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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

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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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Business Strategy vs Sport Strategy – similar or different?

February 15, 2011

So….are there more similarities or more differences? 

Win-win is an often used phase in business, which rarely applies in sport, which is typically win-lose.  Sport is the ultimate environment for competitive strategy.  

However even with this significant difference, winning in sport can be compared to winning in business, both are very results focused, whether it’s about points scored or profit, seconds on the clock or the right product.   So let’s explore the definition of business strategy within a sporting environment and the process of sporting strategy within the business context. 

From a business perspective strategy Porter (1996) suggests ‘competitive strategy is about being different.  It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value’.  Prahald and Hamel (1990) propose ‘core competencies should be difficult to imitate’ which is congruent with Porter’s idea of strategic differentiation. Does strategic differentiation apply in the sporting context?  

Business examples of performing activities differently from rivals might include that of the low cost, no frills, airlines, who have successfully differentiated themselves from scheduled carriers, or Waitrose who combine the convenience of a supermarket with the quality, expertise and service of a specialist shop.  From a sporting perspective strategic examples of using differences in order to outperform rivals might include; creating a very difficult new movement in an ice dance routine, the unique mix of skills selection that will give a rugby team best advantage, or the rower with outstanding lung capacity

From a sport psychology perspective Butler (2000) suggests ‘strategy is a blueprint of desired action which takes account of exceptional factors (cf. differences) and anticipated possibilities.’    Butler adds that ‘A strategy should therefore facilitate and guide performance to meet the demands of each specific performance’.  Could these statements be applied in a business context?    

The desired actions Butler refers to break down into three stages, and I propose that these stages can be transferred into the business environment.

Strategy Stage 1 – pre-competition planning – determining what needs to be achieved prior to performance to facilitate optimum performance.  The following might be applicable at this stage to both business and sporting strategy; making best use of available resources (e.g. facilities, support team, equipment  cf. competencies, technology, finances, etc), physical (fitness, strength, stamina cf. environment, health, safety), mental (confidence, performing under pressure, communication cf. working under pressure, confidence, interpersonal skills), deadlines, logistics (e.g. transport, location, etc) and weighing up the pros and cons of the various options, and ‘what if’ scenarios.  

Strategy stage 2 – the competition plan – how you are going to win the day?  In order to make best decisions with regards to opportunities, risks and tactics (cf. managing opportunities and risks (Drucker, 1989)) will require analysis of team and opponents strengths and weaknesses (cf. SWOT analysis), what are your differentiators (e.g. speed, strength, skill), what are the core competencies (e.g. defence, mental toughness, communication); what are the conditions and current parameters of play (cf. market conditions, legislation, codes of conduct).

Strategy stage 3 – post competition analysis – exploration of what went well, not so well and what to do differently.  The strategic review enabling informed decisions around what activities, competencies, skills, behaviours, etc. need to be addressed so as to raise the performance level.  What should be continued?  Which ones are not so effective? How to be more effective?  What needs to change?

I propose that this sporting strategy process is equally applicable in a business context and is consistent with Porters (1996) suggestion that strategy involves creating best fit for company activities (e.g. having the right players in the right position for their skills and competencies), trade-offs (e.g. physical advantage of younger vs. skills expertise) and informed choices which are as much about what not to do as about what to do (e.g. whether or not to play a wild card at a world championship such as a young inexperienced player)

Whether they are gold medal winners or world record breakers, top sports performers and teams like highly successful businesses discover and maximise the potential of their differentiators.  Therefore whether developing strategy in sport or business the questions are likely to be similar, for example ‘what would you do differently if you were a new entrant to the market? Or, What would you do differently as a new entrant to the football premiership or America’s Cup? 

Butler, R. J. (2000) Sport Psychology in Action, Arnold, London

Drucker P.F. (1989) Managing for Results, Heinemann Professional

Porter, M.E.  (1996) What is Strategy, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec

Prahald C.K.& Hamel G. (1990) The Core Competence of the Corporation, Harvard Business Review, May-June

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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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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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World Class Business Leaders don’t have to be great at everything!

July 20, 2010

Research suggests they will be more successful developing 3-4 World Class behavioural strengths that really make a difference.   This comes from a fascinating book The Extraordinary Leader by Zenger and Folkman (2009) which, based on extensive research,  identifies sixteen key leadership behaviours that differentiate World Class leaders.  They also posit it is a myth to focus on weaknesses, that is unless those weaknesses are a ‘fatal flaw’, in which case they should be remedied.

I’ve been coaching business leaders for a number of years, and working with another very well researched model of Leadership Behaviours, (Schroder’s High Performance Behaviours) and not surprisingly whilst the clustering of behaviours  between Schroder and those of Zenger and Folkman differ, there are many similarities that can be mapped across the two models.  For example Zenger and Folkman’s Solving Problems, Analysing Issues and Innovation are very similar to Schroder’s Concept Formation and Conceptual Flexibility; and their Building Relationships can be compared with Schroder’s Empathy and  Self-Confidence. 

Zenger and Folkman’s model centres around the cluster ‘Character’ and they relate this to Credibility (Kouzes and Posner), Integrity (Bennis), telling the truth (Shaffer) and Principle Centred Leadership (Covey).   I would also add in to this list Roger Steare’s (www.rogersteare.com) recent work ‘ethicability®’ which explores rule compliance, social conscience and principled conscience.  A free on-line test can be found at www.ethicabilitytest.org

I’ve worked with many organisations who have developed their own leadership behaviour/competency models (often less elegant), and typically the majority of the behaviours can be mapped onto the well researched and validated models such as Schroder or Zenger and Folkman.

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Imposter Syndrome – feeling like a fraud

June 2, 2010

Do you ever feel like a fraud…… that you’re not as good as others think you are, fear that you’ll get found out or put success down to luck or huge effort?   Feeling like a fraud and being a fraud are very different.    Feeling like a fraud is what is known as  Imposter syndrome and has been attracting attention in the public and academic press recently.   Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Susan Imes research in the late 70s and early 80s started out studying successful women, however research over the intervening years on successful males and females found that men can also experience ‘feeling like a fraud’.   

It was a relief for me when I first heard about imposter syndrome  having  experienced  the ‘I’m a fraud’  thoughts and feelings when I set paragliding World Records, putting it down to luck ‘I was just in the right place at the right time’, or  ‘if I can do it then lots of other people can too,’  or with my academic/professional qualifications ‘it was an easy exam paper’ or ‘I must have found the easy route’.    However once I start to challenge these ‘feeling like a fraud’ beliefs I soon realised that to have been successful, took me years of learning and practice to become expert enough to be successful.   Yes, you might get really, really lucky and set one world record through amazing luck, or get a really good grade in an exam through the right question.    However I can’t put three world records down to luck, or a number of professional qualifications down to ‘stumbling on an easy route’.   

If the idea of ‘being caught out’ or ‘feeling like a fraud’ hits a nerve with you a couple of techniques that might help overcome imposter syndrome are:

«  Challenge the irrational belief(s)

  • make a realistic and rational evidence based assessment of your success

«  Feed your successful beliefs through

  • keeping a success diary
  • accepting compliments and positive feedback

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Flying out of our comfort zones

April 19, 2010

One of my favourite poems Christopher Logue’s ‘Come to the edge’, really captures the essence of flourishing through embracing risk, feeling the fear and stepping beyond our limiting beliefs and out of our comfort zone, and as Jeremy Irons said of the poem ‘it deals with risk and trust and the magic that occurs sometimes when you do either’.

For the full poem www.sarah-fenwick.com/about.html

Learning to fly (metaphorically) helps us to flourish and achieve beyond what we thought possible, whether through pushing ourselves over the edge, encouraging others to step off the edge or leading others over the edge. 

My role as a coach is to challenge clients to find the courage to step off the edge and  fly, so that the discomfort of your fear zones becomes your comfort zone.  We then work on the next edge, and the next and the next and so on, expanding the comfort zone and pushing the boundaries of the fear zone, pushing ‘beyond belief’.    

 As one client, with a fear of abseiling, once said to me ‘Just the thought of talking about it with Sarah sent me over the edge!’ 

And I’ve been there on the edge many times myself (e.g. stepping off the edge with clients,  using new coaching tools/techniques for the first time, wing walking, white water rafting).   When I embrace my fear and ‘fly’ I feel so much more alive, excited and fulfilled, it’s a real buzz.  And when I haven’t quite got it right and have to pull the parachute there is always a learning to help me fly even better next time.

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Behavioural change top tip: visualise how you want to be

April 6, 2010

I’ve recently been working with highly academic/scientific delegates to develop their capability in creative thinking and facilitation.  This has been a really interesting journey, which has reminded me  about how knowing about something doesn’t necessarily mean we can do it.     I can think about many things I am knowledgable about and can talk about what to do and how to do it. However the challenge is to actually do it.  Clients often report ‘I feel uncomfortable’, ‘it’s not my natural style’, ‘I’m concerned as to what others might think if I change the way I do things’ and I also experience these thoughts and feelings.  These are normal anxieties when we come to changing how we do things.

So when you start out changing how you do or think about something, it is normal to feel that it is ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘un-natural’.  However the more we practice, (and we do need to practice, practice, practice!)  the new behaviour the sooner it will become automatic and you will feel more comfortable and with time it will feel like your natural style. 

There are tools and techniques available that help us to practice and learn new behaviours. One powerful technique is to practice visualising yourself doing the new behaviour how you would like to do it, and to keep refining and practising your visualisation.  This can be done from both the video/observer perspective of watching yourself and/or through being in your own body, and experiencing what you are seeing, thinking, feeling, hearing and doing.  Remember also to include visualising the impact you are having on others around you.  Done well this will really help you improve how you do things when it comes to real life, whether that is a  business, sport, performing arts or personal life situation.

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