Tony Wilson is a performance consultant, coach, facilitator and corporate speaker. Tony certainly posses the knowledge and power to become one of Australia's most sought after speakers, with an already impressive client list featuring Ergon Energy, Brisbane Broncos and Macquarie Bank.
Tony has been labeled as the 'stress reliever'. Tony uses his knowledge from working with elite athletes to transcend on a corporate scale, applying the same work ethos of athletes to the commercial world.
One of his most successful programs, the Executive Athlete Program (EA), involves working with executive members of major corporations to apply the principles and discipline of elite athletes to the corporate sector in order to prevent burn out and maximise results in the current market
How does it feel to be labeled the 'stress reliever'?
Tony Wilson: Well, I suppose it is a bit funny, sounds like you would purchase me over the phone! Stress is a big problem in people's life, in regards to work and every day life. It is a good thing.
Where do you believe this name came from?
Tony Wilson: Good question, I am not 100% sure. I think it is because a lot of what I talk about and teach is around performance. There has been a lot of research in regards to stress and we know that, for a lot of people, stress is one of the things that will decrease their performance dramatically. A lot of the strategies that I work on with teams and individuals focus around alleviating that stress.
What are some of the strategies you use?
Tony Wilson: They are different for different people and their environments. If you look at most of the research it shows there is only really two things that impact stress directly; one is exercise and the other is the relaxation response. From an exercise point of view a lot of our primitive mechanisms are responsible for the way we deal with stress and the hormones that help with the flight or fight response. Now when we are usually stressed we are sitting at our desk and there is no fight (well I guess there is sometimes) and there is usually no flight. Exercise helps us use some of those hormones that were originally used to run away, and they don't sit in the body where they become toxic. That is one of the things, although the problem with exercise is, far from decreasing some of the stress it can aggravate some of the symptoms by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, which means exercise is only half of the equation. The other half is simple relaxation techniques. It is different for different people. The relaxation response is like mediation, that's pretty organic for most people, in our own way we do our own mediation when we are doing the things we really like; may be reading, writing, listening to music or chilling out, surfing - it is different things for different people. It is anything that really helps you slow down from our kind of crazy lifestyle.
Exercise and recovery are really the only two things that have been proven; two techniques that can be used in any situation. The other side of the coin is trying to prevent the stress from occurring.
How does this work within your workshops?
Tony Wilson: What we do is look at different things; we look at being able to manage time better and manage your energy better. What we know about stress and other emotions is that they get worse in the afternoon, when our energy levels are running low. Again, exercise tends to help with that as well as things such as diet and hydration. Those sorts of things that maintain our energy levels throughout the day help deal with stress a lot better. Things like that, also the time issue, time is the biggest thing that gives us a lot of stress. Take time out to plan and organise how you will tackle things on a daily basis - that will remove stress from our lives.
Why do you think it is that "Only one in five people are properly engaged in work"?
Tony Wilson: There are two things to consider, one is; Why is the individual not engaged? The second is; Why does the workplace not engage the person? If you look from a personal point of view it is things like Do you have goals? Do you have a purpose, to why you turn up to work everyday? A lot of people say they hate their jobs, they need to put it into perspective; they may hate the work that they do but I'm sure they like that it helps send one of their kids to school or pay off their house. Part of understanding, is knowing what you get from work.
Diet, exercise and having energy helps us engage in work. A lot of the things I talk about in workshops isn't just how to be engaged at work but helps people to be engaged in other parts of their lives as well. People say 'No, I'm not engaged at work, I don't really care about work' so you'll ask 'What do you care about?' and they explain 'My family is important to me' often I'll ask his wife 'If he is engaged at home with his family' and she'll usually provide the same answer 'Not really'. It is a learned skill, if we can learn to be engaged in work there is a chance we can cross that over to being engaged in everything we do.
How can every day Australians increase their performance in the work place?
Tony Wilson: There are Six Performance Principles that can be applied to engagement in everything. I used to work a lot with athletes and I'd look at the athletes that constantly turned up to training and trained their hardest and got the most out of every training session and how they did that- then I saw that there was a lot of things we could apply into the work environment or into relationships, that could help everyone do the same thing.
What are some of the Six Performance Principles you use for employees to better engage in work?
1. Accountability- taking responsibility for your situation and not blaming your manager because you don't like your job and not blaming your partner because you think your relationship is going badly. Take responsibility and understand you need to do something about it and then decide what level you want to be at and take responsibility for getting there.
2. Purpose - Identifying the level you want to be at, it's having purpose. When I was working with sports I found that they were people that you would think had the best job in the world and yet there were even some people there that were disengaged, which sounds stupid but they were turning up to training every day thinking 'Oh Man! Do I really have to do this again?' The ones who would think this were the ones that didn't have a clear idea of their goals, purposes and what they wanted to do.
3. The Physical aspect - it is having the energy to execute these things, it includes your diet and exercise - what helps you maintain your energy throughout the day.
4. Mental strength - being able to focus intensely for short periods of time, on whatever it is that you are doing. We have been so hijacked, in the last five years, with multi tasking and being constantly connected our attention is continually drawn away, to the point that I think our general level of intensity is around the 80% mark. You know this because on a Friday afternoon if someone throws a pile of stuff on your desk, and says 'Hey, look I need you to get this done by 5pm' and it's 3pm and you want to get out of their to go to your friend's birthday party- you work pretty well for that two hours and you are probably working more intensely than you did for the whole rest of the week. We get so much more done when we work that intensely- whether it is at work or engaging with your family, we get so much more out of it. It is really learning that skill.
5. Emotional Flexibility- it is things like dealing with stress; dealing with frustration and negative thoughts, and getting rid of them.
6. Recovery - is the final piece of the puzzle. It is like what I have said previously with the relaxation response, we need to really schedule periods of recovery through our day and through our week and throughout our months to ensure we are fresh enough and resilient enough to keep going back and doing the stuff at 100%. You can't work at full intensity 24/7. It doesn't work, you will get burnt out. You need to do it in periods with full recovery - your ability to get more out of each interaction goes up.
Is it possible to keep our energy and accuracy levels up when working long hours?
Tony Wilson: We know for a fact that we can only operate at full intensity for an hour and a half. Even an hour and half is a pretty long time, you would have to build up your capacity to do that or if you were under pressure and you had to focus on something. An hour an a half is the maximum before our performance starts to drop off. For most people it is less than that. Next time you are on a plane, bus or whatever grab your iPod and put your favourite song on and try and listen to it from beginning to end, listen to every single line and beat- try and listen to everything and you'll find the majority of people can't do it. You get half way through then go, geez I just missed that whole chorus. We have lost the ability to really focus that well. We know that, if after an hour and half, you don't have a definite break where you disengage mentally and sometimes physically- get up and leave what you are doing and come back. Then you won't be as productive.
It is a false economy, people think that if they sit at their desk and work flat out for ten hours a day and don't take a lunch or a morning tea break they are going to get more done- it is completely wrong. You will get more done in the eight hours you do with a lunch break and a few ten minute breaks here and there than you will in the ten hours straight.
It is necessary to take breaks, what we are trying to do is take five to ten minute breaks every ninety minutes. That might be something as simple as getting up and going to get a coffee or talking to a work friend about something completely different, or checking out photos of the place you are going to go at the end of the year or whatever. It is taking a five to ten minute recovery break that lets you disengage from what you were doing and then get back into it. The problem for most people is getting back into it. Ten minutes is the absolute top break that you need, some people can get away with five minutes.
We also try to encourage people to take a fifteen to twenty minute recovery break every day- that could be going for a walk at lunchtime or listening to music in the car on the way home. The important part is really disengaging, you really need to consciously switch off for that time and enjoy what you are doing.
So you have ten minutes every hour and a half and twenty minutes every day. Also look for something to do once a week for an hour- it could be a massage or watching a movie or going to the beach- something that helps you slow down and disengage. When you do these things constantly you find that stress in general tends to go down or your perception of it goes down. Stress has a cumulative effect- if I got up and went for a run for 2 kilometers everyday for two years I'd be pretty tired, if I take break every couple of days I could keep going. Stress is the same- it builds up and builds up unless you take breaks.
Can breaks work when you just don't know what to do next?
Tony Wilson: Yes, when you need thinking time, you often get to a point where you are going crazy, you can't think of the word or the storyline, what they have shown is when you disengage and come back you are pretty much going to get it. The one thing that helps you get it is completely disengaging from the situation and if possible doing some type of exercise- even a short walk. Once we shut down some of the brain activity the brain will start to reorganise our thoughts a bit better, that is why we get all our good thoughts sitting on the bus or at the beach or in bed or the bath.
Do you have a website?
Tony Wilson: www.teamcorpaustralia.com.au There is more information there and a link through to the Executive Athlete Program - which is a slightly different site.
Interview by Brooke Hunter