Comedian and author one of my favourite books, "Will it Make the Boat Go Faster", Harriet Beveridge shares how she applies an Olympian attitude to everyday life. The book is the journey from also-ran crew, to Olympic Champions, to the realisation that what works at the very highest level of sport, can be applied to different aspects of life.
Over to Harriet:
I was rubbish at sport at school – I was that child who hid in the furthest corner of the rounder’s field, hoping that the ball would come nowhere near me. It’s therefore no surprise that as an adult I was massively sceptical about how lessons from sport could apply in the real world.
But then I met Ben Hunt-Davis….
Ben was a lovely, humble guy…. But it turned out he’d won an Olympic Gold medal!
Ben won Gold at the Sydney Olympics as part of the men’s rowing eight. Now this was in the days before the Team GB gold rush. We hadn’t won the men’s eight race since 1912. Ben himself had competed at two previous Olympics and crashed and burned. I was fascinated by how this ordinary, friendly guy could have achieved something so amazing. I started to see that he wasn’t some superhuman, yes he was talented, but at the heart of it he was a normal bloke who’d used some extraordinary strategies which, crucially, we could all use.
Ben and I ended up writing a book together to share how he and the crew went from last place to Olympic champions….. and how those self-same strategies can help all of us lead a fulfilling life. Here are a few examples of how I’ve used them in my personal life:
Having a Goal
I’ve always worried that having a goal might be a bit cold and clinical and stop you from enjoying the journey. I now realise that’s just because other people’s goals can leave us cold! If you find the right goal for you, it’s incredibly powerful. It helps you say ‘no’ to unimportant distractions and focus on what’s important to you. My goals are all about balance – I’m an executive coach, a stand up comic and a mum. I feel fulfilled when those three are balanced.
Asking ‘Will It make the boat go faster?’
Everything Ben and the crew did boiled down to one simple question – will it make the boat go faster? Once you are clear on a goal, asking a simple question can help you get super clear on what’s really important to you versus what you are doing out of unthinking habit, or because someone else says you should. For example, as a mum I feel bizarre pressure to make the perfect costume for dressing up day at school… but asking ‘will that make me a better mum’ helps me realise, no! The kids don’t give a monkeys!! They’d much rather I played with them instead of cursing over the sewing machine.
Controlling the Controllables
Ben and the crew had no control over their competitors, over the weather conditions, over the reactions of the crowd. But they did have control over their rowing technique, their mental attitude, what they ate, etc etc. As a stand up comic I have no control over the audience, I can only control my energy, body language, jokes – it’s liberating to let go of the things outside my control and focus on what I can do.
Having Strong Beliefs
Ben and the crew wrote down ‘reasons why we can win Gold’ and they kept reading it and refining it, week in, week out. I used to worry that too much confidence led to arrogance, but now I see that arrogance is on a different trajectory. Supreme self-confidence can still go hand in hand with the knowledge that there’s oodles left to learn. I’ve now got a book of useful beliefs that I carry around with me so that when I’m facing a tough client at work I can remind myself of all the times I’ve got over problems in the past, all the reasons why it’s totally OK to mess up, the reasons why we all deserve to lead happy, fulfilled lives.
Get Curious About the Recipe
Ben and the crew reviewed their performance intently. After every training session and every race, they’d analyse videos, talk to coaches, review what they’d done. In the same way that if you want to bake a cake you need to know the ingredients and recipe, so they wanted to know the methods that got them great results – to repeat them – and the methods that got them rubbish results – to stop doing them! This is mightily powerful. After a day at work I can sit down and ask myself what went well – HOW did I do that? What can I repeat another time? And what didn’t go so well? What ‘recipe’ was I using to get a poor result – and what different recipe can I try next time? Getting curious about the recipe means day by day you are more likely to get the results you want.
I’m still not a massive fan of sport – I’m not a season-ticket holder to any of the local clubs, nor am I a gym bunny – but I am a massive, massive fan of the simple tools and techniques which got Ben Gold and has helped me to lead a happier, more fulfilling life!
(I absolutely love this book, witty, charming and insightful - I can't recommend it enough!)