Alex Gregory Shares his Secrets to Success
With an impressive athletic career behind him, Alex Gregory MBE applies the lessons he has learnt from a life in high-performance sport to the corporate world. As a multi-gold medal winning Olympic rower, Alex has proven time again his ability to thrive under-pressure, maintain motivation, manage stress, and overcome adversity.
In this exclusive interview with Olympic Speakers for StartUps Magazine, Alex imparts the secrets to success, and how to inspire a winning mindset.
Seek and accept help
Alex believes building a supportive team is vital. To reduce stress and improve results, Alex encourages people to proactively seek and accept help from others.
“For the first 8 years of my serious athletic life, I purposefully kept myself away from other people. I would train in isolation because I wanted to do it myself - I thought the way to be the best was to make it harder for myself.
“I didn’t ever ask for help, and it caused so many problems. I couldn't get out of the pressured situation that was growing around me because I was isolating myself. What I discovered after 8 years of disasters trying to do it on my own, was that if I get help from my teammates, who might even be my competitor at the time, then I can share that stress and worry with them.
“It’s absolutely vital when you're under pressure and stressed or feeling isolated, to bring people into your sphere. It was the reason I started to do well and started to win races, by accepting and receiving help from the people around me. It was hard for me to accept that I needed other people, but once I did, I could reach greater heights than I ever thought I could.’
“I think that’s really important now more than ever. Proactively seeking advice from people and speaking to people, I believe is the best way to psychologically get through periods of stress and pressure.”
Work with your competitor
Finding the right level of competitiveness is essential. While too much is counterproductive, the right amount drives better results.
Alex encourages individuals to work with their rivals to improve overall performance, believing constant competitive comparison can have a negative effect on mindset and ultimately, execution.
“Competitiveness is a good thing, it drives performance. It's an important thing to have in everything we do, but competition brings pressure and stress if we don't use it in the right way. It can give rise to mental fatigue, physical fatigue, and it can cause us to underperform.
“Competitiveness is something that I always thought I needed to be better at. I needed to be tougher, harder and I needed to really want to beat the competitor. But actually, that caused me more stress and more pressure.
“I would look at that guy across the water and desperately want to beat him. I'd be so tense, I'd worry about it and I’d concentrate on him, and inevitably, I wouldn't beat him. I discovered that if you are a good, happy person, who is willing to help your competitor and learn from them, you'll be at ease with yourself and you’ll perform better.”
It’s easy to adopt a results-driven mindset, especially when results are not seen straight away, but in high-performance sport, its consistency that will put you on the front foot.
Alex applies this to the corporate world, believing success is achieved through sustainable performance.
“We can't win everything, and I think we all need to understand that we can't be at the top of the tree forever. But if we can create a more sustainable way of performing at a consistent level, then we're more likely to beat the competition. I was the person who stuck it out through thick and thin. I was never the absolute best, I just gradually got better, helping people along the way, and getting help from people along the way.
“My coach valued consistency over absolute performance. Anyone could turn up tomorrow at the British Olympic rowing training venue, sit on the rowing machine or get out in a boat on the water and get a world record. But if that world record absolutely killed you and took everything out of you emotionally and physically so you can’t recover and don’t turn up tomorrow, that meant nothing to my coach, because then there’s a chance you won’t be there when your team needs you.
“He didn’t want someone who was there to get a world record necessarily, but someone who was consistent, who would turn up the next day and get marginally better, slightly better. Nothing ground-breaking, but they were always, relentlessly there.
“Consistency was such an important part of my performance, and I think if we can be more consistent in our lives, we’ll be better off, and so will the people around us.”
Form healthy habits
For Alex, leaving the athletic world behind has further highlighted the importance of routine.
He believes forming healthy habits, no matter how small, significantly improve mental wellbeing and productivity.
“Since becoming a non-athlete, I feel like I’ve come off the end of that train track, and onto an icy lake. My life is the train and my carriages skewed off in all directions. I didn't have a framework and I got lost. I loved it for a while. I loved having flexibility in my life, I never had it before.
“Then suddenly, after six months of going in all directions on this frozen lake, I realised I was lost. I didn’t know what direction I was going in. I had no goals, I had no one telling me where to be, what to do, how to do it, when to eat, when to sleep - my framework was completely lost.
“So, I had to find routine again. I had to build habits and build some sort of consistency, which is a hard thing to do in life, but so important. I decided to get up and go for a run every morning for 10 minutes. And that simple form of exercise in the morning changed my whole mindset.
“I don't even record the run. Sometimes it's half an hour, sometimes it's 10 minutes. Sometimes I literally just step outside, but it just gets me back on those tracks that I used to have in my life of sport. The rest of the day I'm so much more productive and I'm happier because I know at least I've done something positive in the day, even if everything else goes wrong.”
Do what you love
Using his mistakes to help others on their journey, Alex urges people to follow their passion.
“I've had to learn through trial and error, and through failure. Nothing in my life as a parent, as an athlete or just as a human-being has gone straight forward in a perfect line. I've made big mistakes, but I'm happy with those because I know what I know now, I’ve learnt from them.
“I feel privileged to be in a position where I can share some of those similarities and some of those disasters with people, to turn them into positive insights.
“Knowing what I know now, through my mistakes and experience, my advice would be, go do what you love to do, which is what I did. I discovered rowing by chance and I just gave it a go. There were times when I hated it and times when I wanted to give up and times when I was sick with stress and fear and worry, but I wouldn't change a single bit of it.
“Go with your heart and do what you love doing.”