Attitude

Targets, goals, tasks, to-do lists – all these belong to the jargon of modern living. We hear such words in classrooms, in tutor sessions, in the workplace, and in our daily routines. There is no doubt that goals and objectives are useful: they give us direction, make clear our destination. But they miss something of vital importance. They may tell us where we are going but they say nothing about how we are going to get there.

To the words ‘target’ and ‘goal’, I would add another; a single word that, arguably, holds much more power. Attitude. While goals are important, if they remain our only focus, we not only limit our experience, but we limit our chances of success.

I was reminded of this during assembly on Monday. Chris Foyle, Geography teacher and Head of Wellington’s GeoVenture Society, spoke to students and staff about his experience of swimming the English Channel, an incredible feat that he completed in memory of his friend, Richard Knox. The solo Channel Swim is one of the world’s iconic challenges, and it is one of the toughest. Success rates are low: 30% of attempts end in failure; the challenge is said to be 10% physical and 90% mental. As Chris said, “anyone can get fit enough to swim across the Channel, but only those with the right mindset will succeed”. Chris swam the Channel, a distance of over 30 miles, in 15 hours and 14 minutes. Of the nine people who attempted the swim that day, only three succeeded. His training had been gruelling; his preparation meticulous, but when asked after the assembly whether he had also prepared himself mentally for failure, given the low success rates, he replied confidently: “No, I didn’t need to”.

Chris had set out to raise £10,000 for the RNLI in memory of his friend. He completed the task and raised £40,000. In addition to choosing a goal, he had also chosen an attitude, and that attitude did not allow for failure. Key to his success was visualising the finish. During his presentation, Chris showed a photograph, a physical representation of a mental image he had carried with him throughout his training and during the swim itself. The photograph depicts Chris standing on the beach in France, the palm of his hand held up to the camera, on which he had written the initials R.K: Richard Knox. Chris’s attitude proved to be more powerful than the goal itself; it was an attitude of triumph, powered by loyalty and friendship, and it allowed him to succeed where others failed.

Seeing the initials of Chris’s friend imprinted on the palm of his hand reminded me of a friend of mine, Paula, a team-mate during my expedition to Antarctica. Paula taught me a lot about mental toughness; she understood that goals – whether short-term or long-term – are good, but they are rarely enough. Like Chris, she carried a visual reminder that proved to be crucial in helping her to reach the South Pole. On her skis, she had written three simple words:

CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE

Mental toughness and courage are traits I associate with Wellington, and I refer here to both students and staff. Alongside Mr Foyle’s address on Monday, we congratulated Caitlin Loo (4th, Ap) who has been selected for the Botswana National Swimming Team; Zack Kaemmerlen (5th, M) who recently took bronze medals in the 50, 100, and 200 metre breaststroke events at the Hampshire County Swim Championship; and Becky Storer (U6th, W) who achieved 4th place at the second National Youth Ranking Modern Pentathlon Competition. This week, the 1st Hockey team competed in the Investec Girls Schools Championships. After losing to Repton in the semi-finals on Wednesday, they came back strong to win the play-off 3:0. They chose their attitude and, as a result, are placed 3rd in the country. Well done to them all!

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