Sometimes we learn something about ourselves when we’re least expecting it. During the February half term holiday, I was lucky enough to go skiing with my family. Much as I was looking forward to it, I came to skiing as an adult and my desire for self-preservation has always outweighed all other considerations when I take to the slopes: I am a slow and inelegant skier! On holiday with friends, my husband and my children – who had only been skiing once before and yet were already overtaking me in ability – I was encouraged by everyone to ski faster and with more confidence but to no avail.
And then, on the third day, my daughter fell over and injured her knee. My inadequate Spanish managed to summon help and soon she was safely installed on a stretcher ready to be pulled back down the mountain by a medic on skis. Everything looked positive…until he pointed at me, said ‘follow me’ and disappeared down the nearest slope at great speed. I had no choice; an unknown Spanish man had taken off with my injured daughter and I had to keep up (or at least keep him vaguely in sight!). Never have I skied so fast or so successfully – the motivating force of my maternal instinct was quite something.
Reflecting on the events of that day, I realised that what motivates us to respond to challenges can be both varied and enormously personal. When Mallory was asked about attempting Everest for the third time, it is reported that he said to the New York Times that his motivation was: “Because it’s there… Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.” For some, the motivation for their actions lies in a deep sense of morality. Take Malala Yousafzai, who continues to fight for the rights of girls and women to receive education, even after she was shot by the Taliban. She is quoted as saying: “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” The things that motivate us to want to accomplish something can take many forms – we might have a particular passion, we might seek recognition or we might have a desire to achieve a particular outcome such as securing a place on a course at university or getting our dream job.
But what about those occasions when you feel motivated to do something but fear is getting in the way? There is nothing unusual about feeling trepidation when approaching a challenge. I really like another quote from Malala: “We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.” Sometimes, for all of us, it can feel that our courage isn’t as strong as our fear and we falter. At our open events here at St John’s, I often explain that the one thing I want for all of our pupils is for them to develop the confidence to operate outside their comfort zones. If they only do the things they already know they can succeed at, they will never find the edges of their brilliance. However, I’m well aware that telling people to face their fears and push outside their comfort zones is easy – how you actually put this into practice is more tricky.
I read a blog recently from Laura McInerney, an education journalist and former teacher, and one simple idea jumped out as something we could all embrace. Knowing that it is normal to be afraid in situations where you feel out of your depth, just try to be 10% braver. This is quite a commonly quoted idea in the world of education but it is actually a very practical suggestion. If you are facing something that you are finding a struggle or that you are afraid of doing, ask yourself whether you would do that thing if you were 10% braver. If you think you would, then just go ahead and do it. If you think that you probably wouldn’t do it, even if you were 10% braver, then maybe your reservations are more justified and you can consider the next steps again.
The idea of testing yourself with the 10% braver measure is to overcome our natural instinct to avoid possible failure. We worry about messing up and catastrophise the potential outcomes if we do something that pushes our boundaries. More often than not, if you try something and it doesn’t work out, nothing bad will happen. So, this half term, I’m encouraging us all to try and be 10% braver in what we do – who knows what brilliant outcomes we will achieve? And watch out for me next time I take to the slopes!