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Scott Expedition great example of Resilience and Mental Toughness

January 4, 2014

Amazing resilience and mental toughness is being demonstrated by The Scott Expedition team Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere during their extremely challenging expedition in Antarctica, particularly during recent days.

Resilience is the ability to absorb stress, pressure, feedback, or personal challenge without being affected, or deflected from one’s own purpose.  It means “bouncing back” and even “bouncing forward” from challenging experiences.  It is thought that resilience is a mixture of behaviours, thoughts, and actions that anyone can develop  (i.e. it is not something that people either have or do not have).

Ben and Tarka have demonstrated the 3 C’s OF RESILIENCE: CONTROL –  COMMITMENT –  CHALLENGE

  • Control: they have been very clear with their expectations as to who or what is responsible for what happens.  For example they have no control over the weather, terrain, etc, and have to deal with it as and when necessary.  However they do have had control over their purpose, planning and preparation, the decisions they make and the actions they have taken as the expedition has progressed.
  • Commitment: they have had a clear sense of self, team and purpose – staying on course, even when the going gets tough.  Commitment requires having clear and stretching goals, planning for the ‘what if’ scenarios, using effective coping strategies and knowing when to ask for help.
  • Challenge:  They have risen to and overcome challenges as they have encountered them and are comfortable and confident in dealing with changing and uncertain situations.

“Courage is resilience to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” Mark Twain

Mental toughness is defined as having high self awareness and the ability to regulate thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours in a way that delivers sustained performance and success across a wide range of situations. Ben and Tarka have demonstrated the four pillars of ‘Mental Toughness’ identified by Jones & Moorhouse (2008)

  1. They’ve kept their head in very stressful and challenging conditions – enabling them to make well thought through decisions.
  2. They’ve stayed strong in their self-belief to complete the expedition – and when necessary made appropriate adjustments to ensure achievement of the expedition.
  3. They’ve made motivation work for them – they’ve used their goal focussed determination to overcome some very challenging conditions and still have a very strong motivation to succeed.
  4. They’ve stayed focused on the things that matter – on how they achieve their bigger goal through looking after themselves and each other, and given the challenges and circumstances they are faced with, making the best decisions that will help them progress towards successful completion of this hugely challenging expedition.
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Scott Expedition – with 24hr daylight where are the ‘dark sides’?

November 8, 2013

Extreme expeditions are high risk physically and mentally.  I am very excited to have been asked to provide psychological support to the Scott Expedition.  Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are very aware that their journey across Antarctica to complete Scott’s 1,800-mile return journey to the South Pole on foot will be pushing the physical and psychological boundaries of human potential.  As part of their psychological preparation they thought it would be a good idea to get an insight into their own and each other’s personality, to make most of their strengths and reduce the potentially life-threatening impact of any default ‘dark side’ behaviours that might come out when the going gets really tough.

To achieve this we used two personality questionnaires:

  • The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) is designed to assess the ‘bright’ side, that is aspects of personality that  promote success. This can reveal areas of strengths and some interpersonal tendencies that might cause problems.
  • The Hogan Development Survey (HDS) identifies the ‘darker’ side of personality, revealing what we might experience when people are stressed.  These ‘darker’ sides of our personality can affect an individual’s leadership style and behaviour. Under normal circumstances these characteristics can be strengths. However, when stressed, tired, hungry or otherwise distracted these risk factors may become dysfunctional, impeding effectiveness and eroding the quality of relationships and decisions.

In an extreme environment where Ben and Tarka are interdependent for survival having this intra and inter-personal awareness gives them greater ability to manage themselves and each other in the potentially challenging situations they might encounter.

Ben’s profile reveals he is friendly, warm and popular, enjoys being in the limelight and exciting others about his projects.  He thrives in adventurous, high risk situations, is highly ambitious, self-sufficient, competitive, confident and comfortable in a leadership role.  Whilst he enjoys the bigger picture aspects of the expedition, he is reasonably organised and reliable when it comes to managing the day to day tasks critical to their survival.   He is able to focus on what needs to be achieved and remain calm and composed under pressure.   Ben prefers learning on an as and when needs basis and is curious, creative, analytical and good at developing well thought through solutions before deciding what to do.

However in high stress/pressure situations or when, cold,  tired and hungry Ben may become overly confident and manipulative about doing things his way and on occasions may become a little impulsive and impatient.  Ben prefers to avoid conflict and so may struggle to address any differences of opinion or other issues as and when they arise.

Ben’s profile also suggests he may experience an inner conflict/dilemma between his reserved /self-sufficient dark sides and:

  • his colourful, limelight seeking dark side
  • his friendly, caring, conflict avoidant ‘bright side’

Tarka’s profile reveals he also thrives in high risk, adventurous situations, is highly ambitious, self-sufficient, confident and comfortable in a leadership role.  However he may sometimes come across as ruthless, dominant and competitive.   Like Ben, Tarka enjoys the bigger picture aspects of the expedition, however Tarka has a more unorthodox approach to developing ideas and solutions to expedition challenges.  He also has an ability to focus on what needs to be achieved, however may struggle to pay attention to the detailed, more routine tasks that may be key to their survival.  In a crisis Tarka is likely to remain reasonably calm and make a realistic assessment of the situation before deciding what to do.

In high stress/pressure situations or when tired, cold and hungry Tarka may not listen to Ben, may be dismissive of Ben’s ideas and/or may struggle to persuade Ben why his rather unorthodox solutions/ideas might be best.

The likelihood of their ‘dark sides’ emerging is reduced and/or moderated due to their ability to remain calm and rational when under pressure and they both thrive in adventurous, high risk situations.

Following their individual and team feedback, given the insights they’d gained, we discussed how they can best manage themselves and each other to maintain psychological fitness throughout this challenging expedition.

Click here for a case study on the Rivers of Ice Expedition

this blog has been written with permission from Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere

Choosing a great coach to achieve your best year ever…..

December 31, 2012

Coaching is now one of the ‘must haves’ for people who want to achieve. However feedback from people and organisations I work with suggests that finding the right coach can prove challenging, confusing and even overwhelming due to the many different approaches and options. If you are looking for a coach to help you achieve your New Year resolutions and goals for the coming year here are a few hints and tips to help you select a great coach.

Coaching is an industry that has seen vast growth over the last decade, in terms of the number of coaches, the number of people and organisations using coaching and the wide range of coaching specialities (executive, business, skills, performance, career, life, team, etc).

An effective coach will help individuals and teams on their journey to professional and personal success. Research suggests that coaching is hugely powerful as a means to helping people to identify and achieve their visions and goals. There are many excellent coaches from a wide range of backgrounds, e.g. training, human resources, psychology, mentoring, counselling or from other professional backgrounds for example financial (wealth coaches) and health and fitness (health coaches), which should enable you to find the right coach for your needs.

However those considering hiring a coach should be aware that coaching is, as yet, an unregulated industry and therefore it is not compulsory for a coach to have any form of training, qualification or membership in order to set up in practice as a coach. As a result there are some coaches out there from whom the client has little or no protection should they experience ‘mal practice’. Being that a coach works with people’s thinking and behavioural styles, I am concerned about the lack of regulation, as coach selection has the potential to be a minefield for those considering using a coach to help them achieve their goals.

A good coach will have membership of professional body, with Code of Conduct, Ethics and Complaints procedure, and which requires evidence of ‘fitness to practice’ (rather than just accepting anyone who pays the membership fee!). They should also have professional indemnity insurance and if UK based be registered under the Data Protection Act.

Over the last decade many organisations have sought to be ‘the’ professional body for coaches. I’d strongly recommend selecting a coach that is recognised by one of the leading professional bodies (e.g. International Coach Federation (ICF), European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), Association for Coaching (AC), or equivalent in your country). In addition there are longer established professional regulatory bodies who now include coaching as an area of professional expertise (for example in the UK The British Psychological Society’s Special Group in Coaching Psychology and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development).

So before you engage a coach remember to check out whether the coach:
• has a qualification or accreditation from a recognised professional body
• adheres to a professional code of conduct
• understands the boundaries of coaching
• offers an all important ‘chemistry’ meeting
• walks the talk – the best coaches always do!

Wishing you a highly successful year.

Links to my related blogs:

Set Challenging Goals

Setting Marginal Gains Goals

‘Will I’ vs ‘I Will’

Tips to find best support

Goal setting for marginal gains

August 23, 2012

I was completely obsessed with the Olympics and fascinated by some of the stories and insights into Team GBs outstanding performances, particularly the insight into the cycling team’s ‘Marginal Gains’ philosophy.  Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s Performance Director  in a BBC interview  said “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

From my work as a sport psychologist and executive coach, and my own sporting achievements I know that attention to detail and ‘Marginal Gains’  is critical to success.  It reminds me of a saying my father would often use to encourage me to save pocket money ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.’

So how do we break down business or sporting performance to the micro level that will help you focus on and deliver marginal gains?  My top tip is to focus on how you set and achieve your goals:

Top tip 1: Set your goals using a top-down approach – as Stephen Covey suggests in his book 7 habits of highly effective people   Habit #2 ‘Begin with the end in mind’:

  1. Vision, Outcome Goals, Performance Goals, Process Goals, Marginal Gains GoalsWhat is your vision/dream goals?  e.g. to be the best in the World, the company vision
  2. To achieve your vision/dream goal what outcome goals do you want to achieve?  e.g. to set a world record, to be top 3 organisation in industry by revenue
  3. To achieve your outcome goals what performance goals do you want to achieve?  To beat the World record by 1 second, to increase revenue by 10%
  4. To achieve your performance goals what process goals do you want to achieve?  What do you actually need to do?  e.g. strategic, financial, technical, behavioural, environmental, psychological, physical, etc e.g. better cycling position, improve client retention,
  5. To achieve your process goals – what are the ‘marginal gains’ goals you want to achieve? e.g. 1% improvement in aerodynamics (bike, athlete, helmet, etc), 1% improvement across all client satisfaction ratings.

Top tip 2:  set about achieving your goals in a bottom-up approach.  Focussing on and achieving your ‘marginal gains’ and ‘process’ goals will provide solid foundations on which to improve performance for the achievement of your higher level goals.

My TEDx talk the Positive Ps of Peak Performance

May 1, 2012

Preparation for Peak Performancehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lT7nEByCoM&feature=youtu.be

Many readers will be familiar with the 5 Ps (or the 6 P version) – that is commonly used in the business environment ‘planning and preparation prevent poor performance’.  I challenge this because from my years of experience as an executive coach and sport psychologist and my own sporting achievements I know you get what you focus on, and if you focus on avoiding poor performance you may get OK or maybe good performance, however you are unlikely to get peak performance.  I believe the key to success and peak performance in any walk of life (business, sport, performing arts, life, etc)  is focusing on the what and why (purpose) and the how (planning and preparation). So I propose the new version should be Purpose, Passion, Planning and Preparation Produce Peak Performance. 

PURPOSE and PASSION is about clearly defining your vision and goals and being passionate about achieving them.  For me making my purpose public created a big shift in motivation and self-belief and created a real connection to my passion.  It was also an invitation for others to engage with my purpose leading to offers of support, information, ideas and resources.

PLANNING defining my strategy and deciding on tactics;  what, where, when, how, who, etc.  This involved a few months of research on best locations, environmental influences, time lines, resources and support required, risk analysis, back up plans, etc.  Once location had been decided more in-depth research into all factors that could potentially influence the outcome (positively or negatively), more risk analysis, working through the what ifs and options, before being satisfied that I’d not left a stone unturned and felt confident to declare a World Record attempt. Paragliding is a sport that if you get it wrong your life is potentially on the line, so planning and preparation are critical to both success and survival.

PREPARATION Knowing I had done everything I could in terms of my skills, experience, knowledge, equipment and technology so that I launched with the confidence of knowing I was 100% prepared.  This included being prepared to get the most out of the high times whilst mindful of  the future and the potential low times. Confident I would make well thought through decisions, including the temptation of some short term losses for longer term gains.   PREPARATION also meant training for when things might get out of control and the potential for being out of my comfort zone and being prepared to make tough decisions that are critical to success and survival.   PREPARATION  also involved thinking out of the box and developing potentially uncomfortable solutions, and being mentally PREPARED  to patiently tough it out in the low times…to ensure I made the distance and achieved the goal.

And all those Ps (and one or two more in the TEDx video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lT7nEByCoM&feature=youtu.be  you’ll have to watch to find out!) helped me to achieve 3 Paragliding World Records – absolute proof of PEAK PERFORMANCE!! 

Do you put enough emphasis on Purpose, Passion, Planning and Preparation?  Because get these right and you’ll  be on the journey to your own peak performance and records of success!

Behavioural Change – turning Intention into Action

April 18, 2012

Think back to 1st January 2012 and the New Year resolutions you made.  How many have you achieved or kept up?

Like many you probably started the New year with the best of intentions, to achieve some goals, kick some old habits, action new habits…..   Now nearly 4 months on, how are you doing……..have you achieved your goals?  Are you successfully enjoying new habits?   Or, have you found yourself making excuses for not turning intention into action.  Typical excuses I hear when coaching clients are ‘I don’t have the time’, ‘I’ve other things on my mind’, ‘I feel awkward/uncomfortable’, ‘it’s too hard’, ‘I’m too busy….’, etc.    You are not alone, behavioural change takes time and commitment –  research suggests it can take anything from 3 weeks to 3 months, depending on different factors which might include how ingrained old habits are, complexity of the new habit/behavioural change, how committed you are and how frequently you practice.

Prochaska and DiClimente’s Transtheorectical model of behavioural change describes behavioural change as a five stage process that to turn intention into action and sustainable change.

Stage 1 Precontemplation: This is when you are not aware of the need to change, or you may have unsuccessfully tried to change.  You might not know what you could change, or you’ve become comfortable with how you are, or you might be scared of change.  At this stage you are likely to resist offers of help or even ignore/be blind to information that suggests you would benefit from changing!

Stage 2 Contemplation: You’ve become aware of the need to change and are intending to change in next six months, but haven’t yet thought about how to do it or committed to action.  You are open to information, however might procrastinate or  become stuck as you weigh up the pros and cons of changing.

Stage 3 Preparation: You are actively open to change and consciously thinking about your options and planning action within the next month, including how to overcome barriers to action.  This is a good time to enlist help and support.

Stage 4 Action: At this stage you are going for it, change is happening and old habits are dying or have died!  At this stage it is critical you have planned for overcoming any barriers to change and to be watchful for relapsing back into the old behaviours and habits.  This is a time when you will benefit from help and support.

Stage 5 Maintenance: The new habits and behaviours are automatic, you’ve been confidently and successfully doing things differently for a while – you are now in the maintenance stage. You still need to be aware of situations that might trigger a relapse, and if you do relapse it’s important to re-visit what has worked for you and how you achieved change.  Again this is a time when you can benefit from support to maintain progress.

So thinking back to those New Year resolutions for 2012, what stage are you at?  The very action of setting New Year resolutions suggests you’ve at least reached contemplation.  What about the preparation to move you to action?  Congratulations if you are at the Action stage and are moving to maintenance?  Or, are you struggling to move through the stages, finding yourself procrastinating, feeling stuck, coming up against barriers (real or perceived).  If so you might find some of the following questions useful: ‘How would I like to be?’ ‘What needs to happen for me to move forward?’‘What is happening already?’, ‘what resources do I have’  ‘what are the different ways I can achieve [insert your resolution or goal]?

All the best in moving to the next stage.

When the going gets tough – making sure your ‘dark side’ is on your side!

January 18, 2012

Reading the recent BBC article on how endurance sports are becoming more and more extreme http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16548236?postId=111448477#comment_111448477.  Nowadays a marathon or iron-man event is often just the starting point for the real ‘ultra’ endurance events as participants love discovering just how much further they can push themselves.  Equally in the continually challenging economic climate I’m hearing managers and leaders likening their work to endurance events e.g. ‘it feels like we are scaling Everest’, ‘I’m running through treacle 6 days a week’. 

And for all the physical fitness that is required, the mind also has to last the distance, as the saying goes ‘what the mind believes the body achieves’ .  This requires both good mental toughness (see my earlier blog https://sarahfenwick.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/mental-toughness-and-resilience-on-ice/) and good self-management (i.e. knowing and managing our own personality).

We will each have our own interpretation of ‘endurance’ events in our lives and we each have our own personality make up that can help or hinder us in seeing them through – whether that be to take part and complete or be a winner.  Typically the stronger (more extreme) aspects of our personality provide us with strengths to draw on especially when things are going well.  However some of these personality strengths also have a ‘dark’ or flip side.  And in the moments when things aren’t going so well and we are under pressure, feeling stressed, maybe tired, cold and hungry, what were strengths if we overuse or over-rely on them, can become our ‘dark sides’, potentially leading to dysfunctional behaviours (e.g. confidence turning to arrogance) and a negative impact on our and/or our team’s performance or even derailment.

When working with individuals and/or teams in business, sport and extreme sport/expeditions I have found using the Hogan Development Survey questionnaire invaluable in helping people to identify their potential ‘dark sides’ (Rivers of Ice Expedition Hogan Personality case study).  Once you’ve got to know your own ‘dark sides’ (some even name them and play with them – especially good in teams!) you can learn how to manage them so that when the going gets tough you learn to keep them as strengths and help you to be one of those who makes it to finish and achieves your goals.