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EP21: Performing at Your Best

During times of change or challenge, we can find ourselves feeling out of control, overwhelmed, stressed, and even fearful. This can often lead to health problems or relationship breakdowns, both at home and in the workplace. Coach Sharon, an Ironman finisher and high-performance coach with over 20 years of experience, shares how you can perform at your best even in turbulent times, and gives tips on how to optimise your mindset for success.

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Victoria: During times of change or challenge, we can find ourselves feeling out of control, overwhelmed, stressed, and even fearful. We can sometimes feel that we lose sight of who we are. And it feels like that there is no end to the challenges that are coming our way, and this can often lead to health problems and relationship breakdowns, both at home and in the workplace. In today’s show, we’ll be talking about how to perform at your best in these times of change and challenge.

And how we can recover our sense of control and certainty and find out if it’s more than just a matter of changing our mindset. So joining me on our podcast show today is one of our incredible coaches here at Hello Coach, Sharon is a high-performance expert coach with over 20 years of experience, coaching business leaders in how to overcome personal and professional challenges to take control of their businesses and their personal lives.

She has also worked with many athletes on mindset and peak performance, particularly in the grueling sport of triathlon. And I would love, I know that I’d love to hear Sharon, let’s talk more about that, in our conversation today. So there is no one more qualified to talk about how to perform during challenging times than you. So, welcome again to our conversation!

Sharon: Thank you. Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Victoria: So tell me, firstly, on, tell me about your journey on, triathlons because I know health and fitness is… it’s one of your passions, alongside work and being a mom and running a busy business. What got you into it?

Sharon: It’s not what you would necessarily expect it to be, but the story goes, um, Mark and I, my husband, who’s also a coach, we had actually just decided to join up to one of those Tough Mudder obstacle races. And it was a significant distance.

It was over 20 kilometers. I can’t remember how many obstacles it was. But it was the first real event that I ever did. And this was 14 years after becoming a personal trainer, maybe not quite 14, but definitely at least 10. It was within that 10 to 14-year mark. And I’d never done an event prior to this, which I thought was kind of odd.

So we signed up for this obstacle race. it was more Mark’s idea than what it was mine, I have to be honest. And we both went along, we did it with a group of our clients at the time, and we both loved it and so we came back from that obstacle race. And we went out to dinner as a little bit of an end-of-year celebration dinner as we did every year.

And we were just chatting about the year and what it had been for us and what we’d experienced. And, Mark said, and I agreed with him how wonderful that experience had been and that we should do something like that again. And mark said, you know, they actually do a 24-hour Tough Mudder obstacle race.

And I was like, okay, I, that is not what I’m going to do. Number one, I like my sleep way too much. So they literally run around for 24 hours non-stop doing this obstacle race and it was also in America. So, and this was pre-COVID and, so it was in America, which wasn’t necessarily a challenge, but it was a requirement to go to America, obviously to do it.

But I didn’t really like the idea of during the 24 hours and I thought to myself, okay, so if I don’t want to do that, then what do I want to do instead? And I’d been aware of the Ironman, the full Ironman that we host here in WA, down in Busselton every year. And I thought to myself, well, that’s a pretty extraordinary event.

And as I was thinking about it, I was like, well, I can’t swim so it doesn’t really seem like a very good option for me. And I’ve never been on a bike in clips before, so maybe this isn’t the best thing, but I am a good runner. So if I could do the run leg. Hell, why don’t I just do the whole thing? So, um, I decided as a personal challenge to myself, because Mark was doing the 24-hour obstacle race and I was looking for something to challenge myself that I would sign up for a full distance Ironman off the back of doing no triathlons, having, not even done a marathon before, but just knew that I enjoyed running and was a non-accomplished swimmer and had never been on a bike in clips before. So that’s really the story of how I got into it.

Sharon: And through setting myself up for a 12-month goal around doing a full distance Ironman, I then expose myself to a triathlon group and smaller triathlons. I did the half that year as well, and sort of the journey just carried on that way. So it was a little bit of a trial by fire, but it was, nevertheless quite an enjoyable experience and probably leads directly into what we’re talking about today very well.

Victoria: Well, it does. And one of the conversation points today is recognising when you are in a state of challenge and what are some of the remedies to move through that stress point or that stress phase that you’re in. And how can you equip yourself to deal with uncertain challenges that come up because sometimes there are many things that are out of our control, but we do know that often, you know, the philosophies in, in coaching a lot of the time is let’s control what you can to feel empowered around the areas that you can control and influence, and work with what you can’t have influence over, but to set yourself up for success and strength.

And I know that you’re incredibly passionate about health and physical exercise. And my immediate question is how important in your role as a coach, have you seen an influence your clients to even bring exercise into their world? And I know we’ll dive into a whole lot of other points, but how important is exercise to help you navigate through challenges when you are on the front line or in the firing line?

Sharon: Yeah, incredibly important. And for a number of reasons, the more obvious reason is obviously like the physical benefits that exercise gives you. It is that stress relief. So we know that when we’re in stress, where we’re accessing our sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight and flight nervous system, we’ve got raised cortisol levels and all of that’s going on in our body.

By doing exercise. It gives all of that symptomology an avenue or a pathway or a purpose. And it actually allows our body to recognize that the stress or it shows our body, or kind of tricks our body into thinking that that stress is actually gone because we’ve had that physical release.

And so therefore our body naturally can switch back into our parasympathetic or our rest and digest nervous system to allow for that sense of relaxation, post-exercise. So from, you know, for someone who’s in a stressful or a very uncertain scenario where they have got that stress cycle happening, exercise can be a really powerful outlet to give our body that sense of relaxation and recovery that it really needs.

Victoria: I’d love just to go back and raise a point in terms of helping – for our listeners who are facing challenging times – and we’re not just talking COVID anymore, we’re just talking about facing challenging times as a human being, whether that is navigating early parenthood…

Sharon: Yeah, exactly.

Victoria: It could be, you know, navigating a chronic illness or, you know, uh, grief and loss. I’m wondering when clients have come to you over the, your years as a coach, what are some of the signs and visible behavioral symptoms that are going on that you know, that they are in this fight-flight scenario and clearly their nervous systems are not in parasympathetic flow, that they are peaking on all levels.

I’d love just to hear from you, in your experience, what are some of the signs and warning signs that you know, that you are under duress?

Sharon: Again, great question. Um, so physically people, can experience a whole, a whole range of physical symptoms. Like it could be from headaches, not being able to sleep very well. Um, stomach issues or digestive issues are a huge one, even, um, coming down to frequent injuries because the muscles aren’t actually recovering properly. If constant and frequent niggles start to happen in the body unexpectedly or without explanation, without the obvious, you know, experience of a, of an actual injury, then those niggles can be assigned that that recovery process is not happening very well. Even obviously common colds and flus, like those little niggly, you know, illnesses that pop up frequently, if people are experiencing that back, you know, time after time, after time and not able to really get on top of it, then that can be like physical signs and symptoms that people are in that stress.

I think mentally a big one is people just not being able to switch off very well. You know, they take their work home with them. They feel like they need to check their emails before they go to sleep. They wake up in the middle of the night thinking that they need to write down some notes that I’ve had this idea that they need to, you know, if they don’t write it down, it’s going to be gone forever. That mental inability to switch off is definitely a big sign of stress. And even emotionally, when people get really overwhelmed by their emotions that they find that they just, uh, yeah, very, very emotional, not understanding why they’re being so emotional, not being able to get on top of their emotions, then that can be a sign that they’re in some sort of stress as well.

Victoria: So let’s just focus a little bit for a moment on when you are feeling stressed emotionally, how does that display in your world? Because I think, I mean, yes, we all experienced stress in our lives at various points for various reasons, but sometimes the journey is being able to firstly, recognise that you are stressed, you are experiencing a challenge with whatever that is, firstly, just to recognize it as the first step.

Sharon: Yeah.

Victoria: And that could also be, I mean, you’ve, you’ve hit some really, really great points, whereas it’s not sleeping. It’s, it’s having headaches. There would be levels of anxiety there and potentially depression that can also flow into that.

The frequent injuries, the immune dysfunction. But when we are in a state of challenge around our emotions, often I know we’ve touched on this in prior conversations, but often it can be asking a different lot of questions that help you understand, or setting up some habits that are within your reach in that moment and not reaching for too much, that you are not capable for in that moment.

If you are experiencing deep challenge and stress, for whatever reason, it’s sometimes we can either go really hard and try and smash our bodies into a state of calmness, which does not work, but it’s being able to understand where your own capacity lies within your life at that particular point.

Victoria: So it could just be as simple as this week, I’m going to work on creating a healthy habit at night around my sleep.

Sharon: Yeah.

Victoria: It could be setting up a healthy routine to help create better eating habits. So what are the things that you can focus on that is within your reach to help your body and your life deal with what is in front of you at that point to start there first?

Sharon: Yeah. Yep. I’m actually going to bring it back to mindset a little bit around this, because for me, a lot of my coaching is based in the underlying belief systems that then trigger our behaviours. And I, for me that where the source and the seed of a lot of our experiences, especially our challenging experiences come from.

So from a belief point of view, from an attitude point of view, I always share with my clients that when, when we’re in this state of stress, often it’s coming from this pressure that we’re applying to ourselves for us to either always be okay or always be right, or always be performing at the top of our game.

And I don’t think that that’s always possible. And so the reframe to that is that ‘I am doing the best that I can with the resources that I have available to me at this moment in time’. And I think that when people can take on board that add that attitude, it gives them permissionto be okay with number one, knowing that they’ve done their best, which is often what people beat themselves up about is the fact they haven’t done their best.

If you knew of a better way of doing something, you would have done it at that particular moment of time. And it’s the reflection back to that moment with the experiences and the learnings that we gained through having the experience that we try to overlay on that reflection that makes us think that we should have done something differently.

When in actual fact, we didn’t have that information in the first place and so we couldn’t have made a different choice.

Victoria: Love to you to elaborate on that just a little more.

Sharon: Yeah. So let me use an example. So, um, okay. Let’s use a work context. Let’s say that there is an employee who’s working on a particular project who had to fulfill a task of some sort, they, I’m not being super specific here, but I think this is fairly relatable to a lot of people that there’s a task that needs to be done that’s never been done before.

It’s a brand new task that they’re learning around and they’ve felt like they couldn’t seek out support or ask anybody for help and so they didn’t. So they just tried to figure it out themselves. They completed the task and they presented it to their manager and their manager said, ‘Oh, that’s not quite right. I need you to go back and do that again’.

And this person feels deflated within themselves and perhaps even beats themselves up because they haven’t done what was expected or what they thought was right. But they did the best that they could with the resources that they had at the time.

They didn’t know when they were doing the activity, what their manager was going to say, what feedback they were going to get. And so they couldn’t have possibly done something differently. And so it has to be okay that they did it the way that they did. Okay. Does that help?

Victoria: It helps. I’m probably going to go down a different path and just pick up a couple of other things that you’ve said. So when we, I mean, obviously, you know, let’s going back to that employee as an example, and they get that feedback and they go into a state of deflation and feelings of ‘not good enough’ and ‘didn’t achieve’ and go going down the rabbit hole. Sometimes it can be, again, there’s a learning there to speak up and knowing that you don’t have to go it alone and best to ask a whole bunch of questions to set yourself up for success, but then beyond that, what that person then does with that level of stress that they’ve absorbed from that situation.

And how then do they navigate themselves back to a place of buoyancy and back to a place of feeling competent and confident as you know, they’re in their role of what their job requires. And often it can be a space of almost creating a map of what you need to navigate out of that potential stress. So you don’t stay down the rabbit hole

Sharon: Yeah. Got it.

Victoria: And therefore, and what happens when you are in that state of stress and you find yourself down that rabbit hole, it can, depending on how far you are down that rabbit hole, it. can be a long way, or it has the perception of being a long way up and out.

Sharon: Yeah.

Victoria: And I think that there’s an opportunity when stress starts to occur and you’re starting to recognise the signs and symptoms that you are under or feeling challenged, whether, you know, digestive issues, lack of sleep, headaches, anxiousness, all of that is starting to map a step-by-step process to bring yourself up out of the rabbit hole to a state where you can see the open air again and the horizon.

And sometimes it is just a conversation that you need to have. To ask yourself, what’s within my wheelhouse right at this moment? What am I actually capable of looking after myself in this moment? And I know this probably touches back on one of our prior conversations around self-care to a point, firstly, have any awareness that you have this level of stress – doesn’t matter whether it’s come from a work situation or a relationship situation or a health situation or whatever it may be.

But being real in your… just being real with yourself and not try and be Superman or Superwoman and to ask yourself, what can I access in my day today? What do I need in my day today, if I could just choose one thing to help balance out my emotional state?

Sharon: Got it. Good. And I, yeah, I love what you just said is around, as well, what’s one thing that I can do, I think breaking it down is actually very important into the here and now, that’s the first critical step.

We often talk with people, particularly in corporate, around the benefit of a really simple breathing activity.

So taking five deep breaths, which can be something that, you know, you can do at your desk. Some people like to close their eyes when they do it, but actually using the power of breathing to slow down your mind, first of all, but also give you some time and some space to just reground yourself is a really powerful activity.

Some people like to actually just change their immediate environment. So if they’re finding that they’re… say they’re at work and it’s work that’s providing that stress, taking themselves out of that immediate work environment for a very short space of time, which means maybe going outside, going for a quick walk around the block, even just popping to the coffee room or the tearoom and, you know, changing the scenery for yourself for a moment is a great break state.

To that point as well, have your support team around you. Have the people around you that, you know, can, you can just have a, you know, shooting the breeze kind of conversation with like a general chitchat with who can uplift you, make you feel better, can again, just break that state from that immediate stressful activity or environment that you’re experiencing and can just lift your spirits somewhat so that it gives you some strength, some palace and resilience, a sense of emotional fulfillment to then go back to what you were doing with a better, with a better grounding.

Victoria: You’ve raised actually a really, a really critical support structure there. And that is to access and tap into your tribe and have your tribe around you and know that you actually, and we, I think we all, uh, suffer from this at various points that we try and do it all ourselves and we try and go it alone. We really don’t need to, because there are, you know, we all have access to incredible support in our lives.

And sometimes it’s just about being vulnerable enough to be able to put up your hand. It’s like going back to your employee’s situation to go back to his boss, her boss, and say, you know what? I’m not quite clear on this. Could we have a conversation around it so I can come back and do the best job I can rather than soldiering on through it?

And obviously, you don’t get the desired result that then sets off this whole conundrum of, consequences. And this is the one thing that I do love around having a really amazing coach or coaches in your world. And I know I just have to fly this flag because it’s, you know, in my own personal life and, and Sharon, I mean, we know that you don’t have to go it alone, but it’s, it’s it’s having that… if you don’t have access to a support tribe in your family and friends, reach out to it have a professional support person, who’s actually in your corner. Not only to shoot the breeze – obviously, coaching’s more than shooting the breeze – but having someone in your corner, you know, that can dive into the challenges and also help give you a map out of that rabbit hole to then set yourself up for success and move out of the state that you are in.

But someone who generally cares around your wellbeing, uh, and can guide you forward. And because what we’re talking about here in terms of the mindset, being aware of the stress cycle, breaking it down. I mean, these are very practical steps that are so important, but so many of us, when we are in a state of challenge, we forget the basics.

We forget that. We do have choices. We do have options, but sometimes when we’re in such a deep, reactive state, we forget all that and we need to have people around us to go, ‘Hey, you don’t have to be down there by yourself. Let’s kind of get you out of, you know, get you out of that rabbit hole and let’s move you forward’.

And it’s, it’s a choice because you actually don’t need to stay there.

Sharon: Correct. And that what you just said a hundred percent and, on all levels, I agree completely. I mean, whether it be with my, with my sporting, so I joined a triathlon group when I first took on board this, and in this triathlon group, there was a triathlon coach. And so it’s using the resources of a triathlon coach personally and professionally.

I’ve had coaches all the way through my career to help guide and support me. And it’s like what you’re talking about. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see the forest for the trees, I think is the, is how the analogy goes, right? And, and it’s true when we’re so absorbed. And when we’re so immersed in that, in that experience, we, we don’t,see what can be done, but when you said just then it’s a choice, it a hundred percent is.

And I think that’s the… that’s probably the biggest key that it’s, that I remind people of in coaching is that they always, they always have a choice. We always have a choice and it’s being able to feel powerful and valued enough to exercise that choice. That’s really important.

Victoria: And also being able to recognise with that choice that lot of the time, some of the time, we can’t control what happens in our environment. We just can’t. However, we have the option and the resources to choose how we want to respond to whatever is going on in our world and to set ourselves up in the best possible way to be grounded.

And calm, as much as we can be under stress, and to slightly distance yourself from that challenge to get a different perspective, as opposed to being absorbed with that challenge.

And it takes practice. It’s not something that, you know, you can implement overnight, but I know that when you start to see that you have control over some parts of that challenge in terms of how you’re responding to it, it gives you that confident mindset. And by being able to break it down sometimes into small steps, you do feel so much more…. this is a term that’s bantered around, I really need to find another word, but empowered or you feel so much more powerful to, you know, charge forward, confidently, knowing that you’ve got a backpack of tools that you can, you can access and like any great triathlete it’s about having the right ingredients in your backpack and being able to pull those out as you need to set yourself up, it’s like a marathon, right?

You just don’t suddenly jump. Well, maybe not in your case. Cause I know you did do a triathlon without much prep work.

Sharon: No I had the prep work. I just decided that I was going to do it. And then, and without having any prior experience, but I definitely did the prep work.

Victoria: Okay. So let’s use the same analogy, no matter what the stress points are in your challenges that you’re going through, it’s doing the prep work and it’s knowing, okay, what do I, what do I have access to? What can I bring into my world? What is it that I need right now to move into a really powered, empowered state, uh, to help navigate however long you are going to be in this challenging phase?

With whatever, you know, that is that you’re going through. So I’m hearing again, there’s the importance of some really great solutions that you’ve you’ve raised here is being aware of where your thoughts are positioned, being aware of the actions that you’re taking or not taking, being able to ask yourself some really simple questions and it could just be one question every day.

Such as, really, what am I feeling? Second question is, what do I need?

Sharon: Yeah.

Victoria: And where can I access it?

Sharon: Yeah.

Victoria: And then obviously going into some really practical activities, such as you mentioned, a wonderful breathing exercise. I had another podcast conversation a few weeks ago with one of our other coaches.

And he was saying that he’s actually doing an MBA in emotional intelligence. And he said, Victoria, we have 23,000 breaths every day.

Sharon: Wow.

Victoria: 23,000 and going back to you cause you’ve raised it, you know, having a simple activity, such as doing a breathing activity. Imagine if we could harness just a portion of those breaths every day to help calm our nervous system, to help us feel more in control and more grounded?

Um, I know that, I know that it’s going to set you up more for success rather than not doing anything at all.

Sharon:Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Uh, it’s really amazing. Like even, I always say to people when they’re in a physical activity state and they’re wanting to recover, I always say to them, control your breathing and you’ll control your recovery. And it really is true. And even, even in the midst of exercise.

And so I’m using exercise as a bit of a metaphor, but it’s the same with, uh, you know, whether you’re in the midst of exercise or if you’re actually just sitting at your desk, breathing is our body’s cue to recognise what intensity or what output or what level of stress we’re actually in. Like, you know, you think about how your body responds to exercise. Our heart rate goes up, our breathing goes up. You think about how you respond to watching a scary movie. Our heart rate goes up, our breathing pace goes up.

And so by being able to control our breathing, we actually then send a signal to our body that it’s okay to relax. That we’re in a safe place, and that we can become and centred and certain, and that’s where that sense of then mental clarity comes back. And then that sense of just being able to take that first step can actually happen because we’ve got that mental clarity to think about what the first step is.

Victoria: I love that. I love that summary. So for those who are listening on this topic of understanding and how to move through challenges, when life does throw you some challenges, signs, and symptoms. Headaches, not sleeping digestive issues, feeling obviously feeling emotionally stressed, mentally stressed… Some of the solutions and takeaways is being able to harness, as a step forward, harness being aware of your breath, which then helps control your emotional state as well as obviously your mental state being able to break it down in simple steps every day to look at what you need in that moment, because it changes from day to day.

But just by starting to ask yourself that question, how am I feeling? How’s my energy feeling? Where are my mental thoughts going right now? And to then be able to create a simple map forward, i.e. change your environment, go for a walk, take a break. Um, rally a support team around you. I think they’re really important steps that keep you out of that. Never-ending rabbit hole because once you go down there, gosh, it is, it’s a tougher journey sometimes to come out of it, but there is a way out of it and that’s by having a clear plan and some steps forward.

So thank you so much. Again, I’ve always taken down amazing notes. So thank you so much for sharing our topic today on how to deal with challenges that You’re facing in your life and some really amazing practical solutions. So thank you so much, Sharon.

Sharon: You’re welcome. It’s been great being here again.

Victoria: If you’d like to find Sharon and do some sessions with Sharon, you will find her over at Hello Coach on our platform and you can book some time with her. So thank you again for sharing your wisdom and your insights from all your years of being a coach. And it’s been lovely to have a conversation with you again today.

Sharon: Likewise. I look forward doing it again soon.

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