Mark Tewksbury on creating a winning mindset in uncertain times

Olympic gold medallist and his business partner, Debbie Muir, provide helpful hacks on improving our lives; register for this Alumni All-Access online presentation Sept. 24
Mark Tewksbury and Debbie Muir
Join Mark Tewksbury and Debbie Muir on Sept. 24 for the Alumni All-access presentation Creating a Winning Mindset in Uncertain Times.

Rollercoaster COVID-19 numbers. Virus mutations. Getting the kids back to school. Getting yourself back to work. Squeezing into a seat and nervously looking around to see who might be near you. It’s enough to frazzle anyone’s nerves in these turbulent, uncertain times.

You’re not alone.

Olympic gold medallist and celebrated social-justice activist Mark Tewksbury, Hon. LLD’10, knows what you’re going through because he is, as well.

The good news?

Tewksbury and his business partner, Debbie Muir, BEd’75, a former Olympic and Canadian national synchronized swimming team coach, will give you the tips and tricks you need keep yourself sharp in the face of today’s adversities at their upcoming Alumni All-Access presentation on Sept. 24, Creating a Winning Mindset in Uncertain Times.

The co-founders of Great Straits Academy will speak about the “how” and the “why” of improving oneself, not only in sports and business, corporate or otherwise, but in the day-to-day world of just getting things done and trying to be as good as we can be.

“The great traits and learnings that we teach in the academy are distilled from the experiences we had while under pressure during the Olympics,” says Tewksbury, who, during his 16-year athletic career, garnered 21 national titles; seven world records; Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals; and inductions into the Canadian Olympic and Canadian Sport halls of fame.

He’s no stranger to adversity. Tewksbury was one of the first openly gay Olympic champions and is an acknowledged leader in the global LGBTQ2S+ movement. Honing leadership skills in all aspects of your life to gain peak performance is one of the hard-earned teachings that he will discuss during the presentation.

“We’ve distilled what we’ve learned into knowledge that we want to transfer to other people, so that they can see improvements through the actions they take in their lives,” says Tewksbury. “We want to get you into your best mental performance state so that, under pressure, you can get the most out of yourself.”

Focus on mental health and peak-performance training

Mental health is one consideration and mental performance training is another, though they can be related, says Tewksbury. For example, you can have an event where you exhibit poor mental performance — say, at the Olympics — but, at the time, be in excellent mental health.

“Our mental health is like physical health; we always need to be aware of it and protect it,” he says. “Mental performance training is different — it is specific to being able to perform on demand and handle stressful situations so that you get your best performance.”

What does this all mean for you?

We’re all not Olympic athletes, but we can recognize that thoughts have enormous power, and we can make mental adjustments to transform simple ideas into bold actions.

During a swim event months before the 1992 Olympics, Tewksbury faced a towering competitor who was six-foot-four, several inches taller than he was. Tewksbury figured this gave his competitor an edge and, mentally, he was having trouble getting past it. That three-inch gap was squeezing his self-confidence.

Muir, who was his coach at the time, told him: “Look, what can you do about that three-inch gap? You can’t change it, so let’s just cross it off, don’t even think about it. Let’s focus on what you can do and what you’re capable of doing and how you’re going to do it.”

Mark Tewksbury and Debbie Muir

Recalls Tewksbury: “It was so simple, but that just neutralized the negative thought for me. It no longer held me back. I realized that thoughts have power and I can control my thoughts.”

We all cope with fear and doubt, but we can take heart knowing that Olympic champions like Tewksbury have, and continue to have, similar moments of low self-confidence at stressful moments, and yet are able to turn these challenges into small and large triumphs.

Being aware of our mental performance is a crucial step, he says.

“You need to give yourself control,” says Tewksbury. “A thought can be positive, negative or neutral. You have the power to transform negative thoughts into something positive or neutralize it. We can’t control outside influences but we can control how we approach them by understanding that it all begins with thoughts.”

Mental performance training, which includes being aware of how your thoughts transform into action, and understanding that you have a degree of control, can lead towards creating a winning mindset.

Making the right call for success

Tewksbury offers the example of making a sales call, something we have all experienced in our lives and careers in one way or another, even if we aren’t actually in sales.

“If I tell myself I hate making sales calls, it’s a negative thought and I immediately debilitate myself,” he says. “The result? Often, the call isn’t made. Instead, how can I change my thinking? I recognize it’s a negative thought — now I can neutralize it and I can begin to move past it toward accomplishing my goals.”

Tewksbury had to board an airplane at St. John, N.B., in August as COVID-19 numbers started ramping back up. Things were moving slowly at the airport and staff were rattled as tempers flared, creating a stressful time for everyone there.

He used these three “tricks of the trade” to gain his own peak performance at this moment: visualization, power words and thought cycles.

  • He visualized a calm and successful flight before he even packed to prepare his mindset, preparing mentally for what he wanted to accomplish.
  • He focused on power words such as “calm,” “patience” and “show goodwill” to ensure he’d transform his thoughts into action at the airport and on the flight.
  • He created a thought cycle that combined both visualization and power words that perpetuated a calm state of mind that respected others and radiated goodwill.

“Self-awareness, communication and planning are all skills that, if we master them, we can create positive mind cycles for winning results, especially when we have to make quick decisions in the moment,” says Tewksbury.

“We can be leaders in our family, our company, our team, our community group, you name it. Understanding our core values and enacting them in our lives is very powerful. Does everyone have these abilities? We believe you do and we want to teach you how to do so.”

Discover more on Sept. 24 when Tewksbury and Muir share more of their life experiences and provide helpful hacks for all of us. Register for Creating a Winning Mindset in Uncertain Times and don’t forget to check out the dozens of other free sessions being offered at Alumni All-Access, running from Sept. 17 to Oct. 7.