Ask yourself if your fears are illusions: Most fears in high stress situations are centered around other people’s opinions — fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of letting others down — the fear itself is more paralyzing and stressful than the actual event. Remind yourself that fears are primarily illusions.
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Carmen Wang.
Lisa Carmen Wang is a former 4X USA National Champion Gymnast and USA Hall of Fame Inductee turned serial entrepreneur, executive coach, and keynote speaker. She is the Founder of The Global League of Women (The GLOW) a leadership training platform amplifying powerful female voices. Her first company, SheWorx, was the leading global platform closing the venture funding gap and empowering over 20,000+ female entrepreneurs to gain access to capital and networks. She has been named Forbes 30 under 30, Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Woman, Red Bull Hero of The Year, and Advisory Board Member to PepsiCo’s WomanMade initiative. Lisa speaks around the world as an International Keynote Speaker on The Surprising Power of Enoughness & Empathy. She has headlined top business conferences including: The YPO World Entrepreneur Forum, Mobile World Congress, Chief Innovation Officer Summit, Harvard NextGen Summit and more. She is a former Wall Street hedge fund analyst and a graduate of Yale University. Lisa’s podcast, LEADERSHIP WITH LISA, shares leadership lessons behind the world’s most impactful leaders transforming the face of business, sports, politics, and culture.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the Midwest as an Asian American in a predominantly white community. Both my parents were immigrants from China and came over with almost nothing but the American Dream. I discovered gymnastics when I was nine years old and it became my primary focus, but even then, my parents instilled in me the importance of a good education. Thus, I grew up knowing that I would have to succeed both academically and athletically — both pursuits have been critical in shaping the foundation of my personality and life. As an athlete, the most important lesson I learned was how to fall again and again, and get back up every single time. When you learn how to deal with the physical and emotional shame of physically falling in front of thousands of people and then having to pick yourself back up, you learn how to do that for the rest of your life. My academic pursuits helped me appreciate the power of the mind, and how expansive knowledge can be, it instilled in me a perpetual curiosity for the world around me, and a constant desire for growth and personal expansion.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
I discovered gymnastics when I was nine years old in third grade. Our school had a day called “fine arts day” where we only enjoyed “arts” classes for the day. My top two choices were the rhythmic gymnastics class and the Beanie Baby making class. After much intense debate, I ended up picking the gymnastics class, and that afternoon, I got to witness the girls performing their routines. I loved the graceful way they moved to the music and found the apparatuses mesmerizing. By the end of the class, I knew I had fallen in love with the sport. They had summer camp flyers, and I begged my parents to let me go. That summer, I began gymnastics training and never looked back. It became my life and passion for the next decade of my life.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I couldn’t have succeeded without my parents who believed in me and drove me every day an hour back and forth to the gym to get to practice. They waited for me even as I trained over time, and came with me to all my early competitions. My first coach Lana Lashoff also was the one who believed in me and doubled down on training me, so I owe my foundational training to her.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most important lessons always come from the most painful mistakes. In 2007 at the World Championships in Greece, I was one of the top contenders for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In the end, I ended up missing qualifications by a mere 0.25 point margin. It was the most painful experience of my career to miss the Olympic Dream by a tiny rounding error. However, I learned that you never give up when you’re down. I vowed to become the best gymnast I could be. I threw myself into nine intense months of rigorous training at The Russian Olympic Training Center, and the next year, I came back to the USA National Championships, and swept every single gold medal, including the award for Athlete of The Year. I ended my career on the highest note possible, and it was exactly how I wanted to end that chapter of my career. I was later inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
Follow your passion and don’t let anyone sway you from your course. There will always be naysayers and haters, pay them no mind. People will dislike and envy you for your success, pay them no mind. Focus on your vision, and always keep moving forward.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m currently scaling two initiatives that are both focused on democratizing access to knowledge.
The first is The Global League of Women (The GLOW), a high-impact leadership training and media platform amplifying powerful female voices. We train women to amplify their power by building the skills, mindset, and network to succeed. There has never been a greater need for self-aware, intentional leaders. There has never been a greater need for powerful female leaders, and all my work continues to push forward this necessary change.
The second initiative is the first live platform providing hands-on training to everyday people to invest in private markets and support the next generation of impactful companies. The venture capital landscape is still 94% male, with female founded companies only receiving 2% of overall funding. We believe that democratizing access to investing through education and training will fundamentally change the founders and companies that get funded.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
- Choose to see potential positive outcomes vs. potential negative outcomes: People often naturally consider negative consequences in the form of, “What if [something bad] happens,” which causes anxiety and stress. Whenever you notice this happening, intentionally flip it into a “what if [something positive] happens.”
- Ask yourself if your fears are illusions: Most fears in high stress situations are centered around other people’s opinions — fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of letting others down — the fear itself is more paralyzing and stressful than the actual event. Remind yourself that fears are primarily illusions.
- There’s no such thing as failing, only learning: No matter what, know that every failure brings important life lessons. As long as you actively learn from a situation and apply it to the next situation, you will always be ahead of the game.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
Whenever I feel rushed or anxious, I take a few deep breaths and focus on what’s in front of me. I remind myself that the only thing I have is the present moment, and the only person I can control is myself.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
A big part of focus is simply one’s conviction and commitment to making something a priority. I’m a big believer that if you want something badly enough, you will prioritize it. If you don’t, then you won’t. I always tell people that trying to “hack” focus through tips and tricks doesn’t work long term. Usually it’s less a problem of How to focus, but rather What to focus on. If you can’t focus on the task at hand, it likely belies a greater underlying problem, which is that the work in and of itself either is unfulfilling or there isn’t clear enough long term motivation to make you truly excited about it.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
There are three important and basic things to consider: 1. How you nourish your body 2. How you work out your body 3. How you rest your body. I never skip breakfast and always start my day off with a high-protein breakfast such as plain greek yogurt with berries or eggs with kale. Hydration is so key, and I make sure to drink ample liquids throughout the day. In terms of exercise, I work out 5–6 times a week doing a mix of cardio and body weight. Even when I’m busy, I’ll make sure to do a quick 15-minute at home abs workout. And finally, I make sure to get 7–8 hours of sleep. If I don’t sleep well one night, I’ll make sure to make it up the following night as soon as possible.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
In order to successfully change your habits over time, you need to 1. Want to change badly enough 2. Wholeheartedly believe in the long-term reason for changing. For example if someone wants to lose weight quickly for an event, they might eat well for a short period of time, but lapse back into bad eating habits soon after. In order to fundamentally change bad eating habits, they would need to feel enough present pain, and realize the long-term detrimental effects of their current habits in order to maintain the transformation.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Finding ways to hold yourself accountable is really important. Even if you don’t have another person to do so, create ways to track your behavior and a system to reward good behavior and penalize bad behavior.
As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
Self-knowledge and perseverance are extremely important to achieving Flow. In terms of self-knowledge, you need to understand the activities that work for your body, while simultaneously clearing your mind. People often talk about achieving a state of Flow while running or biking because as their body works, their mind is able to focus. It takes time and patience to achieve Flow because your body needs to be focused on something for an extended period of time with no distractions. Flow is really about a combination of experiencing a body high and the resulting mental clarity that comes with continual dedication to one activity.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
As a gymnast, I used to visualize my routines before every competition. I now use this same technique to visualize the things I want to accomplish in the future. One exercise I do myself and for my clients is the “Ideal Self Visualization” — where you visualize what a day in your life will be like a year from now, down to the the tiniest detail — including how you feel, what you’re wearing, who you’re surrounded by, and what you’re doing. When you force yourself to visualize these small details, it makes the future more concrete and brings a dose of hope and optimism to the present.
Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
Self-love has been the most deeply profound and transformative thing that has ever happened to me. I spent a significant portion of my life questioning my own worth, constantly feeling like I wasn’t good enough even when I accomplished success externally. It took me years to realize that external success doesn’t automatically translate into internal enoughness, and I realized how crippling negative self-talk could be.
Learning to love yourself is difficult but it starts with noticing the things you’re grateful for in yourself. I started a Self-Love Journal where I would write down three things I loved about myself every day, and created a mantra that I actively started saying to myself in the mirror every morning. It has been transformative in reframing my self-perception. As a result of my own powerful journey, I created the 21-Day Self-Love Challenge to help other women also learn how to overcome imposter syndrome/fears/limiting beliefs, and fully embrace self-love.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My work has been focused on empowering female leaders to get equal access to skills, capital, and networks. My first company SheWorx became the leading global community empowering over 20,000 female entrepreneurs. After a successful acquisition, I founded The Global League of Women (The GLOW) to train and amplify powerful female voices. I have created The Global League of Women Podcast and the Leadership with Lisa Podcast to highlight powerful leaders who are fundamentally transforming the face of leadership. There has never been a greater need for self-aware, intentional leaders. There has never been a greater need for powerful female leaders, and all my work continues to create a foundation to create this necessary change.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” — Walt Disney
Everything begins with your own imagination and your belief in yourself. I believe life is a battle of wills, and the ones who are most convicted in their own wills are the ones who will achieve their goals and win.
“There is no greater burden than bearing an untold story inside of you.” — Maya Angelou
Everyone has a unique story to tell, and our greatest desire is to live authentically as our true selves. We often don’t share these parts of ourselves because of fear of failure or of fear of what other people think; however, what we should actually be considering is how to live the life that is most fulfilling and authentic to ourselves because that is how we realize our greatest potential and create the greatest impact for others.
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung
The only thing we control is our own thoughts, perceptions, and emotions.The greatest growth comes from looking inwards and asking ourselves the hard questions, starting with the most fundamental ones: “Who am I, really?” and “What do I want?”
“Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” — Michael Jordan
I appreciate the tenacity and unwavering vision that Michael Jordan applied to his athletic career. I also believe fears and limits are illusions that we impose upon ourselves, and that the only way to overcome them is to shatter the illusion.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
There are two women I’d love to speak with because they represent different phases in my life. First, I’d love to speak with Michelle Kwan. She was one of my earliest role models as a young athlete. As a girl who grew up feeling like an outsider, she was the only athlete who I could see who looked like me. She was one of the early Asian American female athletes who truly resonated with me and I and sat around the TV with my family rooting for her during all the National Championships and Olympic Games. I wrote my Yale college senior thesis on Asian American female athletes, with Michelle Kwan being a prominent feature. I believe that Asian American female athletes are only just beginning to scratch the surface of their potential, and I love seeing more and more translate their tenacity into other high-impact endeavours after their athletic career.
Then the second person I would love to meet is Oprah Winfrey. She has built a career for herself around telling powerful stories by asking powerful questions. She creates space for others and in doing so, is able to lift everyone around her up. She rose up in her career during a time when it was extremely difficult for minority women to do so, and in getting to the level of success she has, she has become a role model to many young women around the world. Oprah is a testament to what you can achieve if you believe in yourself and your dreams.