Tag Archives: olympics

A New Kind of Hero for a New Kind of World, Career Hero #14

Bronwyn Fagan(This post is part of a pact I made. Click here for the full story.)

With looks that belong on a fashion runway – certainly not on an OzTag field (the Australian version of touch football) where you can now find Bronwyn several nights a week –  she’s wholesome as apple pie, and driven as an Olympic athlete – literally. 

 Bronwyn leads a life guided by this AND that.

More than her natural talents, it’s her approach to work, sports and life in general that drive her to achieve what she has.

She has been working as the Corporate (legal) Counsel since January 2000 at Country Energy.  To you and me that means that since she was 27 years old, she’s headed the legal department of a male-dominated company that owns the world’s second largest electricity network.

Outside of work her track record also raises eye-brows.  That’s because at her core, Bronwyn is an elite athlete.  Her strongest sport has been track and field, although she has also competed in swimming, Australian Football League (AFL), hockey, OzTag and equestrian.  Her most recent achievement was making the Olympic Shadow Team for Torino 2006 for both Skeleton and Bobsleigh. 

There have been times when in addition to working full time as a lawyer, she has been studying at university level and co-hosting the ABC 666 Grandstand Sport radio show.   Today Bronwyn is a mom, a practicing lawyer, and is completing her last course towards a Masters of Law at University of Melbourne in Australia.

“A lot of people say they can’t do something or don’t have time. That’s a priority issue rather than an inability to be involved.  Usually many people feel they shouldn’t do something because they don’t fit the stereotype of the sort of person that would usually take that job or do that activity or play that sport. Constraints such as those don’t tend to bother me so I will have a go even if I’m the odd man out.”

Note to self:  Your opinion is the only one that matters. Let it be your guide.

“This has sometimes meant that I’ve spread myself quite thinly, and it certainly means I have very little time to sit down and do nothing. It has meant though that I’ve been able to experience many things and meet a huge amount of people and travel to many countries (mostly with my sport).

Prioritising and organising is a very important part of my day. Without organisation I would end up doubling up on a lot of what I do, and retracing my steps, and I would run out of time to do the quality things instead of just the mundane, menial things.”

Note to self:  Take time to prioritize and organize.  What are the most important things in your life?  Are you sacrificing them to do the most urgent – and less important?

“Sport at an elite level teaches you to be aware of what your body is telling you – and to react to that. It may be a deficiency in something, a temporarily increased or decreased metabolism, a pain. I think a good example of this is when I was pregnant my metabolism would increase for a day or two and then go back to normal. I may crave certain foods for a day or two and then a different food after that. The key is to listen to my body and eat extra food for that day or two only, and not get into the habit of eating too much permanently – or not eating foods long term because I craved them for two days.

My inner compass is exactly that – I just have learned to listen to it and pay attention to what it’s telling me about what I need to do. That may be to find a new challenge or just keep doing what I’m doing.

I’ve never believed in 5 year plans or changing what I’m doing because of an objective milestone. My goal is to be content – and that involves having a sense of satisfaction and achievement as well as many other things. That sense tells me when I’m no longer being challenged by something, or when another offer that is ‘too good to refuse’ comes along that I should take it.”

Note to self:  Where is your inner compass taking you?

And what exactly is Bronwyn’s (winning) philosophy? 

“There’s never a ‘perfect’ time for anything, and sometimes waiting to have more experience for something means missing other experiences and missing opportunities. I think it’s important to note that I don’t believe opportunities need to be waited for – I believe that you can make your own opportunities if there are none on offer.

People are often afraid to jump into things when they are unsure or have choices to make that are difficult. Not many decisions are not reversible, or can not have something made of them – even if it isn’t an ideal situation it generally isn’t unsalvageable!”

Make a mental note of that.

“I think it’s important to have a belief in yourself and remember that you’re making the best decision you can based on the information that you have at the time. That way you don’t spend forever second guessing past decisions and wondering whether you took the wrong path. There’s so many things that cannot be changed, but can be learned from so it’s best to move on and use that knowledge rather than dwell on the past.”

Read that one more time.


Thank you Dean Taylor for the awesome shot!

T.L.C. for Your Most Valued Organ (MVO)

What part of the body would Olympic-class sprinters have insured? Their legs.

It was while thinking of an answer to this question that it hit me that just as an athlete has a body part that is critical for top performance, the same goes for those of us in the working game.

So what is your ’MVO’ at work?

Before you get too creative, I’ll throw you a lifeline – it is your brain.

The fact is that the 3 pounds of greyish-white matter that sits inside your skull controls the functions that can determine how successful you are at work.

How you perform at work depends on several factors:

  • How well you can think on your feet and remember things;
  • How focused and clear you are;
  • How calm and rational your responses are in challenging situations; and
  • How well you’re able to:
    • prioritise activities
    • manage tasks and goals
    • learn new information and acquire new skills

Since your brain controls how well you carry out all of the above, it’s to your advantage to know what optimises these functions and what doesn’t.

But first, here’s some food for thought:

“In proportion to our body mass, our brain is three times as large as that of our nearest relatives. This huge organ is dangerous and painful to give birth to, expensive to build and, in a resting human, uses about 20 per cent of the body’s energy even though it is just 2 per cent of the body’s weight. There must be some reason for all this evolutionary expense.” Susan Blakemore

Because I suspect that most people aren’t doing as much to take care of their brain as they could, particularly at work, here are some brain-friendly tips for you to optimize your memory, your focus and your overall performance at work – and outside. 

For those of you who are wondering where all this data comes from, research spiked in the 90s when US President George Bush declared it the “decade of the brain”.  Consequently billions of dollars were invested into developing scanning technology that allowed scientists to look into the brain and get more detail than ever before about this complex organ. Simply put, brain-researchers went crazy with all the funding and produced all kinds of useful brain-related research.

For you at work, here are some of the most relevant findings:

To optimize your memory:

The main thing that you need in order to achieve good memory is to increase the brain’s production of a chemical called serotonin. In other words, mind your chemicals.

Here’s how it works. (Thanks Dr.Giuffre)

Serotonin is responsible for making you ‘feel good’.  Because of the connection between the memory centre – your hippocampus – and the emotions centre – your amygdala – when you feel good, memories tend to stick more.  So it follows, that if you want to improve your memory, it will help to increase your serotonin levels. 

Here’s how:

Tip #1: Think positive thoughts

The best food that you can give your brain is positive thoughts because a happy brain remembers more. By the same token, avoiding negative thoughts helps maintain higher serotonin levels.  For that reason, I’ve been saying affirmations on a daily basis for the past year.  I can guarantee that after a month, I started to experience results. Not only did my memory improve, I started to feel much more alert, calm and focused – the perfect combination for performing optimally at work! 

In case that you need some inspiration, Dr. Susan Jeffers (www.susanjeffers.com), author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and Louise Hay (www.louisehay.com), author of You Can Heal Your Life, are my favorite sources and the Mothers of affirmations.

Tip #2: Eat well

Aside from positive thoughts, your brain needs healthy food! Eating in a balanced fashion increases serotonin levels in your body.  Eating too many sweets has a negative long term impact on memory (sorry sweet tooths abd carbo-loaders). As sugar levels peak in your brain, you initially feel good, which can help improve your memory for a short burst. But that comes at what I feel is too high a price to pay for memory. When sugar levels peak too quickly, insulin levels also spike in order to restore the balance in your body. When this happens, you feel down, deflated and lethargic. This effect is what my sister-in-law very cleverly has coined as a ‘food coma’.

The fact is that eating a well balanced diet optimises your memory.  If you put junk into your brain, you are likely to get junk out of it!

Research says that the diet that contributes to strong memory function is a balance between protein and carbohydrates and lots and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Take it from a vegan who lives mostly on raw foods. (More on that in a future post)

Tip #3: Manage stress  

Research has shown that prolonged exposure to stress shrinks the hippocampus – which is the memory centre. But don’t stress about this, because when you stop stressing, the hippocampus returns to its normal state.

Relax…take a deep breath.

Tip #4: Sleep

According to Dr. Kenneth Giuffre sleeping 8 hours every night has shown to improve work performance by 30% because that’s the time when serotonin gets replenished in your body.  No wonder I feel so out of it when I haven’t slept.

Maybe it’s time for you to re-think your priorities when you’re planing a night on the town on a ‘school night’ or to stay up late watching a sitcom.  Do you really think that Tiger Woods or your favourite celebrity stays up late when they need to perform at their peak the next day? ‘don’t think so..

Tip #5: Exercise

Not only do you get instant gratification from the endorphin rush (endorphins are opiate-like chemicals similar to morphine), but you also get serotonin and oxygen to flow through your system.  As the organ that requires the most blood flow and oxygen per weight exercise gets your brain ready to thrive.

Tip #6: Laugh

Scans of people’s brains while they’re laughing have shown that the amygdala – the emotions region of the brain – is activated.  When that happens, because of the relationship between the brain’s memory centre and the amygdala, memories tend to stick more.  Also, because when we laugh we feel good, we experience a spike in serotonin production, which also results in better retention.

Tip #7: Listen to music

There’s no trustworthy clinical evidence that music does anything for babies in-vitro, but baby books constantly harp on the benefits of music in fetal development  Regardless, there is no arguing that  music can make you feel good!  By now you should know that when you feel good, you can remember more.

To be focused:

You feel focused when blood is flowing to a particular brain region, in other words, when the flow of blood is contained.  Think back when you were hanging upside down from a monkey bar, with blood rushing to your brain. How focused did you feel then?

Here’s what you can do on a daily basis to contain the blood flowing through your brain – and not feel like you’re hanging upside down:

Tip #1: Mind the caffeine

Because caffeine constricts the vessels in your brain and body in general, it does in fact help direct blood flow to specific areas in your brain.  That’s why you feel focused and alert after your shot of espresso in the morning.

But be careful not to mess up your sleep cycle because if you do, that would defeat the purpose of having caffeine in the first place!

Tip #2: Meditate

This is my favourite tip, because the benefits of meditation are clear.  At the University of Pennsylvania  researchers recently showed that meditation for just 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks improves clarity and focus. 

In a later post I’ll share with you some tips about how to meditate.  For now, if you’d like to give it a shot, I suggest that you look online or check into your local community college or Buddhist temple for guidance and information. I personally follow a Zen method which I found online at www.mro.org/zmm/teachings/meditation.php  I found it easy to follow because it has pictures (as a visual learner, I love pictures).

Tip #3: Eat in moderation

According to Dr. Giuffre, our brains are most alert in a state of starvation. Of course I’m not advocating or even suggesting that you starve, because while you’d be more focused, it would come at the cost of jeopardising other bodily functions.

What I am saying is that if you are taking your performance at work seriously, you’ll be in better shape if you eat a light meal when you have a meeting during or after lunch, or if you simply want to feel good to be able to give your best.

Keep this in mind: a properly fed mind is a sharp one, an overfed one is a sluggish one.

Tip #4: Stay calm

When we’re calm, we’re less emotional and more rational. The fact is that the region of the brain that produces emotions, the amygdala, is one the most primeval ones.  What this means is that emotions are primitive and most often there is a more appropriate response to a situation than say, getting angry or throwing a tantrum.

Like my husband likes to stay when he feels himself getting angry at another driver on the road – “I’m too evolved to honk.”  Instead he blinks his lights or does something more appropriate.

To perform well:

Tip #1: Learn something new

With brain function you either use it or you lose it.  And by far, the best way to exercise your brain is to learn something new. Learning physically creates pathways in your brain. In the real sense, when you learn, you’re giving your brain a work-out.

Tip #2: Laugh – be here and now.  Live in the moment

Aside from boosting your memory, laughter makes you focus in the here and now.  And being present improves your performance. Pay attention to how athletes enter in ‘the zone’ when they’re going for gold.  They are no where else but on that field.  (By the way, they train themselves to do that – and so can you. Meditation is a great starting point.)

Tip #3: Keep your brain booted (so you don’t waste time rebooting it)

Your brain works much like your computer – at least when it comes to being on and off.  This means that to give your brain a break after you’ve completed a major task, you’re better off switching to a simpler task than getting up for junk food and a coffee.  By switching, you’re putting your brain on sleep mode.  But when you get up, you’re actually shutting your brain down. That’s why when you get back to other tasks, instead of feeling that you’ve taken a break, you feel that you have to wait until your brain boots back up.

No, I’m not trying to turn you into a feeling-less, desk bound robot, but am advising you to not unnecessarily interrupt your brain flow! 

So what have you done for your brain lately?  I’d love to know.

The games play on! (part 3 of 3)

World-class soft skill # 3:  Taking self-responsibility

Taking self-responsibility and acknowledging that it’s up to you and no-one else to make things happen does not guarantee that you’ll succeed in the world of work (mainly because nothing does), but it will certainly put you on the right track.

Think about this next time that you watch an Olympic event on TV. 

The athletes you are seeing compete were not the ones who were sitting by the side-lines waiting for someone to give them the skills and strength that they needed to make it to the Olympics.  Each and every athlete who made it to Beijing 2008 is there because day after day they worked very hard to earn their place.  Admittedly natural talent and genetics has a place at the Olympics (not every swimmer has size 14 feet like Phelps) but for the most part you’re looking at the individuals who recognize that it’s up to them – and no-one else – to train hard, stay focused, and persevere.

Granted the world of work is not as cut-throat (or as sweaty) as an Olympic event but when it comes to delivering results and making things happen, taking self-responsibility is one of the most powerful things that you can do.

Here are some clues:

  1. Do not play the blame game.  Have you ever worked with someone who plays ‘hot potato’ to deflect responsibility for their well-being?  I have. And it’s rather amusing (and sad at the same time) to see them in action coming up with all kinds of excuses to explain why their lives suck. They blame their parents, their friends who take them out drinking during the week, their education (or lack of), the economy and on and on.  What do these people think is the worse that can happen if they simply own up to their situation and start taking the steps they need to change things around? Just consider what Dara Torres did to get herself back in shape at 41 and be faster than when she was 21 swimming in the 88 Olympic games.
  2. Take control. When it’s up to others to make things happen for you – and they don’t – it’s very likely that you’ll end up feeling frustrated.    Even if at first things don’t work out for you when you’re in the driver’s seat, think about how awesome you’ll feel when you make it because of your own efforts. Just take a close look at Michael Phelps’ face next time that he wins a gold medal.
  3. Take full responsibility for your performance.  We all have good and bad days.  Just think about the US gymnastics team leader Alicia Sacramone’s two ‘atypical’ falls that cost the team the gold medal.  But in reality, what’s the worse that can happen if you face the music and admit that you’ve made a mistake? The mishap already happened and the likelihood is that in reality others will forgive you (and may even forget about it).  The honorable thing to do is to admit that you’ve blown it, just as Alicia did on national television.  In my book it’s not necessary to ask for forgiveness or to dwell on your mistake. It’s much more important to contain the impact of your mistake and to learn from it so that you don’t repeat it.

Feeling inspired? I am. I think I’m ready to write another post!

The games have begun! (part 2 of 3)

World-class soft-skill # 2:  Visualizing

In my mind visualizing is one of the most under-rated and under-used skills.

Next time that you’re watching athletes compete at the Olympics, take a close look at your TV screen.  The fact is that most of the athletes that you’ll watch compete have already seen, felt, tasted, smelled and heard in their mind’s eye, their routine and what it would be like to compete at the Beijing Olympics. 

In fact, since the 1980s sports psychologists have been using visualization as an add-on to athletes’ training programs. 

Visualization helps athletes in two major ways: 

* It helps them get better at what they do and

* It helps them get closer to their goals

Logic tells me that if it helps athletes, who like you and I are made of skin and bones, it can also help us both become better at what we do and achieve more.  Experience tells me that it does.

Here’s how visualization works.

Improves your performance

Visualizing a routine makes you better at it because the brain perceives no difference between imagining an action and doing it in real life.  Both activities, imaging and doing, create neural pathways in your brain. Because this is how the brain processes information, you become better at doing things. For example, when a gymnast practices a routine on the parallel bars, she becomes better at it because she’s actually strengthening neural pathways in her brain.  So it follows, when you practice in your mind a presentation, your brain registers it as one more practice and neural pathways are strengthened.

Because you can imagine more things than when you’re actually rehearsing, in your mind you can add as many elements of reality as you like.  For example, you can visualize how you’ll respond if you forget a line during your speech.  How will you feel? What will you do?  By preparing beforehand for uncomfortable mishaps, you’re likely to feel more comfortable during the actual performance – and when you do, it’s likely that you’ll perform better.

When I was working in sales, I used to visualize my presentations during the car-ride on my way to clients.  This really helped me feel psyched and get focused, as opposed to feel nervous and dread the meeting.

Gets you closer to your goals

When you visualize your goals, you’re creating a conflict in your brain between where you’re at and where you want to go.  When this happens, your brain goes on a mission to bridge the gap between your current reality and your imagined one, and jumps into action. When that happens:

1. You become more aware of what you need in order to achieve your goals.

2. You become more creative.  After visualizing my goals I often find that ideas come to my mind more easily and frequently (that’s why I carry a pen and paper 24/7). I also find that I’m able to find solutions to problems faster.

3. You stay active and motivated because you’re brain now has a mission to solve something. 

Visualizing is easy (and can feel trippy)

Quite simply visualizing is about creating a movie in your mind’s eye. Whether the movie is about an upcoming performance such as a presentation or a phone call to a difficult client, or about your major goals, the technique is the same.

Here’s how:

1. Pick a quiet spot and sit in a comfortable position.

2. Take 10 deep breaths or until you feel that your mind and body are relaxed.

3. Start to picture the event or your goals.

4. Now make it a blockbuster movie by making it as real-feeling as possible. Put yourself in the picture in 3-D.  Add colors, smells, feelings and even flavors.  

5. Picture your best performance or that you already achieved your goals.  Don’t waste time dwelling on your work in progress.  This is your movie and you’re the super-hero. It’s done, you’re there at your peak.

6. Think about who else is in your movie.  Who’s watching you? The whole world?

7. Think about how you feel about how other’s respond to you. Do you feel butterflies of excitement in your belly?

8. Slowly open your eyes and feel like a winner.

If you’re new at this, I suggest that you don’t do this exercise for longer than 10 minutes at a time.  That way it’s less likely that you’ll get frustrated and more likely that you’ll continue to do it.







Let the games begin! (part 1 of 3)

I am not one to idolize people. For that reason I find it very hard to be a spectator of sporting events.  As I try to sit still on my bum, my mind starts racing and the little voice inside my head starts saying things like: “sure, those athletes got to be where they’re at by sitting – just like you are right now – on their bums…I think not.”

Particularly when there are guys running in short shorts bashing against one another (i.e. rugby or footie) or it involves watching paint dry (i.e. cricket, golf or baseball), I find it very hard to dispute my little voice so I end up getting up to do something productive with my life. (Like write a post for my blog)

However, when it comes to sitting on my bum to watch the Olympics, it’s very easy for me to dispute my little voice.  I simply need to say something like: ”Shut up and watch – because this is my chance every four years – to learn from the best of the best in their field.” 

And that, my little voice cannot argue against.

So what do I look for when I watch Olympians do their thing?  Honestly?  I look for what’s in it for me, particularly for skills that they have that will help me succeed in my own life.  Because I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life working in the business world (except for the two years that I worked inside industrial kitchens as a party chef), the fact is that I don’t have much use for a world-class pole vaulting technique, or a world-class summersault, but I can certainly learn from what athletes do to get to the peak of their careers, their world-class soft skills.

This is my favorite one:

World-class soft-skill #1: Goal setting 

I love the process of setting goals because it gives me the opportunity to choose where I want to go in life based on what’s important to me, not someone else.  By knowing what matters to me, I know what I need to focus on, and as important, I know what I can label as a distraction that needs to be ignored.

Contrary to what free-spirited people tend to think, having goals does not take away your freedom or spontaneity.  I’ve found it to be quite the opposite.  Whenever I’ve set goals for myself, I’ve been able to exercise my freedom of choice.  I am being proactive and choosing what I want, as opposed to accepting what others dish out and whatever comes my way. 

And what can be more liberating than making my own choices in life? 

Think about a life without goals, where others make choices for you, based on what’s important for them.  Doesn’t sound like much fun, huh? 

Also, whenever I have something to work towards in the long-run, like for example when I was training to run the Disney World marathon, it’s easier for me to stay motivated in the short-run.

Just imagine how excited an athlete feels when they decide to train to make it to the Olympics.  Their training starts years in advance.  The likelihood is that in between they feel a lot of pain and make a lot of sacrifices.  But I can guarantee that they feel that being at the Olympics is worth every drop of sweat along the way.

The same applies to your work life.  Lets say that your goal for the next 5 years is to land a national management position.  That’s your Olympic event.  Of course along the way you’ll have to make sacrifices (which by the way, in my book a sacrifice is giving up something good for something better) and do things that you’re not naturally inclined to do, and even sweat it at times.  But doing all those things becomes a lot easier when there’s a. an end in site and b. a larger purpose behind them (‘a raison d’être’).  Stapling papers for a boss can be a soul crushing exercise, (I know) but if your job as an office assistant is your launch pad for getting to that management position, well, stapling papers is a great way for you to learn how someone who will report to you one day, feels like and how you need to manage them.  See what I mean?

Your turn now. 

What will you be thinking about when you’re sitting on your bum watching Olympians do their thing in Beijing?