When I was six years old, I saw rally driving on television and thought it was the coolest, most exciting thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to be a part of it.
From then on, I dreamed that one day I might be able to become a rally driver. However the fact that I had no home or family support as a teenager meant that it didn’t look like it was ever going to happen. I had left home at 14 to escape a deeply dysfunctional existence and ended up staying in homeless hostels.
For me, it took hitting rock bottom to sort myself out. Because I had run away at 14, in 1980, by the age of 23 I had been homeless or sofa surfing in London for almost ten years. At that time, my boyfriend was a heroin addict and life was spiraling out of control. I’d reached the point where I was either going to do something really negative or really positive.
Fortunately, I chose the positive. I phoned the U.K. telephone number 192, which is probably like calling Google to find out the names of businesses, people and places. I remember telling the telephone operator that I wanted to be a rally driver. She suggested going to rally driving school and found one in Oxfordshire, so I went along.
In 1989, I drove a rally car for the first time. The experience was far better than I imagined. I’d always been uncomfortable in my own skin, but this was the first time in my life I felt at home in an environment. I felt like I belonged. The driving itself was really hard to do and I wasn’t very good initially, but that didn’t matter. I knew that I could learn to be good.
At that point, I decided that nothing was going to stop me becoming a rally champion. I soon discovered that the key to fulfilling my dream was very simple; I needed money, so that I could afford a car and compete.
From then on, I spent my entire waking moments trying to raise money to buy a car. I borrowed money from a bank to fund some lessons and rallies, which subsequently took me fourteen years to pay back, but my main goal was to find a sponsor.
Eventually, I found a printing consultant who agreed to sponsor me. Eventually, it progressed to larger companies including Ariston, a large European brand, and other big name household names.
I quickly learnt that motor sport requires mental toughness, because you are constantly crashing and picking yourself up again; in that sense it’s a fantastic metaphor for life. You have to open your mind to problems and set your course, plan where you’re going and then follow it.
I began throwing myself into things that I didn’t initially feel I would be able to do, such as boxing, running a marathon and climbing Mount Everest, the highest mountain summit in the world. I got this sense that I would only have one go at achieving my rally driving dreams, and so there was no point holding back.
From finding sponsors to fund my rally driving to beating opponents in races, I achieved what I achieved because I wanted it so deeply. I truly believe I found my purpose in life through rally driving. For twelve years I dedicated myself to it and got to the top level driving for Ford, competing in the World Rally Championship.
In 2006, when I was around 40 years old, I started to speak at corporate events, using my wide experiences to talk about goal setting, confidence, determination and success in business. People were interested in my story and felt it translated to most organizations or businesses. I liked that some people were inspired by my experience.
Then a few years ago a friend mentioned the concept of mental toughness to me. They described the notion as your ability to manage stress, pressure, challenges, changes and setbacks. I’d never heard of it before, but suddenly it felt like something had clicked into place. I realized that everything that I had done in my life up to that point was about developing and harnessing my mental toughness.
As I read more about mental toughness it made complete sense to me and put many elements of my life into context. It made me realize that I had been demonstrating mental toughness for years. As a child I spent years looking after my mum, who was very sick. I had been fending for myself all my life, because my childhood was so dysfunctional, and I had been developing strategies to cope. It turns out those were examples of mental toughness.
I was so excited that mental toughness was a real thing that could be measured and worked on. For example, if you want to assess your mental toughness, you’re able to take a psychometric questionnaire that asks approximately seventy questions and then gives you scores out of ten. I also realized that my personal knowledge and experiences could help other people too.
Keen to use my experience of mental toughness to help others, I became an AQR accredited coach in mental toughness in 2018. I re-positioned myself from top rally driver to mental toughness expert and keynote speaker. I believe that what I know and have learned about mental toughness is relevant to all people in all walks of life, whatever their situation or status. I also feel that it is applicable to work, relationships, career and so much more.
Mental toughness can also be an extremely effective way to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Through my work understanding mental toughness I have identified five key principles to help people stick to theirs.
1. Understand your purpose
Understanding your purpose is crucial to sticking to anything, including a New Year’s resolution. If you’re serious about succeeding you need to unpick the reason why you want to achieve the goal you have set out for yourself. In my experience, this then means you can focus on achieving it.
For example, when I wanted to succeed as a rally driver my “reason why” was to get my father’s attention and approval. I wanted him to be proud of me and it was that desire which drove me to push harder and harder and not to give up. Although I wasn’t aware of this at the time, I realized it when reflecting afterwards. For me, it was healthy because it helped me develop strategies to never take “no” for an answer and keep pushing through obstacles to achieve my goals.
There were other reasons that weren’t about seeking external approval. For instance, I thought if I could achieve something for myself, it would make me feel better about myself as a person. So essentially, I strove to succeed so I could prove to myself that I could achieve something.
2. Focus on what you specifically want to achieve
I am certain now that the key to sticking to anything, whether it’s a resolution, losing weight, or running a marathon, is to focus on what you want to achieve, and to be very specific about that.
A friend of mine lost almost 170 lbs by focusing on the fact that she wanted to lose that specific amount. She made a decision that she was going to lose 170 lbs over two years and then she worked out how she was going to do it. She had a lightbulb moment and realized that if other people could do it, she could too. She joined a weight loss group and stuck to their food plan religiously.
Her commitment was complete and she didn’t cheat. She lost a couple of pounds a week and stuck at it. Some weeks she would only lose a pound, but she never gave up. In addition to eating healthily she also exercised. She had to change her mindset after a lifetime of overeating, but with the support of her group consultant and her change in mindset, she achieved her goal.
Running a marathon is a good example of a time I really committed to something. I’d never been into running when, in 2004, I decided it was time to run a marathon. I searched online for a 16-week marathon training plan and I committed to it. I printed out a training schedule from the internet, which told me how many miles to run a day.
I didn’t think that it would work, but the plan told me what to do every day and I was totally committed. I followed it to the book and was shocked when it did work. By sticking to that training plan to the letter I was able to run 26.2miles.
To me, giving anything less than 100 percent will set you up for failure. If you really want to succeed at something then you’ve got to be completely committed from the start. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever quit, because once I’m in, I’m in. I don’t ever consider quitting.
4. Be consistent
You’ll never get to the top of the mountain (literal or metaphorical) if you don’t continue to put one foot in front of the other. Nowadays many people want quick fixes in a whole host of areas, from fad diets to getting rich quick and beauty and aesthetics. However, this rarely happens. The key to sticking to anything is making sure you are consistent.
I had always wanted to climb a mountain so I knew I had to be consistent in my training in order to do this safely, but also in order to have any chance of succeeding. So I started six months of training. This involved climbing Snowdon and other big mountains, plus doing big walks—the longest I could access within a couple of hours drive. I was doing some sort of training of some description all the time, whether it was going for a run or a long distance walk. I also did some training in a pressurized tank—which is designed to emulate the conditions of high altitude—in someone’s back garden.
I ate normally and I maintained my normal sleeping patterns. I’ve never slept very well anyway, so I just had to get on with it. But I noticed the effects of my training both physically and mentally. I was physically leaner, fitter and had more oxygenated blood which made me sharper mentally. I had the flexibility of thinking that came with the awareness of all the things that could go wrong on a mountain. Then, in July 2012 I climbed Mount Elbrus in Russia. If I hadn’t been consistent with my training and then kept putting one foot in front of the other as we scaled to the top, I would never have reached the summit.
5. Face your fear
I’ve always been scared of putting my face in water, whether that’s in a swimming pool or in the sea. However, in order to develop mental toughness I have learned that it’s extremely important to face our fears; to force ourselves to do things that make us feel uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zones.
So I am facing my fear of water by taking on what is considered the world’s toughest rowing challenge in December of 2023, when I will row from La Gomera—an island off Spain—to Antigua. I’ll be in a boat with three other women who I didn’t know prior to signing up for this challenge. We’ve been brought together by the passion to do this. We’ve only met a couple of times but soon we will be training regularly together.
I first heard about the row from a friend who was doing it a couple of years ago and I was so consumed with jealousy because I wanted to do it. It’s as tough a challenge as it could get for me. To lose sight of shore when I’m scared of water—if I can conquer that, I feel like I can achieve anything.
I know I will learn a lot about myself in the process, and a lot that I can share with other people. Because I’m self-employed, I do most of my work on my own with my personal assistant, so it will be nice to be part of a team again.
I hope to find out that I’m a fantastic team player. I’m the oldest on the boat, but I like to think that I won’t be the weakest link in any way. I’m going to have to develop skills like navigation and learn to row and I’ll have to go to the toilet in a bucket and eat re-hydrated food. During the challenge I’ll row for two hours then sleep in a coffin-sized space for two hours, so it will be a weird set of skills to learn.
For some people mental toughness is climbing a mountain, for others it’s getting out of bed in the morning. Just as everyone faces different challenges and fears in life, all are relevant and important.
Mental toughness does however, equip us all with the ability to withstand the knocks that life inevitably throws at us and get back up again. I’ve learnt that human beings are extraordinarily resilient.
I believe we all have the ability to develop mental toughness, we just need to consistently work on it. Whether that’s taking a cold shower every day because you hate cold showers, or walking in the rain every time it rains, by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones and pushing ourselves to try the uncomfortable, we can realize what we are truly capable of.
Penny Mallory is a former rally champion and the first and only woman in the world to drive a world rally car for Ford. Penny is an author and TEDX speaker, and delivers keynotes, webinars and workshops to help individuals, teams and organizations. She is preparing to row in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in Dec 2023.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
https://www.newsweek.com/mental-toughness-expert-new-year-resolutions-1769901 ‘I’m a Mental Toughness Expert, Here’s 5 Ways to Stick to Your Resolutions’