Marilyn King: Olympian Thinking and Peak Performance for Managers (Ep. #13)

Published on
March 23, 2020
No items found.
Follow Our Podcast

Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #13: Olympian Thinking and Peak Performance for Managers

Leadership and peak performance expert Marilyn King discusses how managers can use her Olympian Thinking - Passion (for energy/creativity), Visualization (for crystal clear goals) & Action (daily practices/feedback) - to supercharge their productivity.

In this episode, you'll learn:

Meet Marilyn King

  • Bio & Background
  • Leadership & Peak Performance

Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

  • How we hold ourselves back
  • How what happened to Marilyn by accident can be done by design

The Power of Showing Up

  • Passion Power
  • How Neuroscience is confirming these ideas

Mindset Matters: Engaging the Innovative, Creative Parts of the Brain

Management as the Art & Science of Stretch & BHAG Goals

Downloads & Resources

Follow Marilyn on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

About Marilyn King

Marilyn King is an internationally respected business consultant, international speaker and corporate trainer, who assists participants in discovering how profoundly their thinking affects their health, their performance and their future. The results are success-oriented individuals who are self-defined, self-directed and capable of far surpassing their previous levels of accomplishment. Through keynotes, training and consulting, Marilyn provides business leaders and educators with mental tools that will serve them for a lifetime.

Over the past 17 years Marilyn King’s message of unlimited possibility has inspired thousands worldwide. Her techniques have been incorporated by businesses seeking to empower employees, embrace change and provide global leadership. Marilyn King’s corporate clients include American Express, Apple Computer, AT&T, Haas School of Business, Hewlett Packard, IBM, L.M. Ericsson, Monsanto, Sun Microsystems, Swiss Reinsurance Company and Xerox Business Services.

Marilyn King is also the founder of an organization which seeks to extend the application of imagery and related skills to a broader arena of individual and social concerns, including world peace. She is currently creating a curriculum for schools based on Olympian Technology.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson: Hello, I'mWendy Hanson and I am co-founder of Better Manager. Our mission is to help managers make a positive difference in the lives of the people they work with and their organization. And so I want to bring you people that will give you ideas and fundamentally give you things that you can take action on.

So I am really lucky to have with me today my friend and colleagueMarilyn King who is an Olympian. She is an amazing woman and has a great story to share. Let me tell you a little bit about Marilyn before I have her jump on the scene. Marilyn is a two-time Olympian,Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976. She was in the grueling five-event called the pentathlon. Her 20-year athletic career includes five national titles and a world record. Marilyn King has been featured in numerous articles and books including "DreamMakers"and the "Spirit of Champions." Marilyn King also has appeared on the PBS program NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She is aLeadership and Peak Performance expert, and has agreed to be able to share some of her history, how she has come to be where she is today with us.

So thank you, Marilyn. Welcome.

Marilyn King: Thanks Wendy.I'm really delighted to be here because you know you're like one of my all-time top favorite coaches because of how pragmatic you are.You are always looking for how do we apply this and I love that.

Wendy Hanson: Yes, and you have such a great story that I think all of our managers and people that want to be managers some day can really learn from. So, your story comes as a two-part story about vision, because I am working with managers on vision all the time. So, if everybody can get the context, like when we are working as a coach, I'm always asking, "Where do you want to go." "Where do you set your GPS?" And when people are stuck in coaching ...I might say think ahead…” In December, if things were going really well, what would have happened. Tell me as we're there and you are telling the story backwards. So this what you are going to share with us today is going to give people new insight to how the brain works, how this all happens.

So please get us started. How did the first part of your story begin,Marilyn.

Marilyn King: Yeah, well, it's... I playfully tell people it happened to me by accident, and now we can do it by design. And so the part of what I share now that has to do with vision actually came about because when I was a kid, we moved all the time as a military brat and I didn't do very well making friends. And I realized if you went to sports after school, it was really a good way to meet people and easier to make friends. And so all the time we moved, that's what I did. I joined the after-school sports teams and I was like a B plus athlete, and that was fine. You know, I got to play. And then one day, I was at a track meet and they invited someone I had beaten to go to the Olympic training camp. And that was like, what?

Marilyn King: It's a good time if you beat somebody who had a bad day, but I beat this person. I knew I was a better athlete than she was, and the Olympic committee thought she could go to the Olympics. So what do you think happened in my mind? If the Olympic committee thinks she can go to the Olympics and I'm better than she is that means I could go to theOlympics, which was like...

Wendy Hanson: Oh, my God[laugh].

Marilyn King: But we know, now, that in terms of thanks to neuroscience, the neuroscientists call this cognitive dissonance. The mind can't hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. So it tries to come up with some ideas to bridge that gap. And that's exactly what happened tome. I knew I had to move back to California. I had to get a better job. I had all these things I had to do if I was going to be in theOlympics. But those were new thoughts that led to new behaviours, that took me to my first two Olympic teams.


Wendy Hanson: Wow. That must have been such an amazing epiphany and the fact that you didn't step over it. Some people may have said, ah, that will never happen to me and just walk away. But you didn't do that.

Marilyn King: Well, I can't take credit for it because inside my head are the same two voices that you were saying. One side is going, "Wow, I could be in theOlympics." And the other one is going, "Don't be an idiot."

You k now people. And this was the larger to evidence-based part of my mind. But then I couldn't let go of this other idea. And that's why it's cognitive dissonance. I couldn't let go of the Olympic Committee report, but I also knew that there were a lot of people better than me. And that's why my mind started to create these new solutions.

Wendy Hanson: I work with a lot of leaders who have this. They've gotten messages from people they work with and from senior staff to say, you know, "You're going to be the CEO or running an organization some day.” And they have that same thing, like I could go to the Olympics - “I could be a CEO.” But it takes more than just.... then you have to do what you did, you got to make a plan of action then, and ask myself “what do I need to do and how do I push forward.”

Marilyn King: Yes. And it also needs to be something compelling, because quite frankly I wouldn't want to be the CEO of a company [laughs] which is way too much work and way too many skills I don't have. But I could be in theOlympics. So for someone it's like I could run this company.

Wendy Hanson: Yes.

Marilyn King: Right? And if that's an exciting thing, you know your current reality and you keep holding on to this exciting idea, your mind will do the same thing.It will come up with new thoughts that lead to new behaviors, that could increase the chances of that happening.

Wendy Hanson: Great. So you decided to go on this path. And tell us a little bit more because this goes, leads into part two of this story.

Marilyn King: [laughs] Yes.It's a part of the story that lot of people now know. So I was very fortunate. I ended up making the Olympic team in 1972, and went toMunich, Germany. I was like a spectator. I decided I wanted to go again and maybe actually compete. And so in 1976, which is when I decided I would go to one more Olympic team, in 1980. And that I didn't think I would ever win a gold medal. But I wanted to do so well as a slightly above talented American female that I would inspire really talented females to start to train. So it's like, okay, I might not win a medal, but I'm going to make some people nervous and I am going to inspire some younger people. So I was training for my third Olympic team. And I had taken a big chance.

I took a year's leave of absence from my head coaching position at UCBerkeley in order to have for the first and only time 24 x 7 for a whole year to do nothing but train. And not have to work and go to school. And so I embarked on my training in the fall and then inNovember my car was hit from behind by a truck. And it wasn't a big ugly accident. As a matter of fact, you know, I walked away from it.But the next day when I started to warm up, my back literally went out. It was like someone just twisted something at the back of my neck and it turned out to be a bulging disc. It was misdiagnosed, but it shoots pain from the back of your head down to your heel. And guess what? You can't do the six to eight hours a day of training that you needed to do to be a world class athlete.

Wendy Hanson:So, you were on this path and now, oh goodness, now what do I do?

Marilyn King: Yeah. And nowI got my money in the bank and nothing else to do....

Wendy Hanson: Right.

Marilyn King: ....except this, and I can't do it. And for some reason I just got this idea in my head again. This was by accident. I thought, well, it's just at weak. I will be in the top three at the Olympic trials in the summer and I'm getting better every day. And I needed to go to doctors and I needed to go to a physical therapist, and I was doing that almost every day with the same mindset. Just a tweak, be in the top three,I'm getting better every day. Only two weeks, three weeks, six weeks go by and nothing has changed. And they still haven't really figured out what it is.

SoI felt, well, I have to do something. So I got films of the world records holders in all five of my events: Hurdle, shot put, high jump, long jump, and 800 meters, and I started to watch them frame by frame and slow motion. And imagine myself doing exactly the same performances that these world record holders were. So I did that probably for, I don't know, maybe six weeks. And so I was so sick of these films I could just throw up [laughs]. So I thought I have to do something. I went out on the track and I spent three to four hours a day, imagining my training or imagining my performance, still envisioning I will be in the top three at the Olympic trials and I'm getting better every day.

Wendy Hanson: Yeah. When was that? What year was that, Marilyn?

Marilyn King: So this is, we're now, it's 1980. We're getting ready for the Olympic trials forMoscow.

Wendy Hanson: Right. And in 1980 these were unique thoughts. Like, now we know that when StephCurry goes on the court with the Warriors, he has already played this game, right? We know that now. But we didn't know that then.

Marilyn King: No.

Wendy Hanson: So you kind of made this up, at that....

Marilyn King: That's right.That's why I say it's kind of fun to have now the opportunities to share when people have something they care about, because back then, you know, sports psychology was in its infancy.

Wendy Hanson: Yeah.


Marilyn King: Ah, so I went to the Olympic trials for the 1980 Moscow games. I had them give me a facet block which is like a Novocain injection and I placed second at the Olympic trials without physical training for almost seven months.

Wendy Hanson: Wow. What was the response to that, because people must have been checked. If anybody knew the background story when you showed up at the trials?

Marilyn King: Well, if you know good psychology for competing in athletics or anything else, you certainly don't want to let anyone know about any weaknesses that you have. So I did not tell anyone and people could not figure out whyMarilyn was not showing up at track meets between November and June.I didn't tell anybody. I just showed up. Yeah.

Wendy Hanson: That's amazing. That's amazing. What was your big takeaway from that, it must have been amazing that you even thought of that, "I should visualize myself going around the track doing all these things,"and then showing up there. What was happening then for you?

Marilyn King: Yeah, and it wasn't... the word visualize wasn't in my vocabulary. I just said, well, you know, I have to do something. So why don't I watch the best? That's where the films came from. And then I thought, well, you know, I am getting better every day. I am going to stand on the track and just... and I know that my body can kind of feel the rhythm, even as you're standing there and you can't even hop from foot to foot. So it's not like, Oh, here's what I'm going to do in the interim. It's like, no. I am getting better every day and next week I will be training, and of course, right?

Wendy Hanson: Right, right.

Marilyn King: So I actually think it was a blessing that it was misdiagnosed because if I had taken in the information about a bulging disk, what you find out is it they don't heal. So I was not going to be able to compete.

Wendy Hanson: That's why you should never get medical advice on the internet, right?....

Marilyn King: Right.

WendyHanson: ....becauseyou get things that are too bad. And then you cannot shift yourbelief system.

MarilynKing: That's right.Then I saw a quote that said, “never stay with a doctor who saysyou can't get well or that you won't recover.”

WendyHanson: Walk out ofthat office real quick.

MarilynKing: Out of here.

WendyHanson: So you havetaken that learning and you have moved it to a lot of work that youhave done over the years with companies.

MarilynKing: Yes.

WendyHanson: Becauseit's very similar, isn't it? When we have to figure these things outlike I can do this or I can help my team do this. What's been some ofyour experience in that realm, because you have taken what you knewback then which was brand new and now we know this. But you've madeit real for companies.

MarilynKing: Yeah.It was life altering for me in that I knew I was just like a slightlyabove average athlete and I hadn't trained. So what happened wasimpossible. And I followed my intuition, and my intuition saidsomething extraordinary has happened and it would be really good tofigure out what it is. So I quit my coaching position at UC Berkeleyand never went back. And started to explore the field withexceptional human performance. And out of that I discovered aframework which you're familiar with that I call "OlympianThinking" which demystifies exceptional human performance.

Andit basically says it's passion-powered. Right? That's whatenergy-induced comes from. That like, if you don't want to be a CEO,this isn't going to work for you. Right? ButI could be in the Olympics, and then there is the vision part whichis hugely aided by neuroscience these days. But it's about what andhow you think, and the third component is you got to have a game planand daily practices and feedback. So there are things in the actiondomain. But today we are pretty much focusing on the vision aspect ofwhat I discovered and what I teach.And, yeah, we could talk... Wendy, you know, we could talk for hours.

WendyHanson: Yeah. Andwe are probably going to have to have another one of these. But Iwant to ask you about mindset matters because....

MarilynKing: Yeah.

WendyHanson: You usethose words all the time and they mean so much to me since I alwayshear you use them...

MarilynKing: Yeah.Mindset matters. Absolutely. Because I think people can easily graspthe notion that what you do is dictated by what and how you think. Soas long as I was thinking that I'm just here to make sense and try torun on a relay team, maybe at nationals, I behaved in a certain wayand I thought I was training really hard. But as soon as I had thisidea that maybe I could be in the Olympics, my brain went intocognitive dissonance and had these other new thoughts. And I startedjust doing all these things I would not have conceived of. So thatnotion of cognitive dissonance happened to me by accident and now wereally can do it by design. And if you think back to one of those - Idon't know - kind of things that went through the corporate worldwhere they call BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals - people didn'treally understand that if you use that properly, it is a form ofcognitive dissonance because you are setting some kind of a goal thatmakes you go,"Holy Moly, how are we going to do that?"Well, if it's something you care about, you are motivated to do, youare putting yourself into a state that would give you new thoughts,that lead to new behaviors to achieve that.So, neuroscience is wonderful, because it's starting to teach usthese things. But unfortunately, people wind up misunderstanding andmisapplying it. So I hear people being interviewed or sayingsomething about, oh, cognitive dissonance is like... wow, they reallydon't get it [laugh].

WendyHanson: Yes.

MarilynKing: So that's part of what you do. You create cognitive dissonance by design, whether or not you're using the term in that moment with them, but it's what you do naturally, Wendy.

WendyHanson: A lot of my clients are still calling BHAG goals. But if you don't set your sight higher to work towards....

MarilynKing: Yeah.

WendyHanson: ....that can motivate you, that makes it exciting. But as you said, it's got to be like, "I don't want to be an Olympian." So that wouldn't turn me on, you know?

MarilynKing: Right.

WendyHanson: Right. But whatever it is that you want to be, to be able to set that up there is just a beautiful thing, and it empowers your brain to know what to look for. You know, that's how we know these days our brain looks for evidence, good evidence, instead of contradictory evidence.

MarilynKing: Well, with science,  we know what percent of brains we're actually using, but moving into that cognitive dissonance state is engaging the innovative, creative parts of the brain. I was saying, I am just hereto make friends and maybe run on a relay team, my brain could see the things I needed to do, to do that. I said I could be in the Olympics, it's like, wow!

MarilynKing: The thing I think is important to be careful of is for people who are managers is that management is art and a science when you're setting stretch goals or BHAG goals. Because if you're just putting these on the top of last years and people were stressed last year about it, now you are dumping another one on them, that's not like an "I could be n the Olympics" moment. That's an, oh, no!

Then they got these - excuse me - crappy little story going on back here.That is not going to create the cognitive dissonance state. That is not a high performance state. So, there is the art and the science that you are so good at. It's not just, okay, let's double what we did last year and dump that on people. It's like why would anybody want to be part of this team? Why wouldn't anybody want to be part of moving onto the next level of what we're up to. That's where the managers and the leaders I think can create the achievement of goals and engagement, and spark the creativity that's required if you're going to be competitive out there.

WendyHanson: Yeah. Oh, well said, well said. I think this is the good place for us to stop for today....

MarilynKing: All right.

WendyHanson: ....but we will be back, and join us again.

The future of work has arrived. It's time to thrive.