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I Won 11 World Titles Because They Said I Couldn't: Anna Hemmings MBE | E65 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "I Won 11 World Titles Because They Said I Couldn't: Anna Hemmings MBE | E65".
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all of that stuff prevents us from being at our best. We can only be truly great at what we do if we believe without doubt that... - My guest today is an 11 time European world champion in her field, Anna Hemings. She has a remarkable story. Not only is she this incredible elite athlete, not only did she get to the Olympics twice, but she's undergone some of the most incredible mind-bending adversity to get there. She's now a coach, she's now an entrepreneur, she's now an incredible businesswoman, and she has a remarkable story to tell you. She's also a mother and a wife and all of these things. And she's really incredibly self-analytical in self-aware. And as her journey unfolded, and as she rose to the top of her career, she got news which all athletes must consider to be the worst news in the world. I'm so excited for you to listen to this conversation. You're gonna get a tremendous amount of value. And I'll be honest, as a host, you ask the questions. But in this conversation, I had more realizations than pretty much any conversation I've had with a guest before, without further ado. You can see I'm excited. My name is Stephen Bartlett, and this is the Diaries CEO. I hope nobody is listening, but if you are, then please keep this to yourself. - Kayaking.
Personal Development And Overcoming Challenges
Why Kayaking? (01:25)
It's not the type of sport that a child would typically dream of getting into. So I guess my first question to you is you became a world champion in kayaking. You reached the very sort of peak of your career in that sport. How did you get into kayaking? - Yeah, you're absolutely right. It wasn't something I was going, "Mom, mom, please don't be kayaking." I did lots of different sports as a child, and I loved sport. My mom was always trying to get my brother and I, partly because we enjoyed sport, but sometimes just, you know, summer holidays, going to a week of tennis camp, do a week of basketball, week of this. And it was just something that we tried. I loved being on the river. You know, the Thames in the summer is gorgeous, right? You know, it's pretty miserable right now. But in the summer, it's lovely. But also the club was competitive. It was Albridge canoe club, and it was probably one of the best clubs in the country at the time. So this is late '80s. And they were all about racing. They were all about competing. They were all about, you know, working your way up to the national championships, getting on the Great Britain team, going to the World Championships, making the Olympics. That was their mission. It was to produce racing athletes. And that played into my competitive nature really well. So I think it was one, I loved the, you know, the nature of the sport, but also I'd stumbled on a place where I could be competitive. I could race. I could, I had access to these brilliant coaches. I mean, as time went on, I was there with, at my club, there were people who were going off to the Olympic Games, who were going off to Seoul Olympic Games. Four years later, they going off to Barcelona. And so I was surrounded by people who were going to World Championships, achieving great things. And making me realise that, actually, this is, this is possible. So I've got two questions there. The first is what age were you at this point? So, well, when I first stepped into the kayak, that first summer, I was just under nine years old. And I can't say that at that age, I was going, right, first day in the kayak, I'm going to go to the Olympics, it wasn't that. And it probably wasn't until the following summer that I actually really started to train and go regularly and really get into it. So you said there as well about, you were surrounded by people that had these big ambitions that I'm guessing you probably never even considered. And I think that's such a valuable, but also interesting lesson about, like, the company people keep generally, because I can imagine that if you were in a different kayak school, or surrounded by different people, that didn't have that level of aspiration, you may be, and this is a presumption, you maybe wouldn't have believed that it was possible for you, is that right? - So I, yes, I agree. I also had discovered the Olympics probably around that time and was inspired by the Olympics. And I do recall from that young age, thinking, just the Olympics is just this amazing event. So I think really early on, I had a dream about the Olympics, and I didn't know what sport that would be. - And you said you had a dream. Did you see yourself actually getting there in a sport someday? - Yes. - Really? - Yeah, I did. I did watch the Olympics on television. I recall Los Angeles, I definitely recall watching Seoul and really being into that. So I'm like 12 years old, I guess. Watching, thinking, I wanna be an Olympian, I wanna be in that event one day. And then Kayakin came along and you're right. Because of those people, it didn't feel like, 'cause I guess probably when you're watching it on TV, it's like, oh, this is a thing that other people do. And it's far away. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. - And how do you ever, yes, we'd all love to be an Olympic moment, not everyone, but you know, but how realistic is that? And then I stumble upon this sport and this club. And these young athletes are turning up, training, they're just like normal people to me. Well, if they can do it, and these normal people who just work really hard can get there, then why can't I? - I'm so fascinated by it. And you probably saw me being very inquisitive because in my head, I'm trying to understand how, what the factors were that came together that took you to the Olympics. And like, I think in all of our journeys, we can attribute a some level of like coincidence and luck to various stages. And I think one of the moments of like luck from what you've said is like being around the right people to some degree, because yeah, I've just, I think especially lately in my life, I've really been able to look back and say, "Do you know what? "If I hung around with a different group of people, "if I didn't have, you know, a mum that was like this, "or I didn't have those five friends, "I probably wouldn't have believed that like that." As you, I find it really interesting, you said the word normal people, because I think we all view ourselves, especially when we're younger, it's like normal people. And we think that normal, when you look at the TV and you say like, "You don't think normal people can do that stuff on there?" And at some point, someone like bridged the gap and was like, "Oh, by the way, normal people do that." And I think that's a moment that I had in my life, which I found really interesting from what you've described there. It's like the thing where the like the third rule shatters and you realize that all of your icons and like you know, the people you love are also just like, we're just like you. I think that's super inspiring. So we've talked a little bit about circumstance and like the luck, fortune part of it and being in the right place at the right time. But also within everybody's journey, there is a lot of intention, there's a lot of like often discipline, I imagine. What are the things about you that maybe the few defining things that maybe other people don't have?
Why you? (07:21)
I always have to be careful with this question 'cause no one wants to blow there and trumpet. But I'm like, why are you? Like why are you not someone else? We've talked about circumstance. But what are the things that you within your character got you there versus everyone else who might have quit or not tried as hard or wasn't as competitive or whatever? - That's difficult. I definitely worked hard and lots of people worked hard, right? And I worked really, really hard. And I think, I think one thing that made me even more determined was that, so as I mentioned already, when people see a, I think of a kayaker, they often think of someone quite tall, yeah, they often think of a rower, right? And they're different sports, but most people think rower and they think super tall, big. And I am a little bit small, not typically the typical size for a kayaker. So generally a little bit taller, broader shoulders. - 20. - I'm five six. - Five six, for you. - And I was told regularly, too small. One of my coach, actually the club coach, he was also the great written team coach, came up to me at a certain point when I was really into the sport and said, I just don't think you're ever gonna be big enough, or strong enough to ever be a great kayaker, knowing that I was really wanting to be a great kayaker. And, but also knowing that I did some other sports and was kind of going, maybe you should go and do those because I know you're, I just don't want you to, put all your heart into this and not succeed. - How did that feel? - Devastating, right? This is the sport that I'm falling in love with, that I'm, this is probably I'm about 12 years old. So at this stage, I am training quite regularly. I've already been to the national championships. I've got my sights set on being in the Great Britain Junior team. Devastating. But I think because of that, I just went, well, I'm just gonna keep going. I'm gonna keep trying. I don't care what you've said. I don't care. You know, this is what I wanna do. I'm gonna give it a go and I love it. And I think I'm doing okay at it right now. And I'm just gonna keep trying. What that did for me was made me, made me work harder to prove that actually, because I was told specifically, you're not big enough, you're not strong enough. And yeah, I can't change my height, but I can become stronger. And when I was at the peak of my career, I was the strongest girl in the gym, in the Great Britain team. - I've got to admit, I saw the photos. - I was bench-busting 100 kilos. - You were strong. - So, and I was determined that no one's gonna tell me I'm not strong enough, because I can't change how tall I am, but I can change how strong I am. - Why did it matter though? Why did it matter to be successful to you at this? - Good question. - Because a lot of, I think about that moment where someone tells you, you're gonna fail whatever, we've all had that moment. I think every successful person's had that moment. And people typically go one of two ways. They'll either go, forget this, then chuck it in, whatever. Or they'll have the adverse effect. I almost don't know anybody that sits in the middle. You get some kind of insecurity, which takes you either one way, which either means that I'm gonna triple down and become obsessive, or I'm gonna avoid this at all costs. And I tend to think that people who, this really, really, really intrinsically matters to, for whatever reason, other ones that go the positive way and use it as motivation. - Yeah, definitely. I loved winning. Why? I loved the joy of, I loved winning, but I also loved improvement. And I loved getting better. Quite often, I was told, so in kayaking, there's singles, doubles, fours, K1, K2, K4. And I was always told, you know, not big enough, not strong enough, but also definitely not big enough or strong enough to be in a K4. Definitely not big enough to be in any of the crew boats. K2, K4, you need to be big and strong for those boats. And I probably shouldn't say this, but they used to, it felt to me, defined big and strong as fat. And if you were, so I was skin and bones. I was really skinny, and so I didn't look strong. But they thought someone who looked chunky, had a big backside, was strong. - Okay. - And I know that just because they're big, doesn't mean they're gonna be faster than, they're gonna be more valuable in that boat than me. - So do you think you're underestimated and fairly? - Yeah, I do. And that, so winning World Championships in a K2, getting to Olympic Games in a doubles was very satisfying for me. Whenever I was able to prove that actually you don't have to be what you're describing as this kind of shape, that's not what makes someone fast and useful in a kayak, in a double kayak or in a four. So that used to annoy me.
Healthy conflict within teams (12:34)
- I saw you talk about, one of the things mentioned, when I was doing a little bit of research on you, is this idea of like healthy conflict in teams. Could you explain, 'cause I've never heard of the term. I could imagine, I could guess what it means, but I'd love you to explain what healthy conflict is in terms of teams. - So in a team, it starts with trust. If we don't have trust in a team, then we can't have healthy conflict. And healthy conflict is when we, healthy debate. So this is about being able to know that all of the people in the team have the same objective, the same rule, again, it got the same goal, we're trying to achieve the same thing. And you put forward an idea, and I disagree with that idea. But if we don't have trust in a team, and you're the boss, then I'm not gonna put my hand up and say, I disagree, I don't think we should do it like that. I think we should do it like this. I think that this is the way we should go. I think we need to go down this route. We won't have that argument, an argument, debate, conflict, whatever you wanna call it, if there's not enough trust in the team. If you think that you're gonna be shot down, if you think you're not gonna be listened to, and then the problem with that is that we then walk out of the room, and you've probably been in meetings, right? Where people all sit in the room, and they all nod and go, yeah, brilliant, yeah, we're all gonna do that. And then they walk out of the room, and they go, you got nothing coming, you think I'm gonna do that. And they do that because they haven't had their say, they haven't been able to disagree, and back and forth with their ideas, and have that debate. Even if your idea isn't gone with, they at least want to feel like I've had my say, and I've had my opportunity to put forward my thoughts, and my opinion, and my suggestion. But actually, at the end of the day, this is the best idea for the team, then fine, let's go with that. But at least I've had my opportunity to speak up. - And you talk about, you know, that sounds very sort of analogous to like relationships as well. 'Cause I think, you know, like romantic relationships, right? People get a little bit peeved if they don't feel like they're being heard, and had a chance to express themselves. And also when they have that, when they do express themselves, quite often it's perceived as in the name of being right or winning versus in the name of like progress or solving the problem. It's like me and you versus each other versus me and you versus the problem, right? - Yeah. - How do you build the trust foundation? They like, what's the, how do you get a team to trust each other? And what are the, 'cause if that's the foundation of healthy conflict, I'm like, how do I, you know, what can I do to her? - So one of the things that you can do, and this is what I, you know, I work with teams and leaders, and it's about vulnerability. It's about being able to be vulnerable with your people, with your team. Being able to admit weaknesses, admit mistakes. It's about being able to say, I don't know the answer, I don't know where we're going. I'm not in a way, I don't know. You know, I don't know how to deal with this. Or, you know, just being able to be vulnerable. And that isn't always easy to do. But when you start to do it, it gives permission to people. You know, if you, we do workshops where we're trying to build trust, and people always say, you know, at the end we might ask them something like, share something about a challenge from your childhood. And when people go around and they share and say, what made it difficult or hard to do? And they say, well, it made it easier when someone else went first, because once you've opened up and you've bared yourself a little bit, then I feel, oh, well, he's done it, then it's okay. And no one judged him and no one knocked him. And it's like, okay, well, I can do it too. And knowing that no one's, and when there is that trust, then we know that actually I'm not gonna be, that's not gonna be held against me. Whatever it is that I share, it's not gonna be held against me in the future. It's not gonna be used, and I'm not gonna be shut down for it. - A lot of this is like about the psychology of how people think and operate. And I know that you spent some time working with a psychologist or a sports psychologist when you were rising in your career.
Key lessons from your psychologist (16:46)
I find that super fascinating, but I'd love to know what some of the key, sort of lessons you learn about high performance or about, I guess, like self-regulation from that psychologist as it relates to becoming a world champion. - Yeah, so I did. I worked with a sports psychologist for from the age of 16. - Oh, really? - Yeah, so really young. And I think that that was part of, and you talk about, you know, you asked me earlier, what is it that made me a little bit different, or why did I succeed when others didn't? And I think part of that was, if you had a growth mindset? - Yes, yeah, yeah. - So I think that mine, I didn't know about that then, and neither did a lot of people, but my mum was pretty quite growth mindset, and instilled that quite a lot in me. For example, she, you know, this idea of just constant learning, constantly wanting to learn and be better and recognizing that we can be better all the time, we can improve, and looking outside for other areas of expertise, learning from other sectors and all of that. And she was the one that, you know, it wasn't like I was struggling with my mental strength and confidence or anything. It was just, what else do we need to do? What, who else can help us? Who else can, what else, you know, we don't have all the answers. We wanna learn, we gotta learn from everyone, and I encourage clients in the business world, you know, who can we constantly be learning from all the time? What was the key things? - What are the key things? - Yeah, and also, what are they trying to do? I guess they're trying to make you the best athlete you can be. But what are the things stopping you from being the best athlete you can be? - Ourselves? - Yeah, exactly. Most of the time, we are the ones that get in our own way. - How? - How do we get in our own way? The doubts, the thoughts that we think, the doubt that that seeds, the nerves overcoming us so, just becoming so nervous that you become paralyzed almost, choking under pressure, focusing on the wrong things, not being confident in yourself. Yeah, so many things that we do, fear. - Doubt is a really interesting one. This doubt, anxiety, nerves, lack of confidence, all of that stuff prevents us from being at our best. And that essentially is what, well, it's one of the big parts of what sports psychologist is helping you to do. When an athlete, when you line up, and there's nine of you on the start line at the Olympic Games, all of them, all of those athletes have trained hard. They're all in amazing shape. They're all super fit. They're all, you know, strong. They're, you know, physically, there's not a huge amount of difference between those nine, you know, think about 100 metre sprint at the Olympic Games. There's not a lot of difference between them. What is it that makes one of them win on the day? And not often, it's often not the strongest fastest fittest who wins on the day. It's the one who's the strongest up here. And I really believe that, that this is often what stops people from fulfilling their potential. And that's what I love helping people with now. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Their mental game is what stops people from being the best they can be. Of all the things that we do in our minds, you talked about fear, doubt, anxiety, all these kinds of things. Fear and doubt, like lack of self belief, not believing that you can or those things.
How do people overcome their limiting beliefs? (20:15)
That's probably one of the most common sort of mental games that holds us back or limits us from our full potential. How does, how does one go about overcoming their own limiting beliefs about themselves? Like they think, OK, well, no, I can't do that. Everybody thinks they can't do everything it seems these days. Like, I don't know why. Maybe it's just because of what I do for a living. But I'm just surrounded by an audience of people that have real limiting beliefs. And I wonder why, but I also wonder how you help them overcome their own limiting beliefs. Big question. It's a huge question. How do we overcome our limiting beliefs? It's actually something that I work on a lot with when I am coaching clients. Identifying beliefs that-- so we would start probably with what are some of those limiting beliefs and start to unpick how are those beliefs? How are they serving? I wouldn't be interested in necessarily where they've come from. I would be interested in how are they serving us right now and how are they not serving us? Because sometimes we're believing them because they're serving us for a purpose. They're helping us in some way. But more often than not, those beliefs won't be serving us. So starting to unpick that, almost like one of the pros and cons of having this belief here right now that I can't achieve this. Or one of my limiting beliefs was that I'm not very good at sales. I had to-- I had to-- I've run a training consultant at the day. I have to find clients. So what's more helpful belief and starting to unpick what would be a better way of seeing this? What are my strengths? And what would be a new belief that would be serving me better? I think in some point in your journey, you probably not at one particular moment. But gradually, I imagine you started to build evidence within yourself that you could be a great kayaker. And I imagine that was over a long period of time, probably. There wasn't one day where you woke up and thought, fuck, I'm good. Yeah, exactly. And I think that is a big part of where we get our confidence from, is like our past experiences. Yeah. So whenever we do something, we start to build a bank of memories. And when we're at the next situation that is similar, we can choose to draw on the bank of negative experiences where we cocked it up. Or we can choose to draw on the bank of positive experiences where we succeeded and we did it really well. And the trick is-- and if we're not conscious about it, chances are we might pick the experience of when we failed. And then that's when we start to regurgitate all those thoughts and feelings of embarrassment and anxiety and nerves. And that doesn't help us. And that's like that probably with then hinder performance, which is-- Absolutely. It perpetuates the doubt. And because you're reminding yourself of all, remember, last time when you did it, you cocked it up and you messed up and you did this. But then you then cocked it up because you're thinking about-- And then you cocked it up because you're-- and we think in images. And so when you think of something that you messed up, you're seeing yourself doing it, right? You're imagining it in your mind right here and now. And so the trick is to consciously recall the positive experience, the past successes. And if there's nothing in the bank, exactly of that experience, there's chances are there's something similar. There's always something similar. And so I would work with clients to identify, what are all of the successes that you've had, not just in that specific scenario. But let's look at lots of different successes. And then let's pick out what are the attributes that allowed you to achieve those things. Because quite often, someone will go, oh, well, I achieved that. But it was because the weather was good on that day. Or I achieved that because my team did it really. It wasn't me. So it's about starting to unpick actually, what role did you play in that success? And what are the attributes that allowed you, your strengths, your attributes that allowed you to achieve that? And then we start to build up the bank of successes and the strengths and the attributes, which we can transfer into any scenario. How much do you think people-- and this is-- I don't know why I'm asking this question, because it's not quantifiable. But like, to what extent do you think people underestimate their potential generally? Oh, massively. Like, would you say like over 95%? Because I think I'd say over-- I think I'd say people realize, well, like, typically, the average person realizes about 5% of their potential. And I only say this because, again, like you said, I'm a very normal kid from my parents' bankrupt. Like, I dropped out, I got kicked out of school, poor grades, everything. But this one thing I had-- and I always say, like, the one thing I had was I genuinely believed that I was going to be where I am today. Just for no-- without a ton of evidence, just generally believed. And in fact, one of the reasons why I believed it was not because I had any bank of successes yet, but I had a little bit. But it was actually contrasting me to my peers when I was 14 and thinking, I think that I have skills they don't. And I think that if these are the people that become adults, then I will have-- I will always have that advantage. So that was my way of like-- and so when I-- I cocked up my grades and GCSE. And when school starts with that narrative, that, OK, well, you got an E. So you're going to be having E life. You're going to be broken and happy. No, you're wrong. So I get-- So you were gathering evidence-- you were looking at your strengths, which is part of the puzzle. I know exactly. You may not have had the experiences and the evidence of the achievements and the certificates and all of that. But what's more valuable is what you had, is the non-tangible stuff. Because if we go through life only assessing our success on the tangible stuff, then our confidence, our self-belief, actually, and their two different things, will be quite fragile. Yeah, I can see that. Because you're always assessing yourself against-- A trophy. A trophy or society. Because you're compared to, oh, I got this award against all of these other people. And I won this trophy. And I want to pass this grade. And it's always against somebody else in a society rather than looking at the intangible attributes that allowed you to achieve those successes. Because that's what isn't measurable against society and is transferable to other domains. And you're completely right. And I've never actually thought about it that way before. Because I've always tried to figure out why at 14, I was convinced that I would be successful. And 18, I wrote my diary. I'm going to have a range I ever sport before I'm 25. I'm going to be a millionaire from 25. I achieved all of those things. Just knew I would. But as you said, it was purely based on almost a strength audit or skills audit versus other people that I knew. And I thought, oh, those skills are really good skills. And they'll take you far. But school is about tangibles. And I would say a grade is a tangible. So school says, OK, you got an E. So unfortunately, it creates the impression from all angles, you're going to be poor. And you're not going to be that successful. But Timmy over there, who's got an A, he's really going to kill it as a surgeon. And I think, so how you make it alive out of that system and still with your self-esteem and self-belief intact is remarkable. And I think that what you had is better than the certificate. Yeah, yeah. But what it does is it allows you to go, this is intrinsic in me. No one can take it. No one can take that away. And my self-worth isn't based on a certificate and a trophy and an award. How do you give people that? Well, so you work on identifying those strengths. What are those strengths? So we do this all the time. We work with clients on what are those strengths and where's the evidence of those strengths? And when they start to see the evidence of those strengths, so I'm working with a client. And so one of your strengths is being an authentic leader. One of your strengths is building relationships. Where's the evidence of that? Look at all these people. What do you do about weaknesses, though? So would you highlight their weaknesses? I think it's important to highlight both. I think it's more important to work on exploiting your strengths. And I would-- so we do a lot of diagnostics. We use behavioral profiling and all of that kind of stuff. And all of that will bring up both. And I think it's important to really be aware of your areas of development. But ultimately, if I'm sat on the start line of the World Championships, and I'm focused on my weaknesses and all the things I need to avoid, my confidence is fragile. Chances of performance and rest, slim. And so in that moment, I absolutely need to have on the tips of my fingers what my strengths are. And I need to know them. And I need to be able to exploit them. And I think the more you work on those, the better. What do you think about this idea of labeling yourself and your line of work and the broader labels we give ourselves?
What do you think about this idea of labels? (29:28)
Even if it's just like bad salesman, you talked about that being one of your previous limiting beliefs or labels. I think they're not helpful. And I think it's really important that we're aware of those labels that we're giving ourselves. And the awareness is the first step. We can't change it if we don't notice it. So we need to notice the label in the first place. And then it's a bit-- it's a limiting belief, really, isn't it? And so is that label serving me? Is it helping me achieve my end goal? It feels like it sometimes, because it's making me fit in and it's giving me comfort. So I see this a lot with people that will say, I am a-- in my case, I'm just going to use my case-- I am a social media CEO. And so I've been a social media CEO for 10 years. It gives me some kind of community to be part of. It gives me a sense of identity. But at the same time, it stops me from being all that I can be. And this is one thing I was going over on my book. It's like, now I've left my company. It's so tempting to just start another social media business. But there's so much more I can do. And so I'm asking you this question, because I'm in the midst of really thinking about it, is how do I just resist my labels and be a fucking DJ? I'm doing this big theatrical show and working in biotech. And I don't know. This idea of liberating yourself from your own labels has been super relevant to me. I think that it becomes your identity is a bigger part of the problem. It's like when an athlete retires from sport, it took me, and it still takes me, I catch myself saying, I'm an athlete, I'm not a business person. And I go, oh, I don't have a background in business. Yeah, I've been running a business for 11 years. And I was a professional athlete for 15 years. So it's almost the same amount of experience in business as I do in sport. Yeah, I label myself for so long. And that became my identity. And your identity is CEO of a social media company. And so that's who I am. And it's hard to let go of that, because it's part of who I am. Yeah, it was comfortable. It was comfortable, right? And you know who that person is, what the behavior of that person's like, and you're stepping into a new role that, what does this new person look like? But how rewarding has that been for you to kind of, I guess, reinvent yourself from being an athlete to now being an entrepreneur and a business person? Was it worth it? That's what I'm saying, is it worth it to step out of that label? Yeah, totally. And we should all have multiple careers. Yeah. And I think as time, you know, as we're living longer and longer, we all will have multiple careers. And I think we need to find the courage to step into new careers all the time and reinvent. And just recognize that there's so many skills that we can transfer from that other career, that label identity and bring into the next one. And that's what will allow us to succeed into the next one. And recognizing that we're never going to grow unless we step out of that comfort zone. And yeah, get a little bit scared of who this new person could be or would be or should be. And we'll find out. And that's the exciting thing, is we're going to find out. How do you put some people, that's terrifying. Yeah. The thought of like throwing themselves into that place of uncertainty that they have to travel through before they get to their new self. How do you get someone to come willingly into uncertainty, to leave that job or to, you know, take on that promotion or to pivot in their career when they're scared of the unknown? Or, you know, it's like, well, then I would think about what I would think about rather than what I'm afraid of, I'm thinking about what I'm excited about. And so rather than I'm afraid of what I'm going to leave behind or I'm afraid of what might happen, I'm going to say more about what could happen. And when we focus on what we want and what we could have, and you know, it's optimism, isn't it? It's about what's possible and what could I achieve? You know, and you asked me earlier about, you know, some of the things about sports psychology. And visualization was a massive technique that I learned from a sports psychologist and employed and still use all the time. And I think when you can start to visualize what that new role person identity could be, and when you bring it to life with all of your senses and see it really vividly, then that's exciting. And what could I achieve and what could this look like? And the power of visualization is that your mind does, when you see it really vividly, your mind doesn't know the difference between a vividly imagined experience and a real life experience. - What's your process for visualization?
Your process of visualisation (34:16)
Now, is it something that you do actively, you set time aside and do it? Or is it just something that you naturally now do when you're pursuing a goal? - So a little bit of both. As an athlete, it was definitely something that I would sit down, usually I'd be lying on my bed. I would have done some relaxation 'cause the more we clear our mind and relax, the easier it is to visualize and to see really clearly. And so I would, it would be a conscious, right, I'm gonna spend the next 15 minutes or even two minutes or five minutes or whatever time I had, visualizing my next race and seeing myself execute that race plan as perfectly as I can and in exactly the right way. And I would visualize everything from, if it was the Olympic discipline and I would have got nine boats on a start line, I'm seeing my, I don't know which lane I'm gonna be in when it comes to race day. So I'm seeing myself racing every lane. I'm seeing myself with the headwind, with the tailwind, with it raining. I'm seeing myself cock up the start because that might happen, but then I just gonna recover from it and I'm gonna see myself recover and I'm gonna see myself win from behind. I'm gonna see myself win from the front. I'm gonna see, imagine, you know, the start being delayed or it's a full start. All these eventualities, so that when it comes to the event, I'm prepared and it can just all unfold and I'm not phased by anything that happens, but most importantly, I've seen it happen the way I want it to happen and then I believe that it can happen. And what visualization also does is when we're visualizing a goal, for example, it starts to activate the subconscious to generate creative ideas about how we can achieve our goal. I don't know how it works and why it works, but it's mind blowing and it does work. And it starts to get your brain to perceive and recognize the different resources that you need to achieve your goal. It's like the law of attraction and it starts to activate that in your life and bring in the people, the resources, the environment, the circumstances that you need to achieve your goal. And so now, what do I do? I probably, I do spend some time consciously going, right, I'm just gonna spend two or three minutes visualizing my goal, I'm seeing it happen, I'm seeing it realize. But then other times, I'm probably just, you know, driving in my car and subconsciously, you know, like daydreaming almost. But I think the conscious, right, I'm gonna visualize now is really powerful because then you start to really, it starts to ingrain in the subconscious. - So the law of attraction stuff, I think sometimes it can take people one of two ways because I do believe in visualization.
Your discipline and how to apply it (37:05)
My visualizations over the years have been like the daydreaming stuff, but then also when I was like really, really, really broken, I'm in a more side, like I boarded up house, I would frequently look at stuff that in the future I wanted, so I'd look at these like mansion houses and whatever. And that was me kind of just setting my, I don't know, trying to peer into my future life. The bit that I think sometimes gets lost when we talk about like the law of attraction, it's almost akin to like, when you set off in the morning, you put your satin out in and you say, this is where I wanna go, I wanna go Tesco. But then if you don't like, put the key in and put your foot down, you're just gonna be sat in your garage. And, but there's something about knowing where you wanna go. And as you say, like almost programming your brain to trick your brain to think, to completely be convinced that you will get there, that I then, that from my experience, then makes you take actions in that direction. So like, I'm sure you then, you visualize yourself as a world champion, but then you're like, you go in the gym and you train like a world champion because that's your destination. And the opposite is also true. Like if you visualize yourself, not being a world champion, what's the point? So my real question here is about all of the actions and the discipline it takes, especially as an athlete, to get you from where you are to that visualized destination. I'm really keen to hear about like the discipline, the consistency because you're in a physical, very, very physical endurance race. And you know, it's like, I think Muhammad Ali said, like it's one in the gym, it's one in training, a lot of it. And we all struggle with that. We all struggle with like showing up on Monday when it's raining. So like, what's the key there? - So I think you're absolutely right. You know, when we visualize, it gives us the motivation to believe that it can happen. - Yeah, yeah. - And that's at the core of it because if we don't believe it can happen, then what's the point? And so yes, we absolutely have to take action, but we need the motivation to take action. I can't say that, you know, 100% of the days that I was training, I was, oh yeah, I can't wait to get out there and go training. It's really freezing outside. It's like the middle of winter. On the water, on the river Thames and it's like ice. Yeah, that wasn't appealing every day. Luckily the funding came in and we got to go travel and train in warmer climates from Florida and wherever else. But yes, there's this, you know, goal that's the world championships, it's the Olympic Games. It's, you know, those big dream goals. That are highly motivating. But on those day, every single day, I'd be lying if you, you know, if you could say that goal in four years time is what got me out of bed. On that rainy freezing cold, you know, January morning. - But isn't that good to learn? Like it was just take like due today. - Well, yeah, so it's, but also, I do a lot of work around intrinsic motivation and understanding what drives us. And we all have different drivers. And unsurprisingly, one of my drivers is a sense of achievement. And so my driver wasn't necessarily on that particular day. Oh, I've got to train really hard 'cause I want to win the world championships in two years time. My driver was probably more that my coach has set targets every month that throughout the winter, you know, for five months of the winter, we would have targets every month. In the gym, there would be certain exercises in the gym that we've got to hit. We would do tests on, we would do time trials on running and swimming and on the water. So it's part of our cardiovascular training. So, and for me, that was really, I loved hitting those targets basically, that monthly, right. So if I do, and I know that if I do this training today, then I'm going to get better and I've got a test on the weekend and I want to hit that target, I want to smash the target actually because, yeah, there's a good chance I'm going to win the world championship is not just hitting the targets, I need to smash the targets. And so that sense of achievement for me was a big driver. For other people in my team, it might have been, and on actually on other days, it might have been actually, I want to get out and go train because I want to see my teammates because we have a laugh and there's banter and it's fun and I enjoy the connection and the sense of that being part of a team and the community and all of that. And so it's the affiliation that's driving me on some days. And, but for others, I can think of some of the girls and my team actually a sense of recognition was a big driver. So needing that, you know, today, you know, you worked really hard, you've really put everything into that session, you're like hearing that from the coach or, you know, look how far you've come or look what you've, you know, the progress you've made or so everyone. And so when a coach can tap into that, knowing what is it that's going to get you out of bed today, that's when we start to get the best out of people or the best out of ourselves. And so, you know, when I work with leaders, it's about what motivates and drives me intrinsically, not just the carrot and the pace, pace lip and the promotion and, you know, and all of that. That's the external stuff, which isn't very sustainable. We need to know what drives us as individuals but also what drives our team and tap into both of those and start to ask what, what is it that, am I getting that every day? And if I'm not, how can I get that from work? What is it that I need to get? And also really interesting, you know, if you're a leader of a business and you're working with a team, are my drivers influencing how I operate with others in my team? You know, so if my driver is a sense of achievement but your driver is to make a meaningful contribution and I'm pushing you, you know, we need to win this and we need to get the next pitch and you're like, no, I just want to really help these people. I'm pushing my driver onto you and that's not working for you. So it's really important to be aware of what my driver is and know that it's not the same as yours chances are. - Yeah, that's a good, that's a really good point and I think I've probably, as the one that probably values a sense of achievement and forward motion and progress above all else at times, when I'm trying to motivate people, especially like friends, I'm trying to sell them on the value of achievement when they're probably just not asked about what to do to the thing. - I don't need to win. - Yeah. - I just want to- - That doesn't matter to me. I want to fill ownership of this piece of work, actually.
How do you find what drives other people (43:38)
That's what's really important to me. - And how do you find out what someone's driver drivers or motivations or intrinsic motivations are? Is there a system or like a test or? - Yeah, so I, there's some brilliant work from a chap called Dean Spitzer and he talks about super motivation and this idea that there is, you know, there's intrinsic and there's extrinsic motivation. So what we use is diagnostic actually when I work with clients and it will identify, it forces you to pick, 'cause we all want, you know, maybe some recognition or some achievement or to feel like we're making a contribution or to be with people, all of these, but it really forces you to identify what really is your big driver. So yeah, so I use that, but I mean, I think when you talk to people, you can start to, you know, the more you get to know someone and you ask them questions and you see the way they operate and you see them light up when they get certain feedback or when they're doing certain pieces of work. So we can start to get a feel for that just when we get to know people. - I, you know, I asked you there about the like discipline and consistency and what gets you up every day on like a rainy Tuesday or whatever. And it was interesting that you kind of like shorten your horizon or your like, I think people typically think they want to get to the top of the mountain. So they think, okay, let's make a plan to get to the top of the mountain, but you were so focused on these like short-term, shorter goals, which meant that I guess you were progress sorts of almost like invisibly compounds to get you to the top of the mountain. So instead of like, we want to get to staircase number 1000, we're like, let's get 10, let's do 10 stairs today. And then 10 stairs tomorrow and 10 stairs and 10 stairs. And by the time you know it, you're at the top of the mountain, right? - Yeah, well, literally, I, four years ago, I climbed Mount Tubkall. - Of course you did. - As you do. - We went, there was probably 10 of us in the group. One of the girls that was on the group was a friend of mine. And she had, I don't know why she joined the group, but she had a fear of heights. - Oh God. - And we're climbing a mountain. And it was fine for the first day and a half because it's just like a windy road. The morning of the summit, it's literally, we're going up, we feel like we're going up a steep mountain and there's boulders. And she literally cannot, she's so scared of heights. And she's like, "And I can't do it, I can't do it." And eventually I was like, "Dudie, you just need to focus. "What her biggest fear actually was also getting down." - Okay. - Looking down and thinking, "Check out how I might get, "but how the heck am I going to get back down?" Because that looks really scary and it's slippery and there's the scree, so the ground is loose. And I'm like, "Don't even think about that." Right now, all you need to do is take one step at a time. One meter at a time, that's all I want you to focus on. And one meter and one meter and one meter and we'll figure out the rest. And you might not even get to the top, who knows, you might, you might not, we might not, but just do one meter at a time. And then we'll figure out the down bit and we'll take it one step at a time on the way down. Because that's all we can do, right? In that moment is take one step at a time. And it's the same, whether it's a goal to achieve, you know, ex turnover in a business or this many sales or whatever the business is or whatever walk of life. Yes, we need to know the end goal. But actually, we just need to focus on the process. 'Cause the summit looks scary, but one meter doesn't look scary. Exactly. And if you just do one meter at a time. And also, you know, or whether it's the fear or, "Oh my God, it's so far away. We've got another four hours to go." It might be, you know, whatever it is, well, actually, let's just do the next five minutes and let's see if that is feasible because it probably is, right? Can I do one, yeah, can you take this next step? Yeah, I can definitely take the next step. Okay, can you take the next one? Can I take the next one? And that feels really feasible. You mentioned earlier getting, at the very beginning of this conversation, getting news, I think when you were about 24, 25 that you had an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome. I'm now gonna be incredibly naive and narrow-minded. When you read chronic fatigue syndrome, you think tiredness, that's what you think, right? But I know it's a lot more crippling than that. And I know that it's a lot more devastating that especially for an athlete, talk me through finding out you had this disorder, but also what it meant for your career and how it changed things. Heal, this week, tons of you, hundreds of you, have tagged me on Instagram and on LinkedIn and on Facebook as well, with your heal pictures, some of you are trying heal for the first time. And it's so wonderful to see, because as you know, I'm a very big advocate of you, not only because I sponsored this podcast, but because I've used heal for the last three and a half years to make myself nutritionally complete at times when my career put a lot of pressure on me to speak on stage or to travel or to do business. So I'm a huge advocate of you. If you guys watching this podcast on YouTube, you'll remember last week that I said I was gonna take off my top and show you the results that I've seen for heal. What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna do two things. The first thing is I'm gonna show you my before and after, from March until about September time, right? So here's my before and after. And also, I mentioned in a previous episode that I've got a friend who's been a healer again for the last, I think about the last two years as well. He was a friend that really struggled with food and had a, what you want would class as an eating disorder and he went from being a little bit chunky to having six pack abs. I'm also gonna take his top off so you guys can see that. If you're looking at your diet and seeing that you're a little bit nutritionally deficient in any way and you do wanna give it a try, let me know how you get on. DM me on Instagram, tag me on Instagram so I can share the photo, but let me know how you get on. I'm gonna tell you a secret. For the past five years while building social chain into a 700 person global social media powerhouse, I've been using a service that I've never really mentioned. Some of you might know that service, it's called Fiver, F-I-V-E-R-R. It's my little secret. If I've ever had a project where I've needed affordable skilled freelancers to help me, whether it's building a social media application that made my company three million pounds or just a video I needed editing or helped making a logo or making a website, I've used Fiver. Now that my secret's at the bag, here's what I'm gonna do for you. If there's a freelance service you need or a project you need help with, a logo, a website, a voiceover, a video you need made, anything at all, go to Fiver.com/CEO, I'll put the link in the description. That's Fiver.com/CEO. Message me, the service you want from the website and every single week I'll personally send you the credit to your Fiver account so that you can get that project done. Thank you to Fiver for the sponsorship and for supporting entrepreneurs and freelancers around the world, I'm looking forward to all of your messages. Talk me through finding out you had this disorder but also what it meant for your career and how it changed things.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (50:34)
So yeah, like you say, it was 25, 26 when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and yes, it's more than just fatigue. It's not just that I'm tired today, it's being devoid of energy, exhausted, almost on a permanent basis. It's also for me included muscle pain to the point where my muscles were, sorry, muscle ache to the point where it was painful. To the point where I couldn't stand in the shower and hold my hands up here to wash my hair for more than 10 seconds 'cause it was too painful. Some people have symptoms, I didn't get this so much but sort of, you know, like can't concentrate, can't focus, brain fog. Some people are actually bedridden. Some people are actually in a wheelchair. Luckily I wasn't as bad as that but I was bad to the point where, yeah, I couldn't be in my kayak paddling for more than 10 minutes at a very light, gentle walk type pace. Having gone from winning world championships for two and a half hours at a very high pace to, can't get my hands, hold my hands up here. I was literally two months earlier able to rattle off 100 press ups in one go and then can't hold my hands up here for more than 10 seconds. So that's the physical element and that's only the physical element but the mental and emotional battle was just as challenging because you can't see it. So it's not, you know, I got frustrated to the point where I actually wished that my skin was covered in spots so that people could see that there was something wrong with me and could understand that I was going through something, that I was in pain and I was, you know, unwell but I looked fine. So I got diagnosed with the Onis in 2003, beginning of the season, it was like April and then so following year is coming up to the Olympics 2004. So I'm training for the Olympics or wanting to be training. So six months later, it was only six months later that they actually diagnosed it because it takes six months for them to eliminate everything else and go, oh, this is fatigue that's been going on for more than six months, therefore you have chronic fatigue syndrome. And I went off to Florida and the sports team doctor was saying, right, you need to do this graded return to exercise. They think originally and they still thought it was over training. - Really? - That's the immediate assumption, right? Athletes tired, muscle ache, must be over trained. So they diagnosed you, they offered me this programme of like gently build up your return to sport. So start with 10 minutes at a heart rate of 115, I can't remember, and then 15 minutes at 115 and then 20 minutes and 30 minutes. And when you can get to 40 minutes, then we can go up to 120 heart rate and so on and so on. And so I went out, like my training group and my coach, all in Florida, so I went out to Florida to train and I just couldn't get past 20 minutes. And so I went out to, I went to see a doctor in Florida and the doctor, he ran some blood tests and basically, like I still looked like an athlete. I'm still pretty, my muscleie, I'm fair, I'm lean, I'm in Florida, I've got a tan. And he basically looked at me and said, well, we run all the blood tests, there's nothing coming up, nothing's, there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with you, you look really fit and well, I think you're fine. And so that just, this frustration of, I can't see it and therefore there must be nothing wrong. It's mental health, right? People who were suffering with depression or anxiety or whatever it is, we can't see it. And so we don't know it and we don't understand it. And so the mental and emotional battle was really challenging and even people in my sport, not understanding what's wrong with Anna, she can't cope with it anymore, she's too lazy to train or whatever they're saying or these things and that's hard. - How did it make you feel? - So in the beginning, I frustrated, devastated, confused, sad, lonely, so many different things. And frustrated because also we didn't really know what it was and the doctors are saying it's over-training. And actually when I reflect on the previous two years, I'd had episodes of fatigue, which I now know were episodes of that same illness, but that only lasted for two weeks or three weeks or six weeks. And I would stop training or I'd really cut back on training and then I'd be able to come back and I'd be fine again. And so I only know that it was, I knew in my heart when I went to see the team doctor that one day and I remember it, that it wasn't over-training because for six months I had been doing less training than everyone else in my group. And I can't be over-training, I'm doing less than everyone else because we were so conscious of this and it's over-training that I was not over-training. And the doctors are like, "Oh, you've over-trained." And I was like, "Jesus." And then that was it, I didn't train again for 18 months. And after working with the team doctor, I went to other doctors, I tried conventional medicine, I tried alternative therapies and nothing was working. And that was the hardest part as well, was that one, you can't really tell me what's wrong with me and two, you can't tell me how to deal with this. And then I went to see one doctor and he said, basically there's no cure, there's no treatment and you don't think you're ever gonna get back in a kayak. You might get back in a kayak, but you're never gonna race at that highest level. You won't race again. So that was a pretty big moment. - You said that to you. - Yeah. And how's that to you? - Yeah, just like this is my identity, this is who I am, this is my life, this is my career. I still have ambitions left to fulfill. And I don't want something like this to end my career. I wanna end it on my terms when I choose that I'm done. And so, yeah, that summer, watching the Olympic games on the Telly and Athens, it was devastating. And, but I guess I always believed that I would find a way, I was like, there has to be a solution to this, there has to be a way out. And I guess that I'm a very optimistic person and a very much a possibility, a possibility and I go like that, I don't know if that's a word, but believing that it's possible, that there is a way out, there has to be a way out. And I guess I didn't know whether there was, but I just had to believe that there was. And I had to believe that I would get out of this and that I would find a way back and that I would get back to training and racing one day. Otherwise, what did I have? And not that my life would be over if I couldn't paddle, but just that's what that belief, I think is what kept me going in that time. And eventually to cut a long story short, I did find a treatment for the illness and I did recover and I did get back. But it wasn't an easy journey. - Before we get on to what the treatment was in your recovery, do they know what's happening to you, like physiologically, when you have that disorder? Do they know what's causing your- - The problem is, is that there are many different schools of thought. - Okay. - And it depends who you talk to and it depends which doctor and what clinical or what study you read or- - Which one do you believe? - I believe based on the treatment that I did, which was a treatment called reverse therapy. And it was founded by a chap called Dr. John Eaton and it was only just, it was quite a new therapy when I did it back in 2005, four. And essentially the symptoms are like alarm bells going off in your body. So these symptoms, the pain, the fatigue, the exhaustion, the cough folks, any of the symptoms that you're experiencing are alarm bells and your body's way of telling you that there are things going on in your life that your body doesn't like, whether that be pressures, stresses, relationships, environment, emotions, all sorts of things that are triggering these symptoms and these alarm bells. And basically if you don't listen to the alarm bells, they'll get louder and louder and louder to the point where eventually they just go by, done. You're just not gonna move now, you're not gonna, until you listen up, how loud do I need to get before you're gonna listen? And for me it was to the point where I couldn't train, when I can't train, now I'm gonna listen up because now it's really bad and now I need to pay attention. And so I'm not particularly articulate at explaining what's going on physiologically, but that's my interpretation of how the symptoms arrive and how you deal and then what I did. So the treatment that I did is about identifying what are those triggers, what are those things that your body and mind are saying I don't like? - What were they? - And so for me, non-expression of emotion is one of the most common triggers. And that certainly was the case for me to the point where I didn't open up to anyone really. I have really close friends, I have family, I have a sister I'm really close to. And of course I shared it with them, but I cried on my own for sure, but I never cried in front of anyone else. I didn't really express how bad it was. In fact, to the point where people would ask and how he'd be like, "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine." And I would just block it out to them all the time. And that was just making it worse. And actually when I started to, one of the biggest and most powerful steps that I took was opening up to people, to the people closest to me, sharing what I was experiencing with them, allowing them to see my struggle and my vulnerability and let them help me. That was a big turning point for me, was being able to just express that emotion and share and open up. Because part of what I was doing was I was isolating myself by not sharing it and that was perpetuating it. And these emotions are worry or pressure that you're experiencing because of the sport, or what were these emotions that you were suppressing or what were you suppressing? - When I was competing or before, in the beginning, the emotions were different, but in the middle of the illness, just not sharing it with people, not expressing how hard I'm finding this, how tough this is, how sad I am, how frustrated I am, how just like I can't cope anymore kind of emotions, those emotions I wasn't even expressing in the middle of the illness. - You're being tough. - Yeah, I'm being poker face, Anna, who has learnt to do this because that's what you do in sport, right? - Isn't that almost like there's a bit of a paradox there that the thing that made you successful was also the thing that kind of undid you to some degree it sounds like? - Well, so-- - That composure and resilience and that-- - Yeah, so when you're on the competitive arena of sport and you turn up on race day, poker face on, game face, I'm tough, whether I've missed the last two weeks 'cause of an injury or for whatever reason, you're never gonna know that because I'm here today and I'm on fire and I'm ready to race. And that's brilliant on the race arena, but outside of that, not helpful. Not helpful in so many ways in terms of building relationships, in terms of building trust. We talked about trust earlier.
Benefits of being vulnerable (01:03:17)
You can't build trust and relationships unless you open up, unless you express vulnerability. - So true. I think that's one of the reasons I struggle with my relationships, my romantic relationships is because I bring the tough guy thing into my personal life sometimes and it doesn't ever help. And I think the progress I've made actually in my personal relationships, as you've said, has been by admitting more that I'm wrong and saying how I feel and being like, "You know what I mean?" And that's not conducive with the whole, like, resilient, tough guy business thing that I have to do. - I don't think they're mutually exclusive. - It doesn't feel like they are, but you're right. As like, they're definitely not mutually exclusive, but they're two different people trying to achieve two different objectives. In business, there's a sense of like, you know, you've got to really like stand up for yourself. You've got to be ruthless to some degree in some situations, especially when you're dealing with teams and there's bullshit landing on your desk every day and you're getting horrible, horrible news and you have to put on a brave face for your team 'cause you just found out that your whole service has been hacked and they've basically, half of them have lost their jobs or the pandemic has just struck. And then going like, I know what you're saying. Do you think of certain moments, I think I'm thinking one particular moment, which I always talk about in this podcast, where on the way to work, I've got this news that we've been hacked. And I've got 100 or 200 people sat in the office in front of me that are now looking through the window and thinking what's going on. And my need to be composed and optimistic at a time when I probably was panicking a little bit inside, I think got us through. I think if I'd walked out there and then like, "Listen guys, I am shitting it here." But in my personal life, it's very important to have that intimacy and vulnerability. - I think there's a balance actually. And I think in business, you are, if you are able to be a little bit vulnerable and I'm not saying vulnerable to the point where you look really weak, but vulnerable to the point where you're honest. And you might go, "You know what, shit's happened." And actually I'm a little bit scared, but we're gonna find a way. And I don't know how we're gonna figure this out right now and it's not great. And but, you know, it's about having confidence in who I am and what we do. And confident in the people around us and my team and you lot and all of us that we're gonna figure this out. - Yeah. - So there's a balance there between, "I'm human and yes, I'm scared like you because this is shit." And this is a bad situation that we didn't want to happen. And let's admit that. Let's put that on the table and be honest about it. Because people, we build trust with people when we're honest and we show a little bit of vulnerability and humanity. And that's how we build relationships because otherwise we're just putting up this tough guy front all the time who doesn't have any feelings, right? - Yeah. - Can't relate to that, can't resonate, can't connect. - Yeah. - How do we connect with people? Whereas actually, oh, you're just a human being who's scared too. And I'm scared and therefore it's okay to be scared. But actually I'm scared but we're gonna find a way. So it's confidence and we're gonna figure this out because we are good at what we do. You know, our definition when we do our resilient leader workshops is resilient leaders confidence and has confidence in who they are and what they do. And understands their areas of strength and their areas of development and finds a way to bounce back and create opportunities. And so if I'm confident in who I am and what I do, yeah, I can admit that I don't know what to do right now. But I know that I have the skills and the resources within me and my people that we're gonna figure this out. I don't know what that way forward is yet, but I know that we're gonna find a way. - What if, okay, so what if you, and this is me playing double as advocate, what if you don't know that you're gonna find a way? So say you're scared, you don't think you're gonna find a way and you think it's all over. Say you've got 500 employees out there that are waiting for you at the middle of the pandemic to make a statement to the team. Do you walk out and lie? If you, within yourself genuinely, as the CEO of a company, don't think it's over. Because of, I don't know, the pandemic has just happened and the business has evaporated. When you walk out of front of your team, surely you've got to just lie to their faces to some degree. Like you've got to find that. - I think that you have to believe. We always, no matter what the situation is, we can only be truly great at what we do if we believe without doubt that the future is bright. - Yeah, some leaders don't. Naturally, you think of just some people don't. So by like probabilistically, there's gonna be some leaders that when the pandemic struck thought we are finished. And that, as we said earlier about like the self-fulfilling mindset, will actually probably take them out of business. And I don't know, just, 'cause I don't think I've either been comfortable in my career to tell my team that I'm scared. I don't think I've ever actually been scared because I kind of resist in moments where I probably should be scared. I'm so focused on solutions that fear or joy or all these other feelings don't really seem to be relevant or useful to me. But I don't think I could bring myself to tell the team I was ever scared when I was at social. - Maybe you don't need to say I'm scared, but it might be that, do you know what? Yeah, this is shit. - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I could do that. - And actually right now, I don't know how we're gonna get out of this. But I do have confidence in my ability and all of us together as a team that we're gonna find a way. - The leaders have to lie sometimes. - I don't, I think we need to be honest. I think that we need to be transparent. And the more we can be transparent and we can be honest in what we do, the better relationships we build, the better connections, the more trust we have in a team. And we figure it out together. - I agree. Yeah, so going back to your, I wanna know, so what exactly did you do in terms of, you know, daily to overcome your disorder?
Overcoming your disorder (01:09:26)
Was it, was there, you addressed, you know, started expressing yourself more. Was there anything you had to take or was there, you know? - So there was no medicine, there was no pill, there was no massage treatment, there was nothing like that. It purely is a recognition that the mind and the body are connected. And therefore I needed to figure out what these triggers are. One of, so to give you a bit of context, so I leading up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, I left the coach that I was working with that had got me to become a world champion, but I now wanted to go and race at the Olympic Games. And he was very much a marathon coach and encouraged me to go find someone who really specialized in sprint racing. So I ended up for three years having a coach who was based in another country. And I would go and train with them sometimes and then I would come back to the UK and I would train on my own. And he would send me the training programme, we'd speak on the phone, he'd email it to me, I'd do the training. And I would basically train a lot of the most days I would turn up to the training, do the training. And I would motivate enough to be able to push myself really hard, I had no problem with training on my own in the sense that some people can't push themselves hard and I haven't got the motivation to turn up and do that. But the problem with that was that I, and I didn't realize this at the time, I was isolating myself. And I think I, so I wasn't engaged, there was my club, I was at my club, but I would turn up to my club and they'd all go off and train separately and I'd train on my own. And then I'd often turn up times when they weren't there, I wouldn't engage with the British team really much and I was just, more and more isolating myself. And then getting frustrated 'cause I didn't have a coach, he was by my side. And I thought that all I needed to do was train hard. I thought, and the reason I stuck with this coach was 'cause he was a great coach and I thought the training programme was brilliant. And I thought all I need to do is follow a great training programme and work really hard. And I thought that was enough. And actually I didn't, I'm not a robot. And I needed, I needed human connection and I needed emotional support and I needed a place to vent and I needed to be able to show frustration and when the training was hard or when I was exhausted and I had no one to even talk to on the riverside bank. Yeah, I'm talking to the ducks. You know, it's like I had no outlet for my emotions. I had no, and I didn't even speak up and tell my coach that I was frustrated that he sent me the programme only two minutes before I needed to be at the training. You know, I was gonna train and 'cause there's this five hour time difference. And I just was probably quite unhappy but didn't realise because I was so focused on the goal and the end goal and got to train hard and this is what it takes that I was so not in tune with what was going on emotionally. And I was at my best when I was training in a group environment with a coach by my side every day, supporting me, I'm an extrovert. I get my energy from other people and there I was spending my days alone doing this really intense training programme on my own. That is not conducive to a really good mental and emotional health. And so it was really clear that that was not, that wasn't sustainable. And that was why I had these periods of, oh yeah, three weeks, falling apart and I'd have to stop. And then when I'd get back to an environment that I was happy in, it was all good and I would train hard and I'd be amazing and I had full of energy and I had my best year. And then I would change and the environment would change. So my environment and the people around me and my emotional happiness was some of the things that I needed to get a grip on. - It's so fascinating that people really underestimate the value of human connection, but also the environment we're operating in.
Value Of Social Connection
The importance of connection (01:13:32)
Like hugely, I had a conversation with a friend and he'll be listening to this podcast 'cause he's never ever missed one. He was working at our mall companies, Social Chain for many years and he's gone freelance and he was talking a little bit about feeling a bit burnt out. He came to my house, he was saying, "I feel a bit burnt out, "I'm lacking motivation in the mornings." And things like that. And when I was a freelancer before I started the company and had 700 people around me all day, I just couldn't find the motivation to like go to my laptop and send the emails. But the minute I was in that environment where we had this kind of like shared goal and I had feedback and community, my motivation was higher than anyone's in the world. But I don't think people appreciate enough the importance of the environment and the community that you're operating in. And I think there's a certain thing which people don't talk about, which I've talked about in this podcast a couple of weeks ago, which was the side of like freelance depression. And even like you're seeing it with the world now from working remotely, having to get up and like, now you're realizing what your job actually is because before it could have been like seeing Susanna and hearing about how we can do engaging with the office dogs and this and the sense of community, you've kind of conflated them with your tasks at work. And now it's just your tasks. Now you're waking up in one of computer looking at you to do list. And so I think freelance depression and it's almost what you've described there is this like, in a lack of fulfillment because you've lost what was a huge part of what made this pleasurable, enjoyable, but also I guess your support network. - Yeah. - And that's why, you know, we talked earlier about motivation and what gets you off in the morning and actually going in to hear about Susan's weekend or you know, to see your friends and the connection and the buzz from the atmosphere. And that might be what gets you to work. Not the tasks that I've got to do, but actually the people I'm going to hang out with and that environment and we need to understand what is that environment that we thrive in. And I think people are realizing that over the last 12 months, you know? And especially the extroverts have found this really hard. And if you live on your own and you're not able to go into work. - Well speaking, you're a speaker, you speak around the world and stuff and you love speaking, but the minute it becomes just speaking to a laptop over Zoom to 100 people, you realize that maybe it wasn't just the speaking that I enjoyed, right? - Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. I don't just enjoy hearing my own voice. I enjoy the connection. - You're telling my story over and over again. - I love the connection that I get and the feedback and the, you know, I can't even hear people laugh at my jokes that I think it's supposed to be funny. I don't even know if they landed or not. And you know, when you meet the people afterwards and you go and engage with them and how are you going to apply this? And what are you going to put into action? And all of that stuff, that's the energy that I get when I go and do my work. And that's missing right now. And you're getting it a bit, but not in the same way. And so, and I remember actually one of the very first things I did with my sports psychologist, he got me to do, I think it was like a Myers-Briggs type assessment, identifying what kind of personality type I was and I was a stable extrovert. And I don't know what he ever really did with that information, but looking back now, that's such useful information. So for someone, if someone had known that and they could see that I was training every day on my own without support, without people to feed off, that's where I get my energy. Of course I was losing energy and tired. I wasn't getting-- - Your body was setting you a message. - I need people to get energy and I'm not surrounded by people. That's just one example of one of the triggers. But, you know, so it was about finding out, what do I need to thrive? - It's fascinating. We had Johanna Hari who wrote the book called Lost Connections on this book, his book is Behind Me, one of my favorite books of all time, he's coming back. His whole book is about the nine real reasons for anxiety and depression. And to kind of conclude it in a very sort of narrow way, he talks about these feelings we get of loneliness and lack of motivation and anxiety and depression. When you look at all the studies, and he was someone that was depressed and given the pills and, you know, they said, "Oh, you're broken, chemical imbalance." When you look at the studies, it's almost indisputable. That much of it these days is because of social factors and our lack of human connection. They've got examples where they've given a guy in Uruguay a goat who was depressed. And because he's gotten out of that connection with an animal, his symptoms of depression almost evaporated. But the lives we live in 2021, between four white walls, if we want food, we press an app. If we want, you know, to see our parents, it's through a piece of glass and living alone in these industrialized cities. It's actually completely against our innate human programming. And he says, one of the things he says, which I've written in my book as well, is about how these feelings are calling to get back to being more human. It's like your body calling, like loneliness is this calling, like, get back to your tribe, you know what I mean? And it sounds like woo, woo, wow, bullshit, because it's like, well, loneliness isn't the thing. But what you've just described there is quite literally something that's happened in your mind, having a real substantial, almost devastating and crippling impact on your body and health. The thought that your mind can disable your body is terrifying on one hand, but also kind of like a really powerful, important, you know. - But if you think about many illnesses, ailments, from getting a, you know, craft, people will get a headache when they're stressed. People will get a migraine when, at the end of a stressful period, people will get sick. - I've got a sick, you know. - So there are so many illnesses that can be considered as emotional, but manifest physically. - Yeah, it's crazy. - So it's not the first example. - Yeah. - And you know, like your loneliness is calling to get back, it's an alarm bell, right? You're feeling really lonely and it's a warning sign to you. It's a message to say, you need to do something differently in this example, get back to your tribe. And in the same way that my body, the alarm bells were, I'm gonna make you so tired that you can't train. So then you're gonna listen and you're gonna figure out what it is that you need to do differently to get back to training in a really healthy way. And when I returned back to training, I was able to change lots of things about my environment, about the people I was with, about the pressures I put myself under, you know, all of these things that I'd figured out, and then I trained harder than I had before because I was in a really healthy environment and place and I was listening to my body and my mind, they call it mind body. And I was able to tune into that and go, every time I was anywhere near just, mmm, not feeling quite right, I'd go, what's my mind body telling me right now? What is it that's going on that it doesn't like? What do I need to be aware of? And then I could thrive after that. - It's a big shift in conventional thinking because whenever someone exhibits physical illness, people say, oh, what tablet does this person need? You know, what's the chemical? - And that's why you'll get lots of different, if you research CFS, there's so many different schools of thought, oh, it's a post viral fatigue, it's, you know, there's lots of, yeah, I guess physiological explanations for it. And maybe, and there's probably lots of, you know, clinical research behind that suggests that it is, I don't know, but my experience was that something else and that's all I can go by really. - And you came back to the sport, competing again, I'm guessing. - Yeah, so I returned two years later and won the World Championships and European Championships in 2000. And then went on to win two more times after that and compete in Beijing three years later. - Incredible.
What’s next for you? (01:21:34)
So now all of that's, you know, that part of your career has ended very, very successfully and you've, you know, you reached the real, I mean, you were the world champion multiple times. Looking forward at your career since then and into the future, what matters to you and what's getting you out of bed now and what's making you excited for, yeah, life. - I love helping others now, helping others, sharing, learning from my experiences in sport and taking those lessons and bringing them to other people, mostly in the business world and developing people, you know, I had, you know, spent a lifetime with coaches who were developing me or the athletes and the team. And it's the same thing. It's about developing people, you know, in sport, it was about getting results through people, developing those people to get results in sport. And now I'm using that to get results for people in business by developing people. And I get a real kick out of, you know, if I'm coaching someone and coaching a director or a leader, whoever it is, I was coaching this morning and seeing them have that aha moment about a limiting belief, you know, getting the new dream job, engaging with the team, being a more confident leader, whatever it is, I love it when I see that change and that transformation in other people, helping them to change habits, to change behaviours, to excel, to get the best out of themselves. That's what really, that's what motivates me now, is helping others to fulfil their potential. - Well, listen, it's been an incredibly interesting, diverse conversation. One that's made me have a couple of my own personal epiphany, so I thank you so much for coming, today, and sharing your story. Where do people find you if they want to get in touch with you? Where's the best way to reach out? So, anahhemings.com. My training consultant sequel is called Beyond the Barriers, set beyond the barriers.co.uk, I'm on LinkedIn. - They'll find you. - They'll find me. - It's 2020, we can find everybody. But I thank you so much for your stories. I mean, it's incredibly multifaceted with twists and turns and you exhibit, you know, so many of the qualities that I think are typical with the most successful people I've ever seen, these topics of like resilience and dealing with pressure and like the understanding of oneself and your mental stay. And I mean, you've got these incredible twists and turns with your illness. So, I mean, it's just so incredibly inspiring. And when they suggested that you would join me in this podcast, I thought it was, you were just like the perfect guest for these reasons. And you've, you've blown me away in many occasions and made me feel quite emotional as well. So, I just wanted to say thank you for coming. And I hope that we can stay in touch. And yeah, just a thank you on anything. Thank you for inviting me on the podcast. It's been a pleasure. Thank you. I've just got one small favor to ask you. If you're listening to this podcast on YouTube or Apple or on Spotify, do me a huge favor. Hit the subscribe or follow button. It helps this podcast tremendously. And in order to reciprocate, what I'm gonna do every single podcast episode is I'm gonna pick one subscriber and I'm gonna send you a message on Instagram or Facebook or on YouTube, wherever you are. And I'm gonna say, how can I return the favor? And you can tell me what favor I can do for you. So, this is a favor for a favor. Hit subscribe, follow or subscribe if you're on Apple podcasts. Thank you.