Politics and the performance mindset: Why Britain needs a Crazy Goal

Goal setting could turn Brexit into an opportunity, says Cath Bishop.

Reading time: 5 minutes.

High performance athletes spend a lot of time overcoming impossible situations and finding ways to achieve what has never been achieved before. Without getting drawn into the politics, there’s a lot that today’s Government might learn from athletes.

In amidst the egos, the points of principle and the vying claims for what is most democratic, our politicians seem to have forgotten what matters. Deal, or no deal, what is going to make Britain’s boat go faster?

A visionary ‘Crazy Goal’ brings people together

Athletes define a ‘Crazy Goal’ because this approach is proven to radically improve their performance – enabling them and their team to develop a laser sharp focus on what’s important. There is no ‘Crazy Goal’ in Great Britain at the moment, just a crazy mess.

The total inability to define what success looks like has undermined the Brexit process so far – no one on any side has a plan beyond Theresa May’s increasingly beleaguered deal.  Beyond principles, there is nothing. 

It’s about making things better than before, expanding what’s possible and enabling bold choices.

No ambitious but achievable ‘Crazy Goal’ behind which the country can unify; one which even opponents can accept offers a way forward. No goals layered beneath that, which translate the idea into reality. And no clear, recognisable, day-to-day steps beneath that.

The Brexiteers have not been able to translate their abstract concept of a ‘better Britain outside the EU’ into any concrete reality-based plan. Imagine trying to win an Olympic Gold medal without having a training programme and detailed plan to get there!  

A good ‘Crazy Goal’ is aspirational yet achievable and explained in everyday terms. It is something that everyone in the team (or country in this case) can relate to. Something where people can see ‘what’s in it for me’, and align themselves to it in some way, even if it didn’t start off as their preferred idea.

It should create a narrative that binds us all together toward a positive outcome for our country, regardless of whether we voted Leave or Remain. 


A ‘Crazy Goal’ should be about making a difference – making a choice to do something special that has not been done before – and arguably, if we stopped there, then we have to admit that we are in a fairly unique constitutional and political situation that none of us have experienced before. 

But we can’t stop there. A ‘Crazy Goal’ has to have a purpose. 

It’s about making things better than before, expanding what’s possible and enabling bold choices. And ultimately, a ‘Crazy Goal’ can be reviewed, reframed and redefined, to take account of reality and all that we have learnt along the way.

No athlete carries on doing exercises in the gym or developing new techniques that cause endless injuries. If we’re not going fast enough training for the Olympics, we don’t just doggedly stick to the old or the new training programme – we constantly review and learn, refine and update, refresh and renew.  

Growth Mindset, not fixed mindset

Ever since Carol Dweck’s renowned book ‘Mindset’ codified the principles of a growth mindset, schools, sport, businesses and all walks of life have realised the benefits of raising open-minded children with no perceived limit on what can be achieved. 

That we develop employees who are open to change, open to learning new skills as the fast-paced workplace changes around them, and open to innovating and collaborating to discover new and better ways of doing things is of equal, if not greater import. 

Athletes embody that belief that they can go faster today than they went yesterday, that they can turn things around when they lose, that they can beat tomorrow those that beat them today. Fixed mindsets belong to those who are afraid to try new things, who stick to old principles even when the evidence is showing them that these principles don’t work anymore. 

Fixed thinking keeps people stuck in one place, unable to adapt and grow in tune with the changing environment we live in.

Brexit has got us stuck. Stuck to an oversimplified, binary world of win/lose, Leave and Remain. But the world isn’t like that, the world is complex, we are testing something that hasn’t been done before, and funnily enough, it isn’t as straightforward as some initially thought. 

In any growth mindset, that is cause to re-evaluate, review and think again. In a fixed mindset, that is cause to just keep doing what you’ve always done, even if that means you’re going to get what you’ve always got.  

It’s time to shift the Brexit debate, to reflect the complex reality, and to look for a suitable way forward in tune with that. That means no easy deal, no one side gets what they want, and it’s not win/lose – it’s about growing up and leaving the playground mentality behind. 

We have hugely capable people in this country. Let’s get a few more of them involved and work out a proper way forward together. Will it make our country better? Not ‘will it help us leave the EU or stay in the EU?’  

What’s the real issue here? Is it ‘who wins’ – the Leavers or Remainers? Or is it ‘what’s the best way forward’? Is it about one side defeating and humiliating the other, regardless of the actual outcome, or is it about finding the best way forward for the country? 

Setting a unified overarching message is critical to moving the debate forward – let’s not waste time on a political point-scoring tally. Let’s think about what’s at stake. Let’s be honest about that, rather than only say things that fit whichever corner we’ve painted ourselves into. Let’s develop a performance-mindset and make sure we’re asking the right questions. 


About the author

Dr Cath Bishop is senior performance consultant at Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?


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