What five miles of mud taught me about motivation.


On October 18th, for the second year running Ashridge House welcomed The Hospice of St Francis and 850 intrepid participants for the annual Mud Pack Challenge event. One of these was Rebecca Brown, who has written for us about how her experience changed her understanding of motivation. 

Added on 27 October 2015 by Erika Lucas

Mudpack challenge success

Being an employee of Ashridge Executive Education, I had seen first hand the obstacles facing those taking on the Mudpack challenge in 2014, when I cheered from the sidelines - five miles of physical challenge through thick, sticky mud, murky water, fire engine water cannons, and angry RAF troops! This year I decided that I would be getting stuck in this time, thinking it would be interesting to motivate myself to do something I would normally avoid, and seeing how far I could push my willpower in the face of difficult conditions. 

My sister and I had signed ourselves up for the event back in the summer, when the idea of a bit of dirt and water didn’t seem all that bad. Now that the days had started to turn more autumnal however, the prospect of scrambling on our stomachs through deep sloppy mud suddenly wasn’t quite as ‘appealing’ as it had originally been. Arriving at the event early on the Sunday morning, I’d thought that it would be discouraging to see exhausted, cold finishers - caked in mud - crossing the finish line when we were still yet to set foot on the course. In fact the opposite was true. As we congratulated Mud Packers who’d finished, wrapped in their foil blankets and wolfing down chocolate bars, they told us how much fun the experience had been and that we were going to love it! I couldn’t wait to get going.

It took us just over an hour and a quarter to complete the course, and we felt so pleased with ourselves for attempting every obstacle (and successfully completing all except the slippery monkey bars). When the course came to an end we had surmounted six foot walls, hauled ourselves over tree stumps, clambered over huge hay bales, waded through skips full of water, gone face-first down mud slides, lugged heavy logs and tyres, and been water cannoned by the firemen from Hemel Hempstead’s Blue Watch. Just over a week after, the bruises have faded, but we remain proud of our personal achievements, and happy in the knowledge that Mudpack fundraisers raised over £140,000 for The Hospice of St Francis. 

The course enabled me to achieve physical feats that I never could have imagined myself doing, but also left me wondering where all the participants got their mental strength from on the day. What is it that enabled us to keep going, obstacle after obstacle? It all comes back to our motivation, channelling our energy reserves into achieving that one goal. There were several strategies I saw used on the day, but here are the three I have always found to be most useful:

1. Break down the challenge

It is an often quoted observation, but portioning out large and challenging tasks into smaller chunks really does make them more manageable, as it allows you to see the path ahead more clearly. There were times during the Mud Pack challenge when the course stretched away in front of me and the physical effort needed to overcome the obstacles was taking its toll, but focusing on the task in front of me allowed me to give all my attention to progress, one thing at a time. If you are really struggling to motivate yourself, make sure you aren’t overwhelming yourself all at once. A little preparation goes a long way, allowing you to prioritise your tasks to maximise your productivity, and get the hard ones out of the way while you have the mental energy.

2. Use teamwork to your advantage

Spending time listening to your team is probably one of the best things you can do if you are low on motivation. It boosts morale to have other people encouraging you onwards, and helps other team members to feel valued, encouraging them to come up with ideas and contribute to achieving the team goals. Even if I hadn’t been doing the Mud Pack challenge with my sister to spur me on, the camaraderie of fellow Mud Packers, marshals, and onlookers would still have functioned as a wider ‘team’ to get me over the low points.

3. Set your goals early

If you are clear on your overall purpose you will find it easier to visualise your success, and being specific early on will help you with this. It enables you to know exactly what will be required to achieve your goals, and in this case early preparation to improve strength and fitness, to ensure that I could at the very least run the distance, was really important in being well-equipped for the big day. It is impossible to think towards a moving target and continually changing your goal makes demands on your brain that constantly changes its focus, causing you to lose direction. To keep your focus, and your motivation, take five minutes to write down what you want to achieve as clearly as you can. For me, my motivation was knowing first-hand how invaluable the support provided by a hospice to people in their final stages of life is, and what a difference this makes at such a difficult and sensitive time. The money raised will go a long way to continue the care The St Francis Hospice give to local men and women with life limiting illness, ensuring our feelings of achievement and pride at being a part of such a wonderful event will remain for a long time yet.

A huge thank you must go out to all the staff, volunteers and marshals from The Hospice of St Francis and Ashridge Executive Education. Plus the numerous local Companies who provided the vital equipment, free of charge, for the obstacles such as the scaffolding, hay, tyres & skips. Thanks to Hemel Hempstead Fire Brigade, HMS Wildfire Navy Reserves, RAF Halton troops and of course all the supporters who came to cheer us on. We look forward to Mud Pack III, taking place at Ashridge House on Sunday 23rd October 2016.