POSITIVE mental attitude is a familiar concept among those working in the direct selling industry. When it comes to motivating a sales force this mantra is recognised across the industry regardless of language or culture.
In sales training terms, the principle can be illustrated in hundreds of ways – and
no-where more dramatically than in the story of Stuart Lotherington, senior training manager with UK-based SBR Consulting.
Stuart uses his personal experience of completing The Polar Challenge – an amazing feat of endurance in temperatures of minus 48-degrees – to bring to life the principles needed to succeed in today’s highly-competitive business world.
“From start to finish the whole experience reinforced what we do in training workshops,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to practice what we preach, to push myself to the limit to achieve my goal.”
The Polar Challenge is an extraordinary Arctic adventure in which participants have to dig deep to find reserves of mental and physical stamina to overcome a variety of potential obstacles in a hostile environment. It takes place in April/May every year.
Teams of three race to complete the 600-kilometre route to the magnetic North Pole, pulling their own sledge and supplies with a start weight of around 140 lbs. Stuart and two friends, Miles Welch and Martin Palethorpe trained for eight months and set themselves a goal to do whatever was necessary to win.
Stuart and Miles did indeed come first despite Martin having to drop out at the first checkpoint when medics showed concern at his infected foot blisters. This was a serious blow both in practical and emotional terms, saying goodbye to a friend while having to re-think their strategy to ensure they could still finish with one less team member to carry essential supplies and equipment.
“From the moment we signed up, we were there to win and that was the difference between us and some of the other competitors,” said Stuart. “For many of the others it was about being able to survive and just get to the finish line – we wanted to be first and that does require self-belief.” With a four-day walk to the starting point in Resolute, in the northern territory of Canada, acclimatising to the weather and pulling their sledges behind them, at least two people from the original eight teams dropped out, totally overwhelmed both by the cold and the realisation of the scale of the undertaking.
Other challenges included a snapped ski 98 kilometres from the next check point which slowed them down significantly and a scary moment when Miles fell into a crevasse! Luckily it wasn’t deep and his body became wedged which allowed Stuart to pull him free. Having been told to expect a fairly flat surface with no ice rubble and no hidden hazards this could have turned into a disaster. Instead it was a defining moment which made them both even more determined to reach their goal.
“We were on pretty fine form the whole time. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and we were ready to face whatever happened. We all know life is difficult – this challenge was something we had set out to do so you just have to accept the difficulties and get on with it.”
It was that tenacity, determination and most importantly their will to win, which saw the two-man team beat all the odds to cross the finish line first, an amazing 23 hours ahead of the next team; the last team came in six days later.
While Stuart would be the first to recognise that every single participant should deservedly be congratulated for completing this arduous challenge, he also points out there are no prizes for coming second. His experience, while extreme, shows once again that careful planning and preparation combined with the right mental attitude is more likely to bring success. “Our experience shows how you can do anything if you want it badly enough. Successful people in every walk of life are those who ‘think big’ and that applies equally to the direct selling environment.
“Stepping outside your comfort zone is risky and uncomfortable but also offers enormous opportunities if you plan accordingly. It’s vital to be prepared for any eventuality and also to be alert to any unexpected problems that might arise. This requires positive attitude and belief that obstacles can be overcome. In his training role, Stuart describes this as ‘self-talk’… internal chatter in which a person sets goals and strives to reach them while re-affirming constantly that he can succeed. In a statement typical of motivational presentations, Stuart reminds us through his own story that ‘attitude of mind is the only real obstacle that prevents us from succeeding’.
Throughout the eight months of training, team work was also essential, providing mutual support and helping ensure they were not swayed by negative outside influences. As a father of two young children, Stuart recalls his family being concerned that he was putting himself at unnecessary risk. His two friends also had personal issues to deal with but throughout everything they kept in regular contact and maintained both their individual and joint training plans so as not to let each other down. Once again, the principles of accountability and self-discipline can be applied equally to business.
“There were many times when I asked myself ‘why am I doing this’ especially on those cold, dark nights in December when I got home from the train and went straight out again to run 20 miles,” he said. “We had made a decision and we were in this together which gave us focus, strength and purpose.” After Christmas, as the nights became lighter the trio crossed the hurdle from fitness to endurance training, walking and running with a backpack weighing around 60 lbs. Trips to France and Austria were arranged so they could learn to ski although an unseasonably mild winter meant they didn’t get the cold weather exposure they had hoped for.
Against this background, they also had to come up with £17,000 each to meet the cost of the trip with additional fundraising for their chosen charity, the Make-a-Wish Foundation. This was an extra responsibility and one which earned them the respect and support of friends, family and business colleagues who were both inspired and anxious for their welfare.
Crossing the finish line was an extraordinary moment. “The best bit was simply being there, not only having taken part in this awesome event but surviving it, enjoying it and coming through it so well.”
‘Winning is a habit – set yourself your own definition and plan accordingly. Your past doesn’t represent your future so don’t be restricted by what has gone before; with the right mental attitude and self-belief there is no reason why you can’t succeed.’
By Judith Wojtowwicz