Artist Of The Month May 2020: Lisa Forrest OAM
Extract from new book Glide: Taking the Panic out of Modern Living
Taking The Panic Out Of Modern Living
By Lisa Forrest
Published by Allen & Unwin, April 2020
Glide is the story of what happened when serial-achiever Lisa Forrest (Olympian, TV and radio broadcaster, author, actor, wife, mother) took time out to answer a question that had been weighing her down for years: Why, no matter what she achieved, was she never enough for herself?
Lisa discovered that the get-tough lessons from her years in elite sport were the source of her problem - in fact, they are the source of much of the illness, burnout and mental health challenges we all face today. More surprising is the antidote: self-compassion. Could it be the super-power we've all been looking for?
Drawing on the wisdom of the women who ran Lisa's first swimming club through to contemplative neuroscience, Glide offers remarkably honest and calm insights into navigating the perils of modern living from a woman who has experienced it all.
Lisa Forrest OAM became a household name when representing her country as a teenager and captaining the Australian women’s swimming team to the 1980 Moscow Games. Lisa is a Commonwealth Games dual gold medallist. Since her swimming days she’s been a broadcaster on both TV and radio, acted on TV and on stage and authored six books, including three novels for teenagers, as well as Boycott: The story behind Australia’s controversial involvement in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Some may have forgotten that this swimming team trained locally:
'Lean and hungry' for Olympics
VITTEL, France, Saturday ( AAP).. —The Australian Olympic -swimmers have shaped up for Moscow like destitute boxers at the height of the great depression.
"Lean and hungry" was how the swimming team manager, Peter Bowen-Pain summed up the attitude of the 17 youngsters, now starting their pre-Games training in this Vosges Mountains resort about 400 kms south of Paris.
Bowen-Pain is confident that the swimmers will confirm the timeless boxing adage that "the leaner, they are and the hungrier they are — the better they are. None of his charges have been plucked from a dole queue but they are just as desperate to succeed.
Bowen-Pain's analogy of lean times - was especially significant.
The 1976 Olympic swimming team was hardly worth its weight in gold, or silver, or even a'semi-precious metal: it won only a solitary bronze medal at Montreal. And many of that team were overweight even before they left. For their final preparation they were billeted in private homes in Perth and the team management had little control over what they ate.
This time the temptation has been removed: All the swimmers have been on a strict training and dietary regimen since last November.
After the national championships the games' squad spent three weeks at a training camp in Brisbane in May and in June worked out up to five hours a day at the Warringah Aquatic Centre on Sydney's northern beaches.
In Brisbane they were the first full-time occupants of the Commonwealth Games-QE2 Centre. In Sydney the team stayed at a Dee Why motel. The regimen is being continued in France, where the team is recovering from travel and 'acclimatising' to European mid-summer, and is free from boycott controversies at home and the pre-Games pressure in Moscow.
Bowen-Pain 'said the psychological pressures of the Games boycott controversy were now very much a part of history.
"Team spirit is excellent" he said. Bowen-Pain has had the difficult task of shielding the swimmers from the boycott dispute. He stressed that they had not been subjected to direct pressure. ....
Moscow swimming medal hopes Liza Forrest, left, and Georgie Parkes with their koala mascot when the team left Sydney for pre-Games training in France this week.
SWIMMING 'Lean and hungry' for Olympics (1980, July 6). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 24. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125608752
After retiring from the sport, Lisa became a well-respected commentator of sport, and was the first woman to host her own national sports program, Saturday Afternoon Football in 1986 on ABCTV. Not content to stay in the sports 'box' she again broke new ground moving into general reporting via The Midday Show with Ray Martin. Lisa has since hosted television shows such as Everybody on ABC TV and Evenings on 702 ABC Sydney 702 as well as performing as an actor.
Lisa is also a motivational speaker, mental skills coach and teacher of mindfulness-based stress reduction. Her business Evermind (www.evermind.com.au) is dedicated to fostering innate courage, curiosity, compassion and joy, qualities she believes support our ability to glide through the challenges of the 21st century.
It's my hope that by the end of this book I will have convinced you that a combination of mindfulness, self-compassion and compassion is all you need to get on your own side - and to help others get on theirs. And when we can all do that, we'll glide through life's challenges.
For many of us Lisa is one of our own champions though, it was we here who stood and cheered for her every triumph in the sports arena and defended her through every challenge that came then and afterwards. Lisa was among the first to receive an Australian Sports Medal (formally introduced on December 23, 1999 and awarded in the year 2000) but being inducted into the Northern Beaches Sporting Hall of Fame in 2001 may be just as important to her - in fact this book is dedicated to where it all began.
The opening page reads:
The Dee Why Ladies
Ahead of their time
Leading with compassion
And for Dex
A most forgiving teacher
May there be peace in your inner and outer worlds
Dex is her son with husband Jesse Todd.
This is her family - this community is her family - and Elizabeth Marie "Lisa" Forrest, is our girl.
When the Dee Why Rock Pool was dedicated to Isa Wye last year it was Lisa who was there to offer congratulations to the family and share insights into this wonderful lady. This month an extract from this work that is threaded with and connected to what rings true, in her and in life - but first, a few words from the author herself:
What is your fondest memory of Isa?
Her sense of humour and her compassion. In late 2012, when I learned that she’d had a stroke and was close to leaving this world I visited her at the nursing home in Narraweena. Her face lit up when I walked into the room. ‘Lise, people say that at 90 you’re over the hill but I don’t think I’ve got the energy to get to the top let alone over it,’ she said with her trademark chuckle.
My favourite story Mrs Wye story was one she told me about her fiancé before he went to New Guinea for WWII. He was to be stationed in Townsville first which worried him more than the war because they would be swimming in the river and he didn’t know how to swim. But he was too embarrassed to join the Learn-to-Swim lessons that she ran for the council at Dee Why pool (now the Isa Wye Rock Pool). So to save her fiancé any embarrassment, she met him at the pool every morning before dawn and taught him how to swim in the dark.
Your first novel first novel, Making The Most Of It, in 2000, a work of fiction, deals with the sport related problems of eating disorders, drugs, being a sporting celebrity, failure, self-esteem, and relationships [added to the recommended reading list for years 7-10 by the NSW Board of Studies] - what has coalesced within you during the past 20 years that has led to 2020's 'Glide'?
When I wrote, Making the Most of It, which was published a couple of months before the 2000 Sydney Games, I was exploring questions like, would money have made a difference (we weren’t professional in my day), and are a success if you don’t win Olympic gold? Which are questions more related to an athlete’s relationship with the external world.
Twenty years later, I was more I interested in my internal world and the relationship I had with myself. With a life full of diverse achievements, I wondered why I was still tormented by an internal critical internal voice – that I called Ms Never Enough. Where did she come from and why wouldn’t she let me rest?
Until I took a time-out to answer those questions in 2013, I thought my achievements were the result of a favourite motto that my coach used to write on the blackboard: when the going gets tough the tough get going? But over the years that motto was used by Ms Never Enough like a whip. Then a couple of serendipitous events – that I’ve written about in Glide – helped me to see that before getting tough in my teens, from the age of 8-14, this shy nervous little girl had been led by compassionate people like Isa Wye who empathised rather than judged my tears while encouraging me forward. This helped me discover (again and again) that my tears and fears underestimated me. When the going gets tough the tough get compassionate took a little time to accept because I’d come to believe that compassion was weak. But I had many good concrete examples from those years to aid the coalescence. And then to discover that with mindfulness practice, I could train myself to let go of Ms Never Enough’s berating and cultivate an internal Isa Wye who empathised and encouraged instead – well, that was true liberation!
Being the first woman to host her own national sports program, [Saturday Afternoon Football in 1986 on ABCTV] - why FOOTBALL? And what was the worst and BEST feedback from doing this?
I’d been encouraged to become a sports reporter when I retired by the sports reporters, like Ernie Christensen (Fairfax) and Ian Heads (News Limited) who travelled with the Australian swim team back then because I was always writing aerograms home and I loved talking to them about my favourite rugby league team at the time, the Manly Sea eagles. There were only a couple of women in sports reporting back then but I was lucky that as a successful swimmer, the players were always happy to talk to me. I don’t remember any feedback – good or bad – about a woman hosting a football program. Remember this was before social media so if anyone wanted to complain they had to take the time to write a letter and post it. Some 34 years later I’m still stopped in the street or there are posts on my FB page complimenting me about that show.
This is a beautiful book, quietly to the point and a gift through sharing this journey - how did it feel to complete this particular work?
Thank you. The most nerve-wracking thing about writing Glide was just how personal it was. But when I realised I had these two distinct periods in my swimming career, one that featured compassionate leadership and one that featured fear- and shame-based leadership, and that the former helped me discover that no matter the challenge I always had the internal resources to meet any demand, while the latter gave rise to an internal voice that exacerbated anxiety and repeatedly drove me to illness and burnout, it seemed to me that it was a story that was important to tell. Not only that, with mindfulness and compassion practice we can train our minds to be strong in all the qualities that we say we want – improved focus and concentration, pro-social relationships, patience, calm, compassion and courage. I was really lucky to work again with editor, Ali Lavau, who edited my book, Boycott, so she knew my story and really liked the way I was trying to weave my personal experience with what I was learning through the coaching and mindfulness courses. I was very satisfied with the outcome. And thanks to mindfulness training I was able to rest in that sense of accomplishment without Ms Never Enough and her Scarcity sisters trying to spoil it. So Glide was rewarding in many ways!
Will there be an online [considering current circumstances] forum or event for this work since we cannot attend one in a local library? and... What's next?
Berkelouw/Harry Hartog Books are arranging an on-line chat for the 13th or 20th of May but it's yet to be confirmed.
And as far as what is next, my son is doing his HSC and my husband runs a business and is trying to keep his 50 employees in work, so staying calm and supportive for them in 2020 through the challenge of the coronavirus is the main aim. I teach the 8-week, Mindfulness-based stress reduction course which starts again (online) at the end of May. And I’m working with a friend developing a fictional TV series set during our ‘summer of love’ in inner-Sydney back in 1990, and will keep journaling and playing with a few ideas of my own for future books.
Extract From Glide
From Chapter 2 - The Dee Why Ladies
What is the best way to motivate young people?
It wasn’t a requirement of my life-coaching course to attend the 2013 Young Minds Conference in Sydney, but I wanted to hear how international and local experts would answer a question that I had often been asked— a question that I had become less and less confident answering. I’d emceed both Young Minds and Happiness and Its Causes conferences previously, but never attended as a delegate, let alone a life coach. I was also new to the world of start-ups, but I hoped that I might attract a client (maybe two) to my new life-coaching business if I wrote a short piece on the latest best-practice methods and managed to get it published somewhere.
By the end of the conference I’d learned that, according to the latest research, the self-esteem movement, with its reliance on excessive praise, and the talent-spotting programs that singled out the ‘gifted and talented’ had been disastrous for the resilience of the generations they influenced.
Stanford University professor of psychology Carol Dweck explained her world-famous theory on fixed and growth mindsets. Dweck’s research had found that our motivation— or lack of it— is directly shaped by the qualities we are complimented on at a young age. If we are praised for the things that come easily to us— that is, if we’re judged a ‘natural’— then we tend to believe that intelligence or skills that come easily are more valuable than those requiring learning or effort. Inherent to that train of thought is the belief that ability is fixed. So when the time comes for ‘naturals’ to make an effort (as even the ‘naturals’ and the ‘gifted’ must), many feel talentless— which leads them to give up rather than risk looking bad.
Those who believe that talent is not fixed, on the other hand— those who are taught that the more you practise the better you get and who are praised for diligence and effort— have a growth mindset. Since that cohort are not protecting a ‘natural’s’ reputation, they’re more likely to seek help when they need it, identify their weaknesses and take action, while extending their strengths by getting out of their comfort zone.
One of the general rules I’d learned from the coaching course was obvious once it was explained: that we interpret (or map) the world based on our personal conditioning and the way we ‘frame’ our experiences. Our five senses are taking in massive amounts of information every minute, so our nervous system and brains are constantly sifting through the data and applying it to what we ‘know’ is right and believe is true— in the process twisting, simplifying, even removing the input until it fits our perspective. Or our personal ‘maps’. But our personal maps are merely one way of looking at the world.
The conclusions Carol Dweck and Toni Noble arrived at through their research made sense to me because they aligned with my map, based on my experiences. I swam and went to school in the days before talent spotters went out looking for the ‘gifted and talented’. In fact, in my family it was my younger brother and sister who were the naturals. I was the clumsy one who was lucky to find swimming— water being the least dangerous environment in which to try to bring some grace to my gangly, uncoordinated limbs. So a growth mindset— the more I practised the better I got— was the way my talent was fostered. And while I set my sights on the Olympic Games when I was eight, the obvious way to build the courage and confidence I needed to get to an international stage was one race at a time: a Club Championship before a Warringah Championship, a state title before a national title.
Feeling buoyed by this confluence of the experts’ research and my own experience, I wrote my story about the conference, sent it off, and managed to get it published on an online women’s news and opinion page.
I quickly learned that the topic of motivating young people is much more polarising than I could have imagined. On one side are those who believe that, in a world that is too focused on winning, children can’t be praised enough. On the other side are those who think the fall of civilisation is imminent because all children are now given a prize rather than only those who deserve it— the winners.
From the angry tone of the comments thread, I quickly gave up any idea of gaining clients from that particular exercise. So I was quite surprised to be contacted by a woman who had read my article. We arranged a meeting to discuss whether life coaching would be appropriate for her teenage son. The woman I met in a cafe near my home was a very worried mum. Her teen was stuck and suffering— and now self-harming. It quickly became clear that life coaching was not the way forwards for this young person; he was already seeing psychiatrists and counsellors who could offer more specialised help than I could.
As we chatted, I asked what might have caused his debilitating anxiety. The woman traced it back to when her son entered a race at his primary school swimming carnival and won. And he kept winning— eventually swimming his way into the final at the State Championships. But at this point the boy baulked— distressed and crying, he decided he wouldn’t race.
The woman told me that she and her husband thought that, along with natural ability, a good athlete needed the right temperament. If their son didn’t have the right temperament, there wasn’t anything that could be done about it. So they allowed him to withdraw from the race. From then on, the problems mounted. The young boy refused to try anything new and became irrationally angry with those around him who did. Bouts of anxiety led to depression, time off school, and eventually to self-harming.
Over the next few days, I kept turning over the story of the youngster in my mind. The pain he’d experienced broke my heart because I knew that temperament, like intelligence and skills, was not fixed. I knew this because, like this young person, I had always cried before doing something that made me really nervous. In fact, I still do. And in acknowledging that I realised something else. There was a way to manage those tears— and I’d known it for most of my life. I learned it the day I arrived at the Dee Why Ladies’ Swimming Club, late in the summer of 1972, and entered my very first swimming race. On that day, I met a group of women who knew how to deal with tears and fears.
I was destined to be a beach girl. Even though Mum and Dad met at the Albert Palais dance hall in Leichhardt, in Sydney’s Inner West, in the late 1950s, they did most of their courting at Bondi Beach. According to Mum, everyone from the Albert Palais headed to Bondi on Sunday to parade in front of the pavilion. But Dad wasn’t one to parade. Instead, he went into training to swim ‘a quarter’ (of a mile, 440 yards) in the time required to join the surf club, which he managed to do.
But by the time Mum and Dad married in 1960, his interests had moved to the Northern Beaches and surfing. Dad eventually built our house on a block of land in the new suburb of Cromer, a couple of kilometres from the beach, and we moved there soon after I was born in 1964.
I was at the beach by the time I was crawling, trying to keep up with Dad. Early stories describe me as a shy child who was happiest by his side. Even at family gatherings— Mum is one of seven, so they weren’t small events— I was rarely lured from Dad’s knee. When it came time to go to school, I was reluctant, but tears could be overcome if I walked to school with my friend who lived a few doors up the road. If she was sick, the morning was very difficult for Mum. Eventually, she found a reward that worked— I could earn myself a Little Golden Book every Friday if I there was no crying during the week. Mum would drop me off at friends’ birthday parties and arrive home to a phone call: I was crying in the corner of a room and it might be better if she returned to collect me before I spoiled everyone’s fun. She took me to fashionable activities for girls back then, like physical culture, but I clung to her in tears and refused to participate.
I guess these days my behaviour might be called separation anxiety. Back then, I was a pain in the neck for everyone around me. I only went to Dee Why pool that Saturday afternoon in 1972 because Dad had made a deal with my brother Greg.
Like any self-respecting six-year-old growing up by the beach, Greg wanted to upgrade from a foam Coolite surfboard to a fibreglass board. Dad decreed that to earn the upgrade, Greg had to be able to swim 400 metres of freestyle, non-stop. Even if Dad hadn’t been a former lifesaver, this was sensible— in the early 1970s leg ropes weren’t yet standard and the best surf breaks were often a good way offshore.
So, our next-door neighbours, who were members of the Dee Why Men’s club, took my brother along the next weekend for Greg to begin his campaign. The following week, he got his name in the Results section of the Manly Daily for his first effort and we all crowded around the newspaper to see his name in print. I might have been shy, but I was also his older sister. And I loved to swim; when I was five I’d earned my Learn to Swim Certificate at the Pat Nichols Swim School at Harbord for completing 25 metres of dog paddle and it had been proudly displayed on my pinboard ever since. Perhaps this was the first inkling of my competitive spirit, because seeing Greg’s name in the paper was enough to make me forget my shyness and propel me to Dee Why the next Saturday.
I was familiar enough with the 50-metre pool at Dee Why beach when I arrived for my first race. Like all beach pools around Australia, the Dee Why pool (now called the Isa Wye Rock Pool) was constructed within the rock platform at the base of the headland. There are more rocks beyond the pool from which board riders launch themselves into the Dee Why point surf— a break that has a solid reputation along the Northern Beaches. The surf doesn’t have to be very big for the waves to wash into the pool at the eastern end, as was happening on the afternoon of my first race. The day was sunny, and the rolling ocean sparkled. But standing on the blocks at the western end of the pool, quite uncharacteristically on the threshold of adventure, I was having second thoughts. The 25-metre line looked a lot further away than I thought it would. By this time my dog paddle had become a ragged, head-out-of-water freestyle; I was yet to work out how to swim with my face in the water and turn my head to take a breath. Could my freestyle take me all the way to the finish line? What if I drowned on the way? What if a rogue wave crashed over the end of the pool while I was swimming? I knew enough about the surf to know that most sets had one wave that was bigger than the rest— what if it washed over the whole pool when I was swimming and I swallowed too much water? And what about the seaweed at the bottom of the pool? There might be something lurking down there that would pull me under when I dived in. And how did I dive in, anyway?
I no longer wanted to swim in a race. True to form, tears welled, my vision blurred, and I couldn’t see my parents. I was starting to panic.
Fortunately, I couldn’t have found a more caring, kind and capable group of women among whom to panic.
The Dee Why Ladies, led by Isa Wye, their president at the time I joined, were experts in soothing fears and carrying on. These were women who had kept their club running every Saturday afternoon through the Great Depression as well as World War II, when the pool and the beach had been fenced off by barbed wire to stop the enemy coming ashore in submarines. These were women who’d formed the Vigilance committee in the late 1920s so what was theirs— from their clubhouse to the money they raised— could not be usurped by the men’s surf and swimming clubs, thank you very much. These were women who also, recognising the benefits of a community, had relaxed their vigilance and gathered together not just the men but all the Northern Beaches clubs to create the Warringah Amateur Swimming Association so their girls could connect with others, expand friendships, maintain interest and motivation and keep the sport strong. And these were women who led the campaign to have the first 50-metre state and national standard swimming and diving pool built on the Northern Beaches: the Warringah Aquatic Centre.
But they could not have done any of this if they didn’t have girls coming every week to club races at Dee Why. And over the decades they had seen so many little girls distressed in exactly the same way I was that they had devised a strategy to overcome it. Before I knew what was happening, people gathered around me— I suppose it was the time-keepers— telling me not to worry, while a teenage member of the club whipped off her t-shirt and jumped into my lane, just beyond dive-in distance. She looked up at me from the pool with a big grin and said, ‘Come on, sweetheart, you can do this.’ I was still worried. But I was also really hot, and it looked nice in the water. And all these people I didn’t even know were being so kind to me. I looked again at the girl in the water; she wasn’t being sucked under by a seaweed creature. Maybe I wouldn’t drown on the way to the 25-metre line.
I heard a voice say, ‘Get ready,’ the start gun went off, and some instinct impelled me into the water. My dive was a classic belly flop, but when I surfaced the girl was there. I couldn’t tell if I was crying from my stinging belly or because I was so scared. With every stroke I took, she backed further down the pool until we were a long way from both the starting edge and the finishing line. I couldn’t reach her, but her words were soothing. She kept telling me that I was doing well and that I was going to make it easily. I wasn’t sure about that, but no matter how hard I tried to catch her she was always out of reach. Suddenly, she disappeared under the water, and the orange rope and foam float that was the 25-metre line was just ahead. She popped up on the other side of the rope, raised her arms and jumped up and down, cheering. ‘You did it!’ And with another stroke, my hand grabbed the finish line, and her hands went under my arms, and amid some other cheers coming from people on the edge of the pool she said, ‘See, I told you could do it.’ She was right— and the experience wasn’t as scary as I’d thought it would be, and that felt good. It felt so good that I knew without a doubt that I would definitely be coming back to Dee Why the next week to feel it again.
You can probably imagine the fun the Dee Why Ladies had six years later, when many of them were officiating on the pool deck at the 1978 Commonwealth Games trials at the Sydney University pool. The delight they felt when ‘their girl’ made the Australian team was further enhanced by their first-hand account of my debut at their club. As they told everyone who would listen, in her first race at the Dee Why Ladies Lisa Forrest cried all the way to the finish line.
I would not have remembered my tears but for their stories. I was there again the next week, but I cannot recall if I needed an older girl to be in the pool with me. I don’t think so, because after the second week of racing at Dee Why I got an idea into my head about what I might be able to do on my third visit. It was a Dee Why Ladies rule that you had to swim three club races before entering a championship race. So as long as I swam the regular club race on my third Saturday, I could enter the championship races that would be held that afternoon. We had joined the club late in the season, and the championships had already begun, which meant the first championship race I could enter was the U/8 25m Butterfly.
I could hardly do freestyle, let alone butterfly, but why not have a go?...
On the following Saturday, I lined up for the championship race without the aid of a companion in the water and with nothing to lose. A few minutes later, after a very close contest, I finished second in the U/8 25m Butterfly by a whisker— but you might have thought I’d won it from the way everyone reacted. No one called me a natural (I’d practised diligently every day and that experience had shown me that the more I practised the better I got), but I was aware that what I’d done was significant. The winner of the race had been a member of the club since she was five; her three sisters were also members of the club, while their mum was treasurer. These were Dee Why Ladies stalwarts and I’d come from nowhere and nearly caused an upset. This was the most exciting and satisfying thing I’d ever done.
Even better, I was no longer the pain in the neck, the shy kid crying in the corner who no one knew what to do with. There were many suggestions as to what might happen next year if I started at the beginning of the season— there were three-way competitions with other clubs, the Warringah Championships, and Mrs Wye, the club president, wondered if I might like to go to stroke-correction classes in Killarney Heights on Monday nights during the winter. There I would learn how to put my face in the water doing freestyle as well as receiving guidance on the other strokes. I nearly shook my head off my neck as I nodded yes, yes, yes to it all.
If I have a Ms Never Enough, she was preceded by Ms Have a Go, who first showed herself when challenged by a butterfly race at Dee Why, then really made herself known while I read those newspaper stories. Maybe I could have a go at the Olympic Games?....
Give yourself this gift and take that journey!