carnegieXchange: School of Sport

Row Sentinel, delays and the importance of a positive mental attitude

Maintaining a positive and focused mindset has been a key part of Ian Rivers’ preparation for the Row Sentinel Challenge. As he finally embarks on the journey after a delay, read from Senior Lecturer Dr Mariana Kaiseler the techniques he can use to keep his mind on the task ahead.

Image of Ian Rivers

Tackling delays

Delays are an inherent part of adventure challenges such as Row Sentinel. Ian Rivers will embrace a solo unsupported row across the North Atlantic from New York to the Isles of Scilly, crossing 3,100 nautical mile and using only a sextant as the main form of navigation. No doubt that embarking solo on a row like this presents a wide range of environmental, physical, and psychological demands and will test human endurance and mental resilience to the limit. Learning from previous solo voyagers and polar expeditors performing under extreme environmental conditions, challenging experiences are an inherent part of performance in these environments and have been associated with personal growth and ability to normalise events (Kjærgaard, Leon, & Venable., 2015; Smith, Barret, & 2018; Weston, Thelwell, Bond, & Hutchings, 2009). Similarly, an important aspect to consider when understanding how individuals respond to these demands is to take into account their individual characteristics in terms of personality, coping resources, previous experience expertise and intrinsic motivation. The interaction between these variables will determine the potential impact that an event may have to wellbeing and performance.

Choosing between the positive and the negative

Bringing this example to life when faced with the news of a delayed departure, there are two main possible outlooks of this scenario. One is to appraise it as a threat something that the individual perceives that they do not have the resources to cope. This may lead to prolonged negative emotions possibly related with disillusion, sadness, and/or fear of failure. The other option is to appraise it as a challenge or a favourable opportunity and therefore mobilise physical and psychological resources to cope. In other words, use the time effectively to consolidate mental and physical preparation.

Image of Ian Rivers rowing

Ian recently set off on his epic challenge after suffering delays

The techniques Ian can use

Besides the positive wellbeing outcomes associated with challenge appraisals, the literature also suggests that individuals’ cardiovascular responses in a challenge state lead to better performance in terms of both decision making and motor-skill performance (Turner, Jones, Sheffield, Barker, & Coffee, 2014). Transferring this knowledge into practice, challenge appraisals should be a key priority when aiming to improve wellbeing and performance during adventurous challenges such as the Row Sentinel. Towards this goal, work by Prof. Marc Jones (2019) and colleagues (Turner et al., 2014) conducted mainly in the demanding environment of competitive sport highlights the importance of the following three principles:

  • Control: believe that one has control over factors that can influence their performance, and how they perform is important. Similarly, by focusing on factors that cannot be influenced (i.e., environmental conditions, delays) may lead to threat state.
  • Confidence: in the physical and mental ability to perform well. Believe in the preparation, and previous experience gained across different contexts leading to executing plans correctly. Low levels of confidence lead to threat state.
  • Focus: on actions that can be achieved, concentrate on the process, next step, routines, and plan. Equally, be able to recognise and block distractions. Threat states tend to be more focused on what can go wrong.


  • Jones, M. (2019). Challenge or Threat: Understanding how people cope in demanding environments. Available here:
  • Kjærgaard,A., Leon, G.R., Venable, N.C. (2015). The “Right Stuff” for a solo sailboat circumnavigation of the globe. Environment and Behaviour, 47 (10), 1147-1171. 
    Available at:
  • Smith, N., Barrett, E. C., & Sandal, G. M. (2018). Monitoring daily events, coping strategies, and emotion during a desert expedition in the Middle East. Stress & Health, 34, 534-544 Available at:
  • Turner, M.,  Jones, M., Sheffield, D., Barker, J.B., & Coffee. P. (2014). ‘Manipulating Cardiovascular Indices of Challenge and Threat Using Resource Appraisals’. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 94, 9-18 Available at 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2014.07.004
  • Weston, N.J., Thelwell, R.C., Bond, S., & Hutchings, N.V. (2009). Stress and Coping in Single-Handed Round-the-World Ocean Sailing. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21, 460-474, Available at: 10.1080/10413200903232607

Dr Mariana Kaiseler

Senior Lecturer / Carnegie School Of Sport

Mariana is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Carnegie Faculty since January 2014. She teaches at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and her main research interests are in the applied field of stress, coping and emotions.

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