Leg 2, Day 96 – blog of the armchair psychologist!

UPDATE:
Under 30 miles to go!! We can smell Samoa…
Wooohoooooo! 

Today’s guest blog comes from the wonderful Keith Goddard, our team psychologist.  Thanks Keith!

Blog of the armchair psychologist

It seems a long time ago that Laura and the crew wrote a blog about me (Day 43 June 25th) and a lot of water has passed under the ‘boat’ since then! At the time it was lovely to hear how much the guys valued the work we have done together, for me, reading such things always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable! So asking me to write a blog about ‘me’ I think is just plain revenge for all the tasks I asked of the girls over the years! Not to mention the ‘review’ emails despatched from my sofa whilst they are on the water! Nice one girls, like what you did there!

Blog 43 highlighted how and when I got involved so I won’t bore you with that again here. Needless to say it seems like a long time ago.

For those of you who don’t know already I’m Keith Goddard (@ZeusLtd) the team psychologist. By background for those of you who are interested I’m both an Occupational Psychologist and a Sport & Exercise Psychologist. The combination of which probably makes me reasonably qualified to work on a project such as this. Which really is three projects: getting the boat on the water (long project!), keeping the boat on the water (getting longer project!!), life after Doris (who knows how long project!). More of all that in a while.

So apart from professional credentials, why did I get involved? Well as you’d expect from a psychologist’s answers generally, it’s not simple but not complex either. The not simple part is that there are sooooo many reasons why you would get involved in something like this, the not complex piece – well it’s interesting and it’s there, oh and it’s not simple! The uniqueness of the challenge was an obvious hook for me, I was, I have to say intrigued by people wanting to spend so long in a bath tub (sorry Doris) with three other people for months (now I’m a fan of ‘celebrity get me out of here’, but this expedition takes things up a notch – clearly there are other reality shows available on other channels!). I could have looked at partnering with an Atlantic crossing crew, but one, the opportunity hadn’t arisen, and two, well the Atlantic, really?! (“sorry” to all those that have done such an enormous challenge!). The fact that the crew had not ventured into ocean rowing really appealed too. (The me bit…) It reminded me of when I applied to do the Marathon des Sables and people asked “Have you ran a marathon?” Keith: “Errm, no. But why would I bother with a marathon when I could do six across the desert!” So when I heard Laura’s idea and story, clearly it was going to get my attention! As we chatted in the early stages it became clear that it was going to be somewhat of a unique challenge from an applied psychology perspective, the skills required to plan, organise, lead, fund and create interest in getting the boat to the start line were going to be quite different from those required to keep the boat, the individuals and the team together whilst on the water. Before that we have to get 4-6 willing volunteers!! Post Doris’ adventure, well that’s another story!

At that point there were no charities involved, so the interesting turn of events that has partly kept me so involved for this long was the choice of charities. Having at a very early age lost my mum to breast cancer the choice of BCC resonated with me and seemed fortuitous, being ex-military from many years ago, WWTW also chimed. But I have to say whilst these gave me extra resolve to help get the boat on to the water, it was the resolve of Laura and the clear passion and focus for what she was trying to do that also kept me in the project. Then came Emma, different but of equal resolve to push the project forward. Many others that have come and gone along the way. Then came Nat and Izzy who individually brought different dimensions to the already different crew! Then more latterly Lizanne and Meg, again two very different characters to each other and to the rest of the others. And so began the next challenge – keeping a crew of different characters ‘rowing in sync’ in getting the boat (still not called Doris at this point!) on the water, and then being able to switch mode to keep the boat – sorry, Doris – on the water. I recall the frequent conversations in the early stages: do we go for the same types of people, all different, or a bit of both! These were interspersed with conversations about ideal row routines/shifts, sleep patterns, project management skills, career chats, team effectiveness, leadership, corporate engagement…..the list goes on! All of which served to confirm that the project was complex in its whole, as well as considering simple things like recruiting and developing the crew to be effective at managing boredom whilst maintaining key critical boat routines (should have recruited a Barnacle Bill!). What has always been against us is time and money! But that’s probably a different story or blog!

So what do I do? A question many people ask, sometimes with a wry small on their face (or a step back when they hear the word psychologist!), to get the full picture you may need to read the book when it comes out! But here’s the abridged version….I’d probably pause, go and make yourself a cuppa/glass of wine (clearly as long as it is within your weekly allowance for a healthy lifestyle!).

As a ‘performance psychologist’ I work on the basis that behaviour or performance derives from a combination of the ‘person’, the ‘role’ and the ‘environment’. So the starting point is getting clarity and establishing a deep and broad understanding of each of those three elements. The less obvious factor in here is ‘team’. As mentioned above, time and money were a challenge throughout, so planning was crucial. Having done some basics on planning and organising (I am known as the planning tyrant!) with Laura and the crew, I suggested that having a look at ‘best year yet’ may help the guys in running the project. Tick, one less thing off my list, delegation! One of my key principles as a practitioner and especially for this project was striving to create self-sufficiency and sustainability for the crew as a team and as individuals. So if I don’t hear too often from the girls on the water, I’ve generally done my job before they got on the boat (if they’ve done their homework!)! However, as some of the crew will probably tell you out of my ear shot, this generally meant me not giving them the answer, but the tools and questions to ask to get the answer for themselves! How very frustrating – yep! Think I may have over played that card at times: ‘Keith – we just need you to tell us what to do here!’ was heard more frequently at the start of the project and way way less before Doris and her cargo set sail. Testament to the girls’ ability to take ideas and tools and make them work for them.  Underpinning much of the later work, especially when we had a full crew, or the first full crew (another story!), was team values (SPIRIT). For me this was going to be key to getting the boat on the water but way more importantly, keeping the boat on the water, and in fact one was great preparation and practice for the other. So we discussed an approach to developing a set of team values and what they should look like in order for them to work – developing green and red behaviours against each of the values. We know values create how it ‘feels’ to be around people or in a culture (or in a pink bath tub (sorry Doris!) bobbing around in the big blue sea), but they need to be lived, practiced and people need to be called out on them, rather than the values just sitting on a piece of paper. Hopefully the girls are living the SPIRIT whilst together!

One of the key difficulties was consistency of crew members and getting the ‘right’ people – see earlier comment (same/different; motivated & able etc.). But actually, as the amount of conversations we had around this proves, just finding people that want to do something as way-out as rowing an ocean, never mind the Pacific, is a challenge in itself. This is before we get to ‘can they do it’ and also do I want to spend 6 months plus in a pink bath tub (sorry again Doris, oh and she still wasn’t pink at that point!) with them. We had a number of false starts at getting people into a potential crew and over the years some of these came and went for various reasons. It has been interesting to see this unfold; you are looking for quite a specific ‘animal’ to complete this challenge, a bit like hens teeth! Right time of life, right time in career, relationships, able to financially support themselves (on bread and water at times I’m sure!), want to be at sea for a significant period, be in a potentially hostile environment, the list goes on and this was largely made worse by the lack of major financial sponsorship and the associated certainty the project was a goer. So back to consistency! Whilst I guided the guys in getting a good process in place to recruit potentials and help them with what they should be looking for and how to measure this in selection, it was ‘personality’ where I had a lot of input. We used the NEO PIR as our personality measure of choice, seen as the gold standard tool to measure accurately personality traits. I’ve been using this for years and know how predictive it is and how insightful it can be. We had a core set of criteria that we looked at everyone on and fed that into the overall mix for selection. In the early stages selection was mainly looking at these core criteria, further into the project we then used NEO to consider team fit for later potential recruits, as we already had crew members in place. So similar or different debate again?! Personality is not everything, a person’s values, experience, expertise and intellect all combine to make the ‘person’, and these were all added to the mix for selection. After an initial filtering selection centre (where self-deselection was a key factor) we also threw into the mix a bit of ‘stress testing’ the potential crew members, both to look at them individually under endurance conditions, including sleep deprivation, and also how they integrated into a team. Thanks to Martin and Matt at Fieri for providing the Brecon Beacons experience! Again self-deselection was key here.

As well as for team selection we used NEO extensively for individual development and for team development, initially to raise awareness, but then to deepen individual and team development. It gives a window into how someone might behave in a given context (role & environment). The team all shared their own questionnaires with each other and this both increases and accelerates awareness of self and others, but as importantly the act of sharing very personal information builds trust, which is crucial to this type of challenge. It also reinforces and embeds the team values. We also used ‘hot button’ exercises for the same reason. I worked individually with the girls on identifying and then developing areas we thought might be key to their individual performance leading up to the row but also whilst on the water. Effective team working and leadership were a key focus to getting the boat on the water and this was also a good practice ground for the skills that would also be needed on the water. However, there were other more specific skills that would be needed for the crew to cope personally with the extraordinary challenge they were about to embark on. So we tried to focus much of the individual development and skills into one point of reference: PESs as they are attractively known! Each of the crew’s Performance Enhancing Strategies (PESs) are their own personal ‘tool kit’. These look at the range of ‘states’ they may need to be in at different points in the day, the week, the stage, and the row overall. For example, how does someone relax quickly enough to get to sleep after a gruelling roller coaster of a 2 hour shift on the oars, equally how do they quickly wind themselves up to get themselves to quickly perform on the oars after sleep and being woken in the middle of the night! Also when people may not be at their emotionally strongest, how do they bring themselves back to a place of personal strength. In order to be effective in these states/zones; a range of strategies have been developed, all tailored to the individual’s preferences and needs. For example, learning to breath correctly and using it to arouse/de-arouse oneself is a basic must have! Not to mention it being the one thing we can control the majority of the time (aah the old ‘controlling the controllables!’). More specific tools are: generally a large, broad and varied music collection; a vivid and eclectic range of images (static and motion); the ability to be in the moment regardless of what is happening around you; the various positive mental scripts and thought reframing for the range of negative messages you might have in your head and be talking to yourself with; using touch stones that have high emotive relevance to us (for me my wedding ring when completing the MdS was a key touch stone, which got me through painful days (I lost 5 toe nails!) in +40C temperatures!). These are just some of the strategies that the crew will have individually developed prior to the row (don’t forget GSOH and also a smattering of optimism! – which they all have in spades!!). But then they will have refined their PESs into Hawaii based on their learning in leg 1 of which were or were not working, and are probably reviewing during the current tough phase to ensure they are effective for leg 3. Reflection, both individual and team, is key on a challenge of this sort. For those who like to know the science/evidence base of such strategies we used CBT, mindfulness, imagery & visualisation, many stress management techniques (e.g. STOP & BOPP), arousal control, self-efficacy development, individual motivational needs, realistic preview (What ifs), reflective practice, team cohesion (task and social), team effectiveness, conflict management, problem solving. I could go on but probably for another time!

Whilst on the water my role is slightly different to pre row. Essentially if Tony is ‘Uncle Tone’ then I must be ‘Auntie Keif’! Joking aside whilst fortunately we do not need to talk too often, myself and Tony are the crew’s first port of call (sorry for the pun!) if they need guidance or support. Tony being the key contact having frequent and regular contact with the girls to keep the boat going in the right direction; my role I guess is to support the girls individually and collectively to keep the inside of the boat rowing in the right direction. Another aspect is that we have developed clear communication plans for each of the crew and their families, so if quick critical decisions need to be made there is generally no doubt in who should be talking to whom and who decides what and when! Some of this is also liaising with Carver PR.  So in some respects I perform a communication buffer/conduit as well as being another pair of eyes on critical practical decisions that may have an impact on the crew or families; it also frees Tony up to get on and do the practical stuff rather than worrying and spending time ensuring everyone is in the loop. But on a more regular basis I keep in touch with the guys and monitor how they are doing generally and help them work through any specifics that may crop up (we have a weekly review system that’s a bit like a barometer). Support can be as simple as regular email contact (daily quotes to keep their calendar metronome in sync and also as a motivational lift, and obviously so they don’t think they have escaped from my wittering!), to helping them work up their plans pre and post transitions through Hawaii and Samoa (not forgetting StB) – planning tyrant here again, did I tell you about ‘planning for the worst and hoping for the best’?!

Key to the progress of the boat and transitions has been working with Lizanne and Meg to try and get them up to speed with the prep the rest of the crew have had! An accelerated programme for them both, but without the added developing together and bonding time the crew has had – tough gig for them in the lead up to joining the crew with limited personal contact with the girls ahead of leaving SF. Skype is a wonderful thing! However, I did miss my 7am free Lattes (payment in kind!) and lovely lunches at the Hare and Hounds with the whole team, but needs must when you’re on a tight time frame.  It was working with Lizanne and Meg that you suddenly realise how much work the crew has done to prepare themselves for the row and how many assumptions there are that need to be made explicit for Liz and Meg. Lizanne had the additional challenge of not being UK based, so credit to her for preparing ‘geographically dislocated’! Team values, hot buttons, boat critical what ifs, personal what ifs, hopes and fears, team dynamics & cohesions, the individual personalities involved, PES development and the underlying skills, not to mention the more functional elements of being part of Coxless Crew!

Key to all of the above are the family and friends of the crew and hopefully some of the pre meetings have made the journey easier for you, the silent heroes of the row (a strong community now). I cannot imagine what response I would give if Eloise says in 20 years or so time that she’s going to row an Ocean or climb Everest! So, as much of an inspiration for me is to be part of the extended support crew called ‘F&F’ (family and friends) – hats off to you guys! Can’t move on without a special mention of Ella, who is another unsung and silent hero of CC!

I’m nearly done, promise, stay with me……..it would be hugely remiss of me not to mention the team behind the team that is behind the team (crew). My wife Helen has been a stalwart of support over the years of the project, never a raised eyebrow to be seen when I got back from a team meeting 2-3 hours late – yes, Laura can talk! (sorry Laura!). Then little Eloise, my now 2.5y daughter (no you’re not climbing Everest!) who can now name all the girls and Doris, who is pink, and also knows ‘Izzy has left the boat!’ She will only realise later in life how much of an inspiration she is to me, even at 2 ½! Helen knows how much of an inspiration she is to me, but probably doesn’t think she is! I have trekked with her in some very odd and challenging places, she continues to show me what bravery is! Base camp Everest with full blown tonsillitis, Mt Meru with a parasitic friend (I’ll save you from the detail!) etc.

So why am I involved with Coxless Crew and why do I do this!? 1. Because it’s there, 2. Because it’s interesting, 3. Because what they are trying to achieve goes far far beyond rowing and ocean, 4. Because everyone has a Pacific to cross and working with those that want to try is a joy and inspiration! Especially for those that have to fight or strive for the opportunity, 5. Finally, because I have a family and friends that support me in my mad ideas and adventures and want to go on the journey with me!

Thanks to the Coxless Crew for inviting me to their party! Thanks to you for reading what started as a Blog and is clearly at least one chapter of my book yet to be written!

One final thing. For the many people that read the Coxless Crew’s daily blogs and may feel they do not have anything to say or contribute, next time you read one, drop them a note, just to say hi and I’m with you – you may think it’s a drop in the ocean! But at the other end, the splash will engulf them!

Au revoir.

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17 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m with you (as instructed by Auntie Kief!) xx

  2. Ray & Babs says:

    As Laura’s parents living with the row is difficult and an example is having been in Hawaii when the girls arrived and seen how good they look. Now not seeing them arrive in Samoa, when after the last 95 days we are sure they’ll be different, buzzing yes but also worn out!! we are now feeling guilty at not being able to give her a hug, although I know Lizanne’s parents, Sarah Moshman, Tony and Meg will be there. With people the calibre of Keith, Tony, Kirsten and Ella behind the girls is such a comfort to us and I’m sure all the other family, friends and supporters. So on behalf of everyone thank you Keith for looking after the girls so well, not easy when your talking about 6 strong minded individual females!!!!!!!

  3. Anne says:

    Really interesting post from you Keith – we know how much you have helped and aided the girls (and they sure have needed all their strength, emotional and physical for this row).
    Glad you’re around!
    Best wishes from both of us
    Anne and Bernard

  4. As Auntie Kief instructed – hi, we are with you!
    Will have to read Keith’s blog again to take it all in but we have always thought that his guidance must have been first class in order for you to deal with the many varied and difficult challenges you have faced.
    Very near now. Stay safe. xx

  5. Alan says:

    I have been faithfully following you each day for your whole voyage and thought of you all struggling against adverse wind and current. I was so impressed by your collective strength of character and unity all those months back at Raymarine but also know you have been tested to the limit. I will raise a glass here when I know you have arrived and I don’t have the words to say how delighted I will be for you. I am working next week with a team of ex servicemen who are about to row the Atlantic and your experience will feature large. Well done all, Alan (Raymarine)

  6. Simon TY says:

    Sending a splash. A good splash I hope.

    PS mistyped my email and it said scary@talktalk. Predictive texting……..

  7. Valerie King says:

    I have been reading the girls blogs as often as I can. At the moment I am sitting at home and I have just read the Keith Goddard remarks – an insight on how complex the whole challenge has been. Since hearing from Laura about this huge, massive and totally mind-blowing idea to row across the Pacific I have been totally overwhelmed with admiration of the girls. I think we all wake up in the middle of the night and have a quiet chat to them willing them on and sending them inspiration, sending our love and always a request for their safety – keep going girls you are all amazing.

  8. Liz says:

    We are counting the hours until you reach land, you have all been amazing and we have been routing for you every row of the way! Enjoy your well deserved break and make the most of it, make it an early Christmas celebration no-one deserves it more than you girls. We all send a big Cornish hug, pasties are on hold until we meet in The New Year, xxxx

  9. Katie says:

    Keith – your post was so insightful! Great to hear some specifics on the psychological side of things.
    Crew – I follow the blog every few days and am so inspired by how amazingly you are doing. I met Laura a year ago when she spoke at an event at at Quins and have been fascinated by your journey ever since. All journeys can inspire but this one is epic in every aspect and will have a huge impact in so many ways – don’t ever doubt that! Congrats on being so close to completing another leg and wishing you fair winds and seas for the next! x

  10. There is always another amazing team behind a team and you certainly have one.

    Perhaps it is also time to think of the support the parents have given to their Daughters during this row and how they must all feel now that you are so close to the end of leg 2.
    Enormous pride at your continued achievements will live with them forever………..and surely help push you to your ultimate destination and reunion with them all.

  11. kim says:

    So proud of you girls!!!! an incresible achievement. enjoy those fresh water warm showers, a menu 🙂 where you can choose from a number of fresh items and a proper bed! i;d recommend some down time watching the all blacks game! enjoy your time on dry land
    kim

  12. Simon TY says:

    Who is in charge of the post on FB or the tweet to say dry land has actually been reached ?

  13. Peter says:

    A great first chapter, I’ll need a glossary for some of the acronyms and abbreviations…a great distraction from marking though. Go girls.

  14. Antonia says:

    Woo hoo! I want to hear all about how it feels to sleep in a bed, for 8 hours, eat a steak and a whole bar of chocolate. I’ve felt exhausted just reading about your adventures, and now I actually have butterflies at the thought of mentally landing with you! Weird but true. What an inspiration ladies. Well done, you are AMAZING. xx

  15. Bridget says:

    Really interesting post Keith and I know that if I was in the middle of the ocean somewhere I would be very comforted to know that you were back home looking out for me! Huge achievement by the team – very very impressed!

  16. Steve Dyos says:

    What a great insight to what you have done for the girls Keith. It’s so comforting to know that the girls are so prepared and so looked after during this amazing time in their lives . I hope megs great sense of humour and outlook on life will reenergise the crew to help them finish a fantastic achievement . Go girls and obviously Doris as well

  17. pete mewton says:

    Keith,
    Thanks so much for you ‘brief’ note. Which at first after a few paras, I scrolled down to gaige wether I could devote the time(dyslexic, slow resder), deciding NOT but having dipped the toe just (as is usual with me) just had to go for the full swim.
    Your vivid picture of the complex, inner preparations the crew underwent was extremely eyeopening and hugely helpful in giving me a fuller appreciation of what the CC are doing. Coming at the end of the arduos Leg 2 which already had heigtened my admiration of the women enduring it, your bloggette has greatly enhanced the completeness of my ” participation” and continued fascination with the whole Wonderful Challenge.
    Now, reading the crews blogs will have even more meaning and make me feel closer to their experience. I feel so priveleged to ( through knowing Laura, via my daughter) to have had the opportunity to share their life enhancing experience.
    Thank you again and HUGE THANKS to the wonderful Coxless Crew.
    yours
    Pete

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