Welcome back to the Inside Edge Podcast with Bhavi Devchand, this is the show that turns the journeys of some of leading coaches, athletes and leaders into actionable lessons you can implement into your own lives.
Now for our guest today featuring one of the all-time greats - Suzie Bates.
A staggering 288 caps for New Zealand, over 8000 international runs to go alongside 125 international wickets. She is a highly sought after cricketer on the domestic T20 scene, and all of this doesn't even include being an Olympian in Basketball!
Suzie and I first met when she came over to play for WA under well known coach, Steve Jenkin. She immediately struck me as self-assured, confident and very successful. As with most of the stories we've had on the show, we soon find out this was not the case at all. Suzie had many struggles with self-doubt, body image, performance anxiety and fear of others opinions.
She has since been on a remarkable journey where she now talks openly about the importance of owning who you are and then having the courage to display that version of yourself to those around you, especially when you're not feeling great. So many of us want to withdraw when struggling as it can be a lot easier. However, as Suzie mentions, the depth of connection that we all crave is done through being brave and opening up to the people close to us.
We are all craving the need to belong and connect, however there is a specific type of connection termed "high-quality connection" by psychologist Dr. Scott Barry Kaufmann. The difference between the general feeling of connection and the depth of high quality connection comes down to the ability to let yourself be seen at the most authentic level, and then having someone else respond empathetically to make you feel safe and worthy despite your imperfections.
One of the great distractions occurs when we think we can get to this depth of connection through external achievements, looking good to others and being superior to them. However these are all temporary states that are ultimately out of our control. Getting sucked into this world of chasing the next goal post, only results in an unhealthy cycle that keeps our stress response chronically activated.
Something special happens within each of us when we are vulnerable and experience moments of high quality connection: Our stress response is downregulated as our calm and connect system comes alive. On a biological level, we see an increase in oxytocin, which is a neurotransmitter commonly known as the love hormone, that increases our willingness to trust and cooperate with others. The strength of our vagus nerve increases, resulting in an increased ability to adapt to stress phsycially and mentally. This parasympathetic response also soothes a racing heart and opens up more activity in our frontal cortex allowing us to make rational decisions under pressure.
From a leadership point of view - this is the science behind unlocking performance by allowing each individual to be themselves. It is a hot topic at the moment, empathy and a human-first approach. And for good reason. You can have the perfect structure and tick all the boxes physically, However, if you want to unlock true performance, you have to start with connection.
The only way to get to this level of connection is by shedding the masks we wear. They are usually there to protect us from rejection, however the irony is that they serve as a barrier to the depth of connection. The first step of removing the masks is to embrace our imperfections. And Suzie's story is a wonderful example of how she has done this to find contentment and plenty of runs on the other side of it.