When facing your next big challenge, one of the most important things to prepare is your mindset. While having all the right equipment and technical knowledge is essential, it is your mental health that’s going to help you make decisions in the moment.
Felicity Aston MBE is an author, speaker, expedition leader and former Antarctic scientist whose learned the mental preparation necessary for surviving and thriving in the most extreme conditions. With this skill, she became the first woman to ski alone across Antarctica. Felicity shared her tips and strategies for preparing mentally on the Tough Girl Challenges podcast.
Believe in Your Worthiness
For many, the biggest challenge before an expedition is the initial sense of fear and unworthiness. Before her first expedition in the Arctic, Felicity worried about not being fit enough or able to contribute to her team. She wondered how in the world she could get out of going. But once she arrived, Felicity realised that everyone was in the same boat.
On an expedition, you gain the fitness you need as you go about it each day. Once Felicity realised she could physically do the expedition and make a valuable contribution, she knew she deserved to be there and gained a sense of confidence.
We often forget as we go into a challenge that we’re not the only one with these kinds of fears. If you believe in your ability to learn and your own self-worth, you can get past the initial fear.
Offer Your Authentic Self
After University, Felicity would be sent to research centres in the Arctic where she was only 1 of 3 women on a base of about 20 people. In a community like that, it was difficult for Felicity to negotiate her place. A classic mistake she saw women make time and time again was trying to act like a man.
Faking masculinity to find belonging is throwing away everything you have to offer, according to Felicity. The true value of a person is in the uniqueness they bring to the team or group. You’ll never discover what that is if you’re putting up a front. Felicity’s advice is simple but surprisingly difficult in reality: stay true to yourself.
When you’re in decision-making mode, step away from the situation and ask why you’re going about it the way you are. Is it because it’s the best way you see to do it or because you’re trying to look a certain way? When you take a step back and stay objective, you get the chance to know yourself and your strengths.
Prep Your Mindset
Felicity had the incredible idea to ski across Antarctica alone, but it took a while before she gained the confidence to put herself in that situation. She knew she needed to know all about the kit and how it worked, her own capabilities performance-wise, the food rations required, how to look after herself in a hostile climate, and more. But even more than all that, she needed to know how to deal with the fear and challenges of being completely alone.
Being alone ended up affecting Felicity’s decisions, emotions, and even her identity. She recognised that expeditions most often fell apart because people’s minds weren’t in the right place.
While it’s difficult to prepare your mindset, it’s important to consider this difficult aspect of your expedition. Like many athletes, Felicity used visualization to fast-forward through expectations. She would see in her mind how she expected a day in the expedition to turn out and imagine things going perfectly well. This helped her create that reality. In addition, Felicity also used a mental hygiene technique to add a mental health aspect to her routine each day. In the evenings, she spent time running through her mental state to see what she was feeling and why.
Getting your own confidence and mindset in the right place is key to a successful expedition. Consider seeing a sports psychologist and practising mental techniques during training.
Manage Emotion with Routine
Felicity’s Antarctic expedition took 59 days. Estimating and preparing for the length of the trip was difficult and for a while, Felicity didn’t think she would make it within her desired timeframe. Over the first 26 days of the expedition, she travelled 5 km on her shortest day and 16 km on her best day. At the second half, she was travelling near 60 km/day. She attributes this huge increase in mileage to being more fit and having efficient routines in place.
“Routines take the emotion out of it,” Felicity explained. You don’t think about how cold it is or how miserable you feel when you have a routine to follow. If you start thinking negatively, you won’t make it out the door. Routine will get you up and out the door before you have time to think about it. When Felicity didn’t want to get out of her tent some mornings, a routine is what gave her the momentum to keep going.
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