement is overcoming a fear of public speaking to the point that I was pathologically afraid of it,” he tells The42. “But now it’s what I do for a living.

“In terms of marathons, the public speaking fear and maybe taking that on [helped me]. I hadn’t the courage to really confront something that I was terrified of. So [overcoming that] gave me an extra bit of confidence in myself as a human being, which I was able to bring in to the 32 marathons. So the 32 marathons was extremely challenging, but public speaking was even harder.”

Duffy consequently believes that other individuals with similar problems should follow his example.

“I would encourage people to do [a challenge] if it’s outside of the comfort zone. Sometimes the thought of doing something is far worse and more challenging than the actual deed itself.

“I realise it was a thing that was going on in my mind where I was telling myself something that wasn’t actually true. If I feel the fear I do it anyway and if we have the courage to do something like that, small keys can open big doors. But we have to have the courage to put the keys in the door.”

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Source: 32MarathonChallenge/YouTube

Duffy’s specialist subject is goal-setting and motivation — issues he once struggled with himself, as not so long ago, he was four-stone overweight and a chronic procrastinator.

“I think very often, it can be the fear of it and sometimes, it can simply be not taking the next step, which is action. Even the tiniest thing can have a profound impact on your success.

“I remember for 10 or 15 years, I said: ‘I’d love to run a marathon,’ but I never did it. But then one day, I just decided to go running, and then straight away, I was that bit closer to my goal.

“Every journey begins with a single step — it’s an old Chinese proverb, but it’s so true. If we have the courage to take the first physical action, all of a sudden we’re on the journey to the goal. Tasting that experience, even if it’s only a small thing, we’re more likely to feel better about ourselves.”

He also advises people to seriously contemplate why they want to succeed in meeting their respective goals.

“If I want achieve something, why do I want to achieve it? If we have a strong enough ‘why,’ that will inevitably help us with our motivation to succeed.

“Very often, we go through life and we never actually sit down and think about things we want to achieve. Sometimes, we do, without giving them second thoughts. So what I’m going to be encouraging people to do is thinking about things they want to achieve. If we ask the ‘why’ question, there’s a far greater likelihood that we’ll end up achieving [our goals].”

Duffy is as busy as ever lately, as he’s currently working on a book on the topic of goal-setting while also being “immersed in an academic ambition”. Yet despite this heavy workload, he won’t be neglecting exercise, as he intends to compete in a marathon in the winter.

He is consequently keen to stress the importance of a healthy balance between exercise and work in life, citing it as often being vital in helping enable people to maximise their productivity.

“Ultimately, it comes down to ourselves as human beings to determine where we go in life. What I’ve learned is the value of thinking about your role in life, coupled with being physically fit and eating well. Our body needs to manage stuff well and if it manages stuff well, we’re going to feel better about ourselves. The food, the exercise and the strategy will complement that.

“We can have all the skills to achieve anything, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to achieve it. We need the motivation to achieve it and we also need the energy to achieve it, and that’s the value of proper nutrition and proper exercise.”

Wellness Workshop takes place on Sunday 21 June at the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone from 9.00am to 5.00pm. For more information and to book your place online for €80, visit www.irishwellness.ie. Lunch, super Goodie Bag and 1 month Online Workout and Nutrition Programme also included!

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