Don Crawley: My guest today is Maureen Manley and today we’re talking about performance. As a member of the US Cycling team, she won a national championship, set a national record, earned a silver and two bronze medals at national championships, competed in three world championships and won a silver medal in the 1990 World Championships. She’s even appeared on a cereal box cover. While racing in the Tour de France Feminine, her vision blurred and she crashed, a result of the onset of multiple sclerosis.

Through her remarkable journey in learning to deal with MS, Maureen gained powerful lessons and deep wisdom which she shares with others as a nationally respected speaker and coach. Today, Maureen is going to show us how to deal with adversity and how to maintain high performance under pressure. Welcome to the Compassionate Geek Podcast, Maureen.

Maureen Manley: Thanks, Don. It’s great to be here.

DC: One of the challenges that we face in IT and probably in any other job is that sometimes the circumstances, the environment are not exactly what we want them to be. Sometimes, our jobs just suck or we don’t like our boss or co-workers or our customers. How can someone find motivation when they’re in a situation like that?

MM: Yes, right. I think a big challenge is when we’re expecting our circumstances to have us be motivated. We want our circumstances to be just so, so we can remain motivated. Well, sometimes our circumstances aren’t good and they’re not optimal but we have to understand that motivation really is an inside job and to get really clear about our goals and intentions of what we want and what’s important to us and to really have something that we’re fighting for and to come back and remember, this is what’s important and to ask yourself, what am I doing?

Not to be a victim of what’s coming at us but to be a proactive force in creating the experience that we want for ourselves and not expect the outside world is going to align perfectly but to say this is what’s important, this is what I want to move towards or fight for and to ask myself, what am I doing to create the experience that I want for myself in my world, in my co-workers and whatever system you’re part of.

DC: So, you’re saying that no matter what happens around us, it’s something that we establish internally that determines how motivated we are and how we perceive and how we respond to our world?

MM: Absolutely, absolutely. Motivation is an inside job and it’s nice when we can be in an environment that supports people being motivated but that’s a perfect world sometimes and sometimes, what we need to ask ourselves is how are we creating that experience, what are we doing to support other people and when we look at motivation and maybe why our boss is being a jerk or why our co-workers are not being kind, we can ask ourselves to what is it that I’m doing to contribute this and it’s really about looking in the mirror because it’s about taking control of yourself because that’s really the only place that you really have a whole lot of control over is how you are being in the situation to create something different.

DC: In IT especially, we have some high pressure cooker situations, case in point, an email server goes down or a collaborative server goes down, maybe a SharePoint server is not available right in the middle of a big project, how can you, as an IT person or how can we, as IT people, how can we keep a clear head when we’re in that type of a situation, that type of a pressure cooker environment?

MM: That’s the word, pressure is it. It is pressure that we’re feeling and I’d love to study the mind, body connection and what happens when these sorts of crises happen and how we handle it because it’s the high achievers that really know how to move through obstacles, to move through crisis and not get on the other end, so what are these people doing?
And what are they not doing? When they’re moving through it, well, they’re not panicking. They’re — they feel the pressure, that’s what’s important is when to acknowledge the pressure. I feel pressure, I’m doing a training for a high-tech company. It wasn’t as easy just to name, oh I feel pressure, I mean there’s a lot of — they’re saying this is what I say and there are a lot more colorful words to say what they were feeling.

But when to acknowledge it and then to breathe, I mean, people often say, take a deep breath and there’s a reason and it’s true, we want to take deep breaths so our brain doesn’t go into a fight or flight stress response because what happens in our brains is if we feel pressure, we interpret pressure, something happened, a crisis happened, it was unexpected, it occurred but how we deal with the pressure we feel — it’s not about not acknowledging that it happened and going off into la-la-land…is to say, this is pressure. Even to say, this sucks or any other colorful word but to be with it and the better we can be with it, the better we train our nervous system, really, truthfully to not go into a fight or flight stress response where the stress hormones start to be released and our body starts to really shut down in order to fight and what ends up doing because there’s nothing to do, we end up blaming or complaining or being angry so that’s one — I call that a reaction instead of it being action-oriented.

So, what is it that you want? You want him to get through this and so the best thing you can do is take some deep breaths, acknowledge the pressure and just say what can I do to solve this problem? And it may be learning something new or it may be adapting to the issue so you can get through it and they could be fixed or solved in a greater extent later.
But it truly is about — the action is about seeing it as a challenge and that’s what high achievers do, they see a problem as a challenge, it’s not like they don’t feel the pressure because high achievers do feel pressure and that’s a powerful distinction because a lot of people look at people that really excel and they say, well, I’m not like that. What you’re not liked perhaps is a choice that you’re making. It really is a choice that you’re making and the kind of response and really, the body chemistry that you’re listening, it’s either going into the limbic system which tells your body that this is something to panic and to really see as a threat that you need to protect yourself and that’s where we start blaming and complaining and pointing fingers and getting angry and it causes a stressful response in our body which isn’t healthy over time.

Or we can see it as a challenge and you still feel the pressure but your body stays in what is — in the cerebral cortex is where the outside areas of the brain versus the limbic system which is more inside, the survival part and the cerebral cortex is where all your knowledge exists, your reasoning, your abstract thinking, your problem solving and if you’re not going into this kind of freak out stage, you’re going to be able to problem solve much, much better.
And by feeling the pressure and doing it anyways, you’re training your nervous system, really, you can train your limbic system not to go into this fight or flight stress response. It’s really powerful and that’s what’s happening with high achievers versus the people that are — what I’m going to call, freaking out.

DC: So, would you agree that the limbic system is intuitive and reactionary and the prefrontal cortex, for example, would be more of control and more reason, more rationale?

MM: Yes.

DC: And so, how can somebody — my next question actually and this led into it very well, my next question was how can an average person move from being an average person to being a high achiever and you talk about moving control of your responses to away from the limbic system to the cortices, but how do you do that?

MM: So here’s the formula and I call it the ABCs of staying in your optimal performance zone and it’s becoming aware, naming it, awareness, this is pressure. And use colorful language if that’s what feels good but acknowledge it and don’t panic about it.

DC: And you say to put a name on it.

MM: Put a name on it. What you can name doesn’t have control over you or it doesn’t have nearly the control over you. And also by naming your feelings elevates your process and learning how to develop your emotional intelligence. People that can understand what they’re feeling in any given moment are more emotionally intelligent. So these people are making more money and doing better in the work force. So often, we don’t know how we’re feeling. So, name it.
It’s a simple thing, become aware, name it and it’s not about putting a pretty picture on it. It’s to say I feel pressure and I mean, high performance are feeling pressure, mile 24 in a marathon, people are feeling pressure but maybe they don’t look like it but they’re hurting and same thing in the fourth quarter of a high football game, people are tired, they’re feeling the pressure. Anyone that you see that performs high, in business and in sports and in life and so, awareness, acknowledge it and then be is to breathe.
Breathe and stay out. Do your body a favor to stay out of that fight or flight response and to become aware of your choices in those moments and this takes practice. So, it does.

DC: To be intentional.

MM: Be intentional, absolutely. And it takes practice. So, it’s not like you learn a formula and then you’re doing it differently the next day. It’s practice, practice, practice, practice and correcting as you go and adjusting.

DC: Just like any sport or music or anything.

MM: Absolutely, absolutely and not to fall into the umbrella of “I’m not like that.” Well, you’re not like until you are. So and then, you correct. So, you acknowledge, you breathe and you correct and you stay in that cerebral cortex where your logical thinking is and that’s where you can take control and that’s where you can act versus react. The limbic system is there and it was developed early on in our evolution because it’s there to help us survive.

And first, like you say, it’s instinctual. So, we want to fight back. We want to leap. And the way we fight back so often is to point fingers, become a victim or blame and that’s really our limbic system taking control in us reacting versus acting and taking control of the situation and being the champion of the situation versus the victim of the situation.

DC: Some people are probably watching this and they’re thinking, well, that’s great, I mean, you’ve been on a cereal box, you’re a world champion, not everybody cares about being a world champion, they just want to be a little bit better tomorrow than they were today. What would you say to them?

MM: Well, I would say the same thing that we’re talking about. It’s like I want to be a little better so my concern in our culture sometimes is people want to be better overnight. To say this is important and this is how I want to become better, I want to be perhaps more like this person or more resilient, more adaptable, I want to grow and to look at what the practices that are going to help you do that and to say this is what’s important, to have that goal and your intentions out in front of you and to say these are the things that I’m going to do in order to get there.

DC: Speaking of goals, in some of your talks, you talk about developing a personal road map, can you talk a little bit about personal road map and how you would use that or how I would use that or how someone watching would use the personal roadmap to hit some of those goals?

MM: Yes. Well, I think that your personal roadmap is really to say, you can say, yes, I want to be IT engineer or however that shows up but really, what does that mean for you? Uniquely, how are your goals? How do you want to show up in the world? And spend the time to be really clear about how you uniquely want to express yourself and so, that’s the what. But I think also, what’s really important is the why.

Why do you want to do this? What are the payoffs? Because that gets us deeper and deeper to understanding ourselves and to understand that really, I want to — the reasons — I really feel like I want to contribute, I really want to be a team player, I really want to feel valued, I really want to have these experiences in my life. I want to innovate. I want to create something that’s never been done before.

And then look at the how do you want to do that. And so, you’re getting clearer and clearer, not just but the “what you want to do” but the whys and the hows you want to do it. I mean, how do you want to feel when you’re in the workplace, how do you want to feel when you’re working and achieving and doing things.

DC: And put a justification behind it.

MM: Yes, yes and to really know these are the payoffs. In this, creating this roadmap for yourself, then you begin to look at again, what I finished with is the “how do I do this?” And that may be unique, well, it probably is unique to you and how is it that you’re achieving because a lot of people go, I began this pursuit and I just started carving this trail and it’s different than other people that have the same title as me but I’m doing my thing. But what’s really important…

DC: And you’re taking ownership of it too.

MM: You’re taking ownership for it, it’s uniquely yours and I think that drive needs to be there. And that drive comes from knowing what is you want, why is it you want it and how does it do it. And that will keep you moving forward because you may not — creating your own roadmap means that there may not be a trail blazed ahead for you but it’s that passion, that enthusiasm and that internal drive that says this is important. I mean there’s so much bigger — there’s something bigger here that’s driving me. But you really have to get clear about what those are so you’ll continue to have the willingness and the desire to move forward. DC: When we come back, we’re going to put Maureen on the spot and we’re going to have her summarize everything that she said in the last few minutes and give us a roadmap ourselves when we come back in just a moment.

DC: Maureen, this has been great talking with you. Can you summarize the three most important points of our previous conversation?

MM: Absolutely, I think it’s really important to remember that motivation is an inside job and not to look externally to be motivated but to really realize that it’s coming from the inside and to be really clear about what we want and what we want to move towards and fight for and also to understand that high achievers really do feel pressure, but the challenges, they don’t shrink to the pressure, they see it as a challenge and they go after it. And the other one is understanding how to stay in the zone of optimal performance, to become…

DC: The ABCs.

MM: The ABCs, yes. It’s to stay aware, be aware what you’re feeling at any given time. If a crisis comes up, be aware, be able to name it and then the next one is to breathe. Give your body a break. And then the third is to correct. It’s not to go in that fight or flight stress response but to correct and say, all right, I don’t need to be reactive, I can be active in creating the experience that I want and in that way, we’re producing the outcomes that we want for ourselves and really being the champions of our experience that way.

DC: Wonderful. It’s been great having you today.

MM: Thank you.

DC: Thank you very much. My guest has been Maureen Manley, world champion cyclist and today, a motivational speaker and coach, working with people on high performance under pressure. I’m Don Crawley, I’ll see you next time.

Learn More About Maureen’s Ideas About Performance

For more information about Maureen’s story and her motivational programs, visit

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

Bring my IT customer service training seminar onsite to your location for your group, small or large. Click here for the course description and outline.

Customer service book for IT staffPick up a copy of my IT customer service book The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service, available through Amazon and other resellers.

Please Leave a Comment

If you find this post helpful or if you have additional thoughts, please leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top