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High Performance top tip: set challenging goals

May 12, 2010

Having come back down to earth from our fantastic and sometimes extremely challenging ‘experience of a lifetime’ sailing expedition to Antarctica, I found myself wondering ‘what next…..?’ ‘how do I top that?’

Many people who achieve what they once thought was their ‘ultimate’ goal have reported similar thoughts. When I was paragliding competitively, the holy grail for me was a World Record, yet when I achieved that I wasn’t satisfied….I wanted another……and another – my bar kept getting higher! The key is to ensure you are constantly reviewing and upgrading your goals, setting the bar higher each time, pushing your comfort zone.   I remember reading in one of Ellen MacArthur’s books how before she crossed the finish line of one race around the world, she was already setting herself goals for her next challenge – thus avoiding those ‘what next?’ thoughts.

Before our Antarctic experience I’d put in place clear business challenges for 2010. And, recently I’ve been following two friends on North Pole expeditions, part wishing I was doing something similar out of my comfort zone, and part enjoying the warmth and comfort of home, well within my comfort zone! However their experiences awakened my yearn for more challenges and reminded me I was a bit late in reviewing and setting my challenging goals for 2010.

I thrive on stretching my comfort zone whether that comes from sport, adventure or the challenges of working with business coaching, executive coaching and sport psychology clients. So alongside keeping focus on the business challenges, I’m now working towards other challenges including gaining accreditation in a coaching technique, speaking at a conference, a kayaking expedition and changing roles when sailing our F18 catamaran.

Remember when reviewing your goals to keep them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic or Relevant , Time based). Achievable and Realistic is where we set the challenge. We want to set the bar high enough so that it is really challenging and will require skills, practice and effort to jump clear over it but not so high it’s unrealistic and we don’t believe we can achieve it. Measurable and Time based requires we regularly review progress and reset or even change the bar!

I’d love to hear from you about your out of comfort zone challenges and goals.


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

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.


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.


High risk and mental attitude

February 18, 2010

‘It’s not pure physical ability that makes champions, it’s having the right mental approach and these guys [downhill ski racers] take that to a whole different level.’  Michael Johnson talking in a recent documentary about downhill ski racers.

The Winter Olympics brings us a window on top level competitors in some of the highest risk sports out there; downhill skiing, ski jumping and luge to name but a few.   The stakes are high, and yet they love their sports and the challenge of pushing the limits and being on the edge – that’s what makes them tick.

 I’ve competed myself in high adrenaline dangerous sports (paragliding at World Class level) and have friends and colleagues who thrive on challenge.  To many, those who compete in high risk sports may seem like complete nutcases who are constantly cheating death. However Michael Johnson hits the nail on the head when suggesting that the mental approach is taken to a whole different level.  

Athletes in high risk sports thrive on the exhileration that comes from competing on the edge, they know the risks, and they ensure that their mental and physical training helps them minimise the risks and maximise performance. 

It’s the same with ‘downhill ski racers’ of the business world, those who thrive on living on the edge.  And as with sport, the higher the business risk, the greater the importance of having the right mental attitude to reap the rewards of working on the edge. 

And this reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Christopher Logue:

  Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and we pushed,
And they flew.


Coaching supervision or ‘super’+’vision’

February 1, 2010

Many professional coaches engage in supervision for their professional development.  Increasingly buyers of coaching services are also becoming more aware of the benefits of coaching supervision and making it a requirement for any coaches they might hire.   

Yet when I mention supervision to friends and colleagues from other  professions most interpret ‘supervision’ to be overseeing someone’s work and this interpretation fits with the dictionary definition ‘supervise – superintend, oversee the execution of a task, etc, oversee the actions or work of a person’

Last week I had my regular supervision session and reflecting on what supervision means to me and the outcomes I gain from supervision, it’s more about ‘super (higher, extra good, beyond) +  vision (seeing, insight, imagination)’,  that is a process helping me to gain greater insight into how I work and how I can transform the way I work to better serve my clients.



January 19, 2010

We’ve just got back from a month long expedition on a 55ft yacht ‘Seal’ to Antarctica ( and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to put into words the amazing experiences.  From humpback whales bubble net fishing right alongside the yacht to sitting on the snow gazing into the deep dark eyes of a sleepy Weddell seal; from the majestic and awe-inspiring scenery, which gave me such respect for the early polar explorers, to the penguins who must be one of the greatest little creatures on earth – some nesting up to 600ft above sea level, climbing up through rocks and snow on their little stumpy legs with their comedic gait, but once in the water they are so agile, graceful and fast.  From the long sunsets which slowly become a long dawn giving the most amazing light to the 20,000yr old diamond glacier ice in our gin and tonics at happy hour!  From climbing up 1000ft of rocks and snow to sliding down 400ft on our bottoms!   From easy downwind sailing across the Drake Passage to an 18hr gale which tested everyone’s spirits!  From Ukranian hosts at Vernadsky research station to the British Antarctic Survey emergency hut at Damoy Point.  From one of the most frustrating moments when our engine went sick to one of the most spiritual moments sitting in Penola Strait in a 10ft rubber dinghy on a very calm evening with a misty light just listening……listening to the sounds of; glaciers calving icebergs and the breaking waves of water; avalanches going off like a big gun; the cracking and creaking of ice breaking up and bumping into more ice; the plip-plop of penguins fishing and the special treat was being surrounded by the sounds of whales surfacing and ‘blowing’ – and even though the visibility was so poor we couldn’t see any of these things – spiritually it was amazing just  listening.


How healthy is perfectionism?

November 18, 2009

Does perfectionism drive you towards success or away from failure?  A recent article in Scientific American Mind ( ) suggests that there are ‘positive’ or ‘healthy perfectionists’ who are motivated towards success and, ‘unhealthy perfectionists’ motivated by a fear of failure.   Hogan’s Development Survey measures perfectionism on it’s Diligence scale.  Medium to high risk scorers are likely to demonstrate both healthy and unhealthy perfectionist behaviours with the unhealthy ones more likely to come out when under stress and pressure.   

Positive or healthy perfectionistic behaviours include organised, conscientious, striving for excellence, good organisation, striving to meet goals and deadlines.  However the negative perfectionist behaviours include anxiety, inefficiency, shying away from new challenges, critical, inflexible, pedantic.  

Intuitively I feel that the positive perfectionist behaviours are those that drive us towards success and the negative ones away from failure. However logically it also makes sense that some people may experience the reverse.  Could this be due to having an optimistic or pessimistic mindset?


playtime enhances creativity, innovation and well-being

November 9, 2009

Are you feeling creatively stifled or in a rut?  It’s well known that organisations like Google and Innocent have play rooms to enhance creativity and innovation.  Recent research by Bekoff suggests that adults who do not play are at risk of becoming unhappy and exhausted and may not understand why they feel this way.  I know that if I don’t get to play enough at the things I really enjoy I soon begin to feel unmotivated and lose my ‘joie de vivre’.  Stuart Brown founder of the National Institute for Play (USA) says we should all find time for play and suggests the following types of play:

  • Body play – some form of active movement with no deadlines or expectations – just have fun
  • Object play – have fun creating something you enjoy
  • Social play – get together with others and play verbally – from small talk to lively debate

So I’m currently enhancing my creativity through…..

  • body play – walking/cycling in beautiful countryside and a couple of weeks ago swimming at dawn in the warm Caribbean – just letting the mind wander.
  • social play – I’m organising a murder mystery dinner next weekend for 40 friends – letting the imagination run free on character allocation and interpretation!
  • object play – creating my costume for the murder mystery dinner!

I’d love to hear how you are playing to enhance your creativity and innovation?


Mental toughness and resilience on ice

September 28, 2009

‘It’s all gone wrong’ to ‘We are 100% going to come back and do it next year, fitter, fatter and faster’.  My support of the Rivers of Ice Team ( is proving to be an excellent case study in mental toughness and resilience.  Having spent 31 days on the ice cap and endured very extreme conditions, the team called me 25th September saying ‘ It’s all gone very wrong’ – These were the opening words to me shortly after conditions had deteriorated to the point that helped them make the decision to end their attempt to be the first unsupported crossing of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap.  130mph winds and 4.5m total snowfall had shredded and crushed the tent, so ‘we are in survival situation, if we can get down to the vegetation level we have enough fuel and food to last.’  They have a survival shelter from the remains of their tent to give them enough space to huddle together in a very small space waiting for the weather to clear.  Whilst they can help keep each other warm, and are on full food rations,  the very confined and cold conditions mean they are suffering from cramps.   Tarka reported being stuck ‘between a little rock and a small hard place’  as in order to get out they still have to cross the crevasse field to get down the glacier.  The use of ‘little’ is a good indication of Tarka’s perspective on this, for him this is still not a major problem.  He is maintaining his ability to think rationally, analyse the options available and make the best decisions to ensure they get off the ice cap safely.

Katie reported ‘I got completely in a mess yesterday (24th September), it was looking like we weren’t going to make if and I got really upset about failing and what people would think.’  This is consistent with Katie’s expressive and passionate personality style and her need for recognition from others.   On the upside this gives her great enthusiasm and energy and on the downside she can become very upset and frustrated when things don’t go her way or she has concerns about what people will think about her.  Whilst Katie has been trying to rationalise with herself about being the first woman and the first British team to attempt the crossing, this is little consolation as she was still feeling they failed as their goal had been to complete the crossing. This is consistent with her need to achieve personality characteristic.    However when I spoke with Katie (25th September) she reported ‘this morning I was terrified and today we are fighting for our lives and the end doesn’t matter anymore, the weather is beating us up every time you go outside, I just don’t want to move at the moment.’  Although she feels safe cocooned in the survival shelter, she knows that to survive they will have to move on as soon as weather permits.

Psychologically they appear to be surprisingly strong at the moment, and are focussing their energy on doing what needs to be done to get themselves out.   Katie reported ‘yesterday I felt the world was over and given the situation today we’re feeling pretty positive. We are 100% going to come back and do it next year, fitter, fatter and faster.’ 

 Katie and Tarka have shown amazing resilience and mental toughness. 

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. They 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 achieve – whilst they have not achieved their goal this time, the very fact that they are already talking about another attempt next year, shows very strong belief in their ability to achieve this goal.
  3. They’ve made motivation work for them – they’ve used their goal focussed determination to overcome the setbacks (e.g. weather, food rationing, blisters, etc) in very challenging conditions and still have the motivation for another attempt.
  4. They’ve focused on the things that matter – they’ve kept focussed on how they achieve their bigger goal through focussing on the day to things  (e.g. how best to look after themselves and each other, making the right decisions, being well informed) that will help them make progress towards achieving the big goal.

 Resilience refers to the ability to absorb stress, pressure, unwelcome feedback, or personal challenge from others 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).

Tarka and Katie have demonstrated the 3 C’s OF RESLIENCE:    CONTROL –  COMMITMENT –  CHALLENGE

  • Control: they have been very clear with their expectations as to who or what is responsible for what happens.  For example whilst they have no control over the weather, terrain, etc, they have had control over their 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 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 enjoy rising to and overcoming challenges and are comfortable and confident you are in changing, uncertain situations.

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

Download a pdf copy here MT Resilience Case Study RoI


Psychological support to Rivers of Ice expedition

August 11, 2009

A very different project to my usual business coaching and leadership development work. I’m providing psychological support to the Rivers of Ice expedition who are attempting to be the first successful unsupported crossing of the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap.  I’m using tools and techniques from both business coaching and from my sport psychology tool-kit.


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