In 1996, I became the first British woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole. Prior to this, I had never travelled further north than Scotland, been cross country skiing or worn the same clothes for a month. But I overcame these challenges and achieved my goal.
Of course, everyone may not have the desire to go to the extremes of the earth like I did, but we all have passions and dreams of things we would like to achieve at work and in our lives. So how do you make them happen?
This is the sort of issue that some of my coaching clients have addressed. They are generally all very successful, savvy executives but when it comes to applying what they do best in business to their own lives they struggle. Maybe they can create a brilliant business strategy, or manage multi-million pound projects, but if they try to set a goal for themselves personally that’s another story!
How do you get to your North Pole?
First of all, you need to know where it is. If you are so busy at work, doing long hours and making lots of money, but have no time to step back and work out what your true purpose is, then life can pass you by. You miss seeing the family grow up, or have no opportunity to spend all your hard earned cash on things you enjoy.
Set the Direction
I did not always know that I wanted to go on an expedition to the North Pole, but I did always know that I wanted to do something adventurous. Once you have found the general direction, then experimentation and reflection can help you to hone in on your true purpose. When we began our North Pole expedition (and we knew where it was!) the route was not always direct, because there were many obstacles to overcome. Giant blocks of ice, crevasses, and polar bears all threatened to take us off course, so we had to be very clear about the end goal and keep focused on that. So think about what you want to achieve and how it would give you satisfaction.
What's really going on?
Then you also have to be honest with yourself and ask – what's really stopping me? Sometimes the answer is a reason that you are consciously aware of. It may be you don’t want to make the commitment of time and energy that is needed to accomplish your goal. Or you would prefer to focus on your family at this stage in your life rather than a personal goal. But sometimes there are unconscious patterns of behaviour or beliefs that we have that stop us from moving forwards. We can talk the talk, but somehow are unable to accomplish what we want to.
That’s where a coach can help. What I do is work with clients to observe what's really going on. How does their non verbal communication match with their words, what patterns am I noticing in their language, or behaviour that could be a clue? Once we work out whats happening and they trust me enough to face up to what we uncover, I can help them find new ways to move forward. It can be transformational!
In the Arctic, there were some days where no matter how much I tried to ski, it felt like hard work. There was no lightness of movement, no smoothness. And when I analyzed things during the endless hours of skiing in nothing but white all around me, I realized it was not what I was doing, but how I was thinking. Changing the thoughts changed the behaviours.
Sustaining the change
So, once the transformation has taken place, (reframing thoughts, choose a new behaviour pattern or whatever it is) there is the need to sustain the change, otherwise its too easy to slip back into the old way of behaving. Create many different activities to sustain the change. Get others to encourage you, use positive self talk, reward yourself, think of the consequences of not doing it etc. The important thing is to keep at it. What I did in the Arctic was to make sure that every day I improved on what I had done the day before. It helped me focus on what was not working, and what needed to be changed.
Once you get to your end goal, then make sure you enjoy it. When we arrived after a month of skiing at the North Pole, after we hugged one another and took lots of photos, we all just had a moment of quiet to think about what we had accomplished. Let it soak in, enjoy the moment and realise that all the effort you put in got you there. I recently heard a story about an Olympic athlete who was a sprinter, who said he had trained for years only to perform at his best for a few seconds of his life. Yet it took years of effort to achieve that. So stop, sit back and enjoy the moment and realise that it can be worth all the hard work to achieve your North Pole.