The star of Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins, author and former soldier tells Working Dads how to improve kids’ mental strength.
“Failure is not an option,” is the famous line from Apollo 13 – spoken by Ed Harris, who portrayed NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz.
But I disagree. Granted, Kranz’s ‘mission’ was to bring back those astronauts safe and sound, so ‘failure’ was deemed unacceptable in that situation. But when we’re not talking about life or death, failure is, in fact, the ONLY option, if you’re going to be successful.
I’m not kidding when I say that failure’s a good thing. Anyone who has watched SAS: Who Dares Wins will know that the best ‘recruits’ aren’t necessarily the strongest, fittest, fastest or bravest. There are lots of failures on the show but the guys who do well are the ones who keep on going, regardless.
That’s the mantra of the Special Forces. We absolutely plan the arse off each and every mission we undertake – and then we plan some more – but the saying goes, “a plan never survives first contact with the enemy.” You see, you have to be able to deal with whatever is thrown at you. When the bullets are flying, you have to be able to adapt and think on your feet.
And that’s the message we need to be teaching our children; not the bullets flying bit, obviously, but the need to move past the obstacles that they’ll come across in this adventure we call life. Because the things that are thrown at us and our little ones don’t always make for plain sailing. Quite the opposite. Whether it’s trouble from the school bully, struggling with the pressure of exams, or navigating young relationships, kids are constantly trying to find their way in the world.
Kids need to understand that it’s only by challenging themselves and by living through various experiences – and by failing in the process and learning to pick themselves up again – that they will find what really nourishes their soul. Unfortunately, we’re not all Picasso, who could draw before he could talk and knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life from the word go. Most of us are not like that, so we have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone to find the ignition we need to really propel ourselves.
I call it ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’, and my secrets to pushing through the discomfort are two-fold; setting goals and visualising how I’m going to achieve them. Because here’s the thing, our subconscious mind is a goal-striving machine which will stop at nothing until it gets what our dominant thoughts desire.
What children are erring towards these days is a life of ease. It’s a primal instinct to simply want to survive, rather than thrive, and this is compounded by everything being available at the tap of a smartphone. Unfortunately, it’s part of our ‘humanness’ to be drawn to the path of least resistance.
For children – and adults alike – that means an inclination to tiptoe through life without getting the most out of everything because it’s the easy thing to do. By not aiming high enough, we get stuck in the monotonous habit loop of just doing what we did yesterday and the day before, because there’s safety in that. But safety means no risk, no risk means no failure, and no failure means no learning and no success.
The trouble comes when our goals aren’t big enough; if our ‘why’ isn’t big enough, then the ‘how’ is muddied and unclear, and we lose the resolve to strive for it. But when our goals light up our insides like a firework, that will be the thing that pulls you through the challenges you encounter.
So, let’s tell our kids to aim high, climb that mountain, that no goal is ever great unless at some point you doubt your ability to achieve it.
I like the mountain analogy. You can’t climb it in one go; instead of looking at the bigger picture, you have to make your way to the summit one waypoint at a time. Teaching our kids how to break their goals down into smaller ones is invaluable. As long as you’re maintaining momentum, you can avoid being dragged into the negative cycle of thinking there’s too much of a climb ahead of you.
And kids need to learn the value of looking back, seeing how far they’ve come and celebrating their successes along the way. Even the view from halfway up the mountain is spectacular!
Ollie Ollerton is the founder of BreakPoint, which offers a range of corporate and individual development programmes