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Managing anxiety and self-talk during Escape from Alcatraz test swim – being my own client!

July 13, 2015

June 2015 I found myself in San Francisco supporting my husband Adam Younger, who was competing in the iconic Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon to be held on the Sunday.  1100  Friday morning we discovered that there was a test swim at 0700 the following day and the organisers had opened up an extra 10 places.  Loving open water swimming and a challenge – and not wanting to miss out on what might be a once in a life time opportunity – I signed up.

 

Open Water Swim Alcatraz to San Francisco

Approx track of swim Alcatraz to San Francisco

With less than 20hrs to prepare myself I started to reflect on just what this meant.   Approx 1.5 mile swim from a boat just off Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.  The water is notoriously cold and the currents notoriously strong (the majority of the swim is across the current).  I’d swam in the sea (England) about 5 times this season for up to 25 mins/swim in temperatures from 11C – 15C (no pool swimming) – so  I wasn’t swim fit and was relying on my general fitness to get me through.  On the plus side I had my open water swimming kit with me (in case we found some great swimming spots during our holiday after the triathlon), I’m used to swimming off the Isle of Wight where we also have strong currents and the early season sea temperature is similar, this was a test swim for the organisers, with professional swim coaches/guides swimming with us, so no pressure to swim fast or even complete as they even wanted to test their rescue/recovery systems!   I realised I would be somewhat out of my comfort zone and this was definitely to be one of those ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ (Susan Jeffers) experiences.

0615 the next day we were given an very thorough briefing and loaded on to two boats before heading out to Alcatraz.  We were a really mixed gang of experience, confidence and anxiety levels.  Some obviously very nervous, and as we got further from the San Francisco waterfront, I too was becoming increasingly anxious about the size of the challenge I’d taken on.  We had a short delay waiting for some very large ships to clear the shipping channel we were about to swim across – which only added to the nerves and the wind had now increased so instead of a calm sea it was reasonably choppy with wind against current.

Then it was time to jump off the boats and start our swim……I’m not one to prolong the agony of ‘pre-start anxiety’ so was in the first wave of swimmers to jump in.  The first pleasant surprise was the water temperature wasn’t as cold as I was expecting (I later discovered this was due to a lack of snow melt in the Sierra Nevada).   For the first 5-10 mins I was really excited to be started on my journey and loving my challenge.  I was struggling to get my breathing under control and relax into my swimming.  I usually breathe alternate sides, every third stroke and can easily settle into this within a few minutes.  I put it down to the initial excitement and choppy sea.

However after 10-15 mins I found myself in a cycle of negative self-talk which was increasing my anxiety levels and not only preventing me from getting my breathing under control but making my breathing worse (short, shallow, almost hyperventilating).

Sarah Fenwick lower right swimmer

Alcatraz test swim with Golden Gate Bridge in background, I’m lower right swimmer

‘Alcatraz still looks very near and the city a long long way’

‘have I really got the general fitness to do this?’

‘the sea is getting really rough…not sure I can tough it out’ 

‘I could just stick my arm up and get hauled out – but I don’t want the embarrassment of being the only one not to finish or to be last’

‘I’m not sure I can do this’

‘what if the current sweeps me past the beach we are aiming for?’ 

‘if only I could get my breathing under control, it’s all over the place….’

oops – time to remember I’m sport psychologist – and to be my own client.  What would I recommend to a client in this situation?  Focus on my breathing and use positive words/phrase about what I want to be feeling and what I want to achieve.  So on my inhale found myself saying ‘Now I am calm’ and on my exhale alternating between ‘I am really enjoying this swim’ or ‘I can complete this swim’.   I also remembered the advice from the briefing about taking time to take in the scenery from the unusual sea-level perspective – noticing Golden Gate Bridge, the waterfront, various iconic buildings, Alcatraz becoming more distant and San Francisco closer.  Having switched myself into this more positive and mindful attitude I found myself really relaxing into the swim and thoroughly enjoying my surroundings.

And then time passed quickly and I was on the last push across a back eddy to land at the scheduled landing spot, the beach next to one of the St Francis Yacht Club.  A few high fives and emotional hugs with my fellow swimmers before looking back to Alcatraz Island and taking a few moments to reflect on how great it felt to have taken on the challenge, overcome my self-doubt and negative demons and retaken control of myself to enjoy what was an amazing and most likely once in a lifetime swimming challenge and journey.

What a fabulous reminder and lifetime memory of successfully feeling the fear and doing it anyway!

 

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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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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

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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!

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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.

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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 http://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.

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Purpose, Planning and Preparation Produce Peak Performance – a revised 5 Ps

February 2, 2011

Last week we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Totem which was absolutely amazing, literally high performance at it’s very peak, leaving me open mouthed, thinking ‘how do they do that?’.  Businesses might learn a great deal from Cirque du Soleil’s approach to successfully delivering such a fantastic performance, one that exceeded expectations on all levels, especially given the high risk element of many of the performances.   And  Cirque to Soleil produce more than fantastic performances – the whole organisation is a very successful business in its own right.

The 5 Ps (planning and preparation prevent poor performance), is an often cited mantra with regards to delivering a vision, initiative or project; achieving goals, targets or objectives.  So if that’s how to prevent poor performance, you might only end up achieving mediocre performance (remember you get what you focus on i.e, ‘preventing poor performance’).  So I think the emphasis should be shifted to ‘how to achieve great performance’ such as Cirque du Soleil’s which was polished, professional and beyond expectation.   So my suggested revision is to positively focused 6 Ps ‘Purpose, Planning and Preparation Produce Peak Performance.’  If anyone reading this has a different/more interesting positively focused revision I’d love to hear from you. (Thanks to Liz Gooster  for  suggesting ‘Produce’)

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Want support to achieve your 2011 goals? Tips to find the best….

January 4, 2011

Made your New Year resolutions, now looking for great support to help you achieve your 2011 goals, and you might be feeling confused by too much choice.   As the coaching and lifestyle industries expand, providers are entering the market at an unprecedented rate and the standards of service range from excellent to very poor.  Here are some tips for choosing a professional service provider:

1. Check out the provider (e.g. web search, professional associations, Trading Standards), and ask questions.  Be confident you know whether they:

  • have the relevant experience, training, qualifications and/or accreditation for your needs
  • keep their skills and knowledge up to date
  • have membership of professional body, with Code of Conduct, Ethics and complaints procedure 
  • use an appropriate title (NB providers using protected titles must be registered with Health Professions Council www.hpc-uk.org/aboutregistration/professions or other regulator www.hpc-uk.org/aboutregistration/regulators/)
  • are insured to practice

2.  Before you commit

Discuss:

  • your expectations, challenges, issues and what you want to achieve
  • fees, payment terms, frequency and estimated duration of the service provision
  • how progress will be monitored and evaluated

And ask yourself: Is this beneficial for me right now?  Don’t be coerced into committing unless you are satisfied that the service is of use to you.

3.  Be aware:

  • if you have any doubts about the service, discuss these with your provider, and if still uncertain, seek advice from their professional body. 
  • many of coaching and lifestyle professions are unregulated however good providers are likely to belong to and be accredited by a professional body which requires evidence of a minimum standard of fitness to practice.
  • be wary of providers
    • with memberships which only require payment of a fee (i.e. do not set a minimum standard)
    • who hold ‘certificates of attendance’ rather than ‘certificates of competence’ or other appropriate qualifications.

And finally I’d like to wish you all the best in achieving your 2011 goals.

 

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Goals and motivation ‘Will I?’ vs ‘I will’

September 1, 2010

As coaches we help clients to clearly articulate their goals.  The well established GROW model starts with Goal and ends with Will.  A recent article in Scientific American Mind  by Wray Herbert reports on Ibrahim Senay’s  fascinating research into ‘willingness’ (see full article).  Senay found people in the open mind-set condition asking ‘Will I…..?’  were more goal directed, motivated and open to new possibilities, compared with those in the  ‘I will….’ condition.   Moreover those in the ‘Will I?’ condition were more intrinsically motivated (e.g. I want to) than those in the ‘I will’ condition who were more introjected (e.g. doing through self imposed guilt) in their motivation. 

From a coaching perspective I like the idea of the more open mind set of ‘Will I……?’ for both the potential increase in intrinsic motivation and also the power it might bring to exploring options, as Senay hypothesizes that  ‘it is because questions by their nature speak to possibility and freedom of choice’.

I tested this out on myself a few days ago – when given the opportunity to be a last minute participant in a swim across the Solent (between England and the Isle of Wight) with 8 days notice – and 2 days to decide and no time to train!   This would be the furthest I have swam non-stop for over 20 years, though in summer  I sea swim regularly for up to 15 – 20 mins.   When saying to myself ‘I will do it’ –  I noticed some nerves and anxiety holding me back from saying ‘yes’  – all those little ‘what ifs’ and also ‘this is a great opportunity, I really ought to do it’ (the introjected motivation).  However when I asked myself ‘Will I swim the Solent next weekend?’  I found myself wanting to say ‘yes’ and immediately moving into possibilities and solutions, for example, doing a test swim (50 minutes non-stop), contacting the organiser to find out about the logistics, risk assessment, safety cover, etc.   However was this because I’d already raised my awareness of the ‘what ifs’ before asking myself  ‘Will I?’ ?  I’m now interested to know how I would have responded if I’d asked myself ‘Will I?’ first and whether then asking ‘I will’, I would be more at ease saying ‘yes’.

So whilst Senay’s research suggests ‘Will I?’ to be more powerful in terms of goal direction and motivation it may be the order is key – starting with ‘Will I?’ to tap into the motivation and options and ending with ‘I will……..’  for commitment.    I will be testing this out and following this line of research with great interest, and welcome your thoughts and experiences.

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Courageous mindset shift

August 3, 2010

I’ve just been watching a TED.com video of Lewis Pugh, the amazing extreme cold water swimmer give a fascinating talk about being in the right mindset to swim across Lake Imja, at 5300m altitude in the Himalayas under Mt Everest.   Watch now >>  Being in the right mindset is crucial to success in both sport and business.

In sport different mind sets are required for different sports. For example an aggressive mindset is likely to serve you well if you are a boxer, but a calm, ice-cool mind set might serve you better in a target shooting sport. Equally depending on the situation the athlete may need to shift mindset during a performance such as in rugby from controlled aggression in a tackle to calm focus if kicking a penalty.

And in business, a market leader will have a different mindset to a high growth start up, a sales team a different mindset to a research team.  Also different stages of business growth will benefit from mindset shifts to help embrace change and move forward successfully. 

In times when change, creativity and innovation are key to success, practising mindset shifts can create new experiences and new perspectives from which to explore a challenge/task/strategy.  Lewis Pugh sums it up really well at the end of his talk leaving us with some great questions to ponder, which can be adapted to a business and sport environment by asking ‘what radical mindset shift can you take in your sport/business that’ll make that big performance difference?’

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