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Episode 4: Optimism

Resilience was one of the most important factors In the BT Global Challenge Round The World Yacht Race, and over the 10 months and 32000 gruelling miles we found out the perfect recipe to build it.

You see it’s often thought of as just being ‘tough minded’, but there’s way more to it than that. We identified 8 key factors that were essential, to not only keep us on the racecourse and in one piece, but also able to compete with the best in the fleet.

Building on the first 3 episodes here’s episode 4! To see previous episodes click here

So why is Optimism the 4th factor? Because it’s a vital state of mind, and can so often be the difference between being paralysed with fear and progress forwards.

When we face challenging circumstances or significant unwelcome change, our minds tend to catastrophize about what might happen. It’s our worst fears of how this situation could turn out, and because we have vivid imaginations we can often make it seem far worse than it is.

As an example, how many times have you faced dire straits, only to realise afterwards it wasn’t half as bad as you thought? That’s catastrophizing. And if you’re pessimistic in nature, that just makes that process last longer and your worst fears be amplified. And thinking of solutions whilst in this mind set is incredibly difficult as we just get clouded out.

Optimism however, shortcuts that process. It stops us taking such a deep dive into the world of doom, and has us be in a much better frame of mind to come up with a solution. And that was highlighted for us on Leg 3 of the race when the unthinkable happened.

One hour before we were due to leave the dock and head out to the start, I started the generator onboard to get all the systems up and running and charge the batteries before the off. Five minutes later it cut out dead. And considering it had been serviced and checked, this was a worry. After a frantic search and root cause analysis we arrived at the fuel filters – to find all four full of sludge. And that meant our full compliment of fuel, all 450 gallons, was contaminated.

Catastrophising kicked in pretty quickly – this is going to take forever to fix, we’ll miss the start, the team will blame me, I’m as good as sacked, if not it’s a definite last on this leg. And if we’re last that’s us out of the running for the race. The sponsor (who was an oil company) is going to hit the roof! I’m going to be the laughing stock etc. etc.

And then I stopped and took a breath. And I realised that none of this was going to help get the problem solved. So I got the team together and explained the situation. I also said ‘we can live or die by what’s just happened to us – it’s our choice as to which. So let’s live and just get on and get this sorted and we’ll work out the rest on the run’. And so we did, manually pumping out and disposing all the fuel before cleaning the tanks by hand and then finally refuelling.

We then got on our way as quick as we could, but we still crossed the start line 8 hours after everyone else so were way behind in last. However, we had a plan, to protest the organisers who had organised the refuelling and get some compensation which we duly did. And after an agonising 2 day wait the Race Jury replied – only to refuse our appeal.

In the daily meeting that day I broke the news. But not before really thinking about what I would need to put in place to ensure we didn’t implode on hearing it. Of course they were disappointed, but I quickly reminded them that everyone was watching on to see how we handled this, and that we needed to prove to them we were strong enough to make it through and get back up there. And that I had no doubt we could do it. I then followed it up with a new goal for the leg – to take one place and not come last into Wellington – which considering we were 110 miles back from 11th was no small ask.

Everyone was mulling it over when one broke the silence. “that’s not very motivating is it, “not come last”. I was just starting to explain that I didn’t want to set a goal we couldn’t achieve when he stopped me mid-sentence. “I’m not criticising you or your rational for the goal, I just think I might have a better way of terming it”. “Feel free” I said. “How about we have the goal of making another team feel worse than we do” he exclaimed to much laughter from the rest of the crew. And we all felt that much more worthwhile. 30 days later having sailed our socks off we rolled into Wellington in 11th place, hugely proud of our achievement. And when 12th rolled on it was absolutely clear we had achieved our goal!

So that’s why Optimism is the 4th factor!

Top Tips to help you be Optimistic

  • Take a breath and stand back – the mind and body reacts much better if it is well fed with oxygen and extracting yourself from the situation to gather your thoughts is key

  • It’s rarely as bad as you think – the mind is prone to catastrophizing as we have vivid imaginations – so really confront and challenge your assumptions of what might happen, to right size them and thus make them easier to conquer

  • Remind yourself of other situations that you’ve overcome. And realise that the only way out is through. So what’s the first step?

#optimism #resilience #leadership #race #teamwork #vision #goals #business

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