Chris Nayna recently enjoyed breakfast at The Depot in Bondi with five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe. Ian is a genuinely lovely guy with a contagious passion for achieving goals, setting positive habits and being the best version of yourself. This is one of our favourite interviews yet, Ian has a fantastic energy about him and shared some of his tips for achieving success. Enjoy!
Obviously you’re well known for your achievements in the pool, and more recently your involvement in the marriage equality campaign. We’d love to know from your perspective, what’s life looked like since your retirement from swimming in 2006?
I’ve done a lot of different things since then. I’m still striving to achieve things on the same level as what I did in the pool, but not things that are as (publicly) acknowledgeable.
When you were in the thick of it as a professional Olympic swimmer what did your days look like?
A lot more regular than what they are now! I woke up every day at 4:17am, because at that time of the morning you can really refine your schedule to know exactly what time you need to be up to optimise your day. I have a rule that I never hit the snooze button. Snooze is a waste of time for anyone, it’s a pointless mentality. Just have the extra sleep (or not) to start with, make the decision either way.
I’d have a small breakfast and then go to the pool where I’d do 15 – 20 minutes of warm ups (stretching, activation stuff). Then I’d be in the pool for two hours, get out, have another breakfast and follow it with a weights session. After that I’d go home, have lunch, recover, and do some work before pretty much doing it all again in the afternoon. I’d generally do another two hour swim session with 15-20 mins activation before it and then, depending on the day, a yoga or boxing session afterwards.
So what would be the ratio of actually being in the pool?
It would be 2:1 – 2 in the pool 1 out. And it varies, if you’re a sprint swimmer it would be closer to 1:1. It may even be higher.
Do you feel like those little “hacks” (like getting up at 4:17) were your edge? Is that the difference between being good at something and being exceptional?
I think you have to take on an exceptional mentality towards what you do and apply it to the task. If you want to be the best at something you have to act that way. You have to believe that you are and you have to work that way. Simple as that. So for me, it was never one skill that I had whether it was a technique, a technical thing, physique, or diet or mental strength, it was the combination of all of them. So it’s kind of putting together all of the one or two percent and getting them right, once you have a couple of those or a few of those you get multiple things, and the improvement comes from getting everything right.
It’s discipline to everything, really applying yourself to life. For instance, I had a coach that told me you don’t watch TV you watch movies because films actually tell you something whereas TV is just filling in time.
And now what does an average day look like for you? Are there any particular projects you’re working on at the moment?
It varies and I’m happy that it does. My schedule changes daily. The only thing I consistently try and do is an hour of walking every day and it’s not for exercise, it’s for my mind to wander and to break up my day. It doesn’t matter which exercise it is that lets you do that but I think the time for passive thought is important and you can do that anywhere in the world.
Our focus is very much on food so we’re curious to know what the diet of a gold-medal-winning athlete looked like? How did you “eat for success”?
It’s a lot of food. I think it’s probably four times what normal people eat and includes a lot of protein, and complex carbs for recovery and for fuel. You think of food as fuel rather than having it for enjoyment. What am I burning? How much of this is going into it? etc.
I actually love food, and am of the opinion that you should have anything, just in moderation. If you love a dish and it’s not good for you, have a really small amount of it then go back to eating what you should be.
After checking out your Instagram, it looks like you and your partner Ryan like to travel and explore a fair bit. Are there any places in your recent (or earlier travel) that have really stuck out to you?
I love Kyoto in Japan it’s one of my favourite places in the world. A Buddhist monk taught me how to mediate there.
Everyone should do the philosophers walk when in Kyoto, I think that every building on the street is historically listed. You go to the Golden Pagoda at the end of it and it feels like this really spiritual place. There’s only a few places in the world I feel that way about and I love it. I become still and calm, especially after being in Tokyo on the bullet train you go there and you really appreciate Japan in a different way.
Do you still practise meditation regularly?
I do and I do it functionally when I need to rather than as a habit. I did do it every morning for quite a while to shape my day but recently I’ve been going for a walk. And for me when I swam, my mind was very close to meditating.
Where are your favourite cafes and restaurants in Sydney?
The restaurant that people don’t know about (but they should!) is called Cipri which is an Italian restaurant in Paddington. It is amazing. Really good Italian food, not pizza/pasta but proper meals. Their squid ink is amazing.
The other one that’s really interesting is Acme which is an Italian menu but the ingredients are all Asian. So if you have a bolognese for example, they’ll use a Korean chili paste and then use silken tofu to look like the parmesan that would be on top.
And Chin Chin has just opened here which I loved in Melbourne.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m not sure if I was given it, but the one that I go with is “be the change in the world that you wish to see”. Everyone can do it and it’s something you can do every day very easily.
The Man Who Loved Seagulls by Osho is an incredible book everyone should read, a weird philosophy but interesting and thought provoking.
My partner Ryan’s skincare brand Blaq – it’s all activated charcoal and draws out impurities, it’s amazing. I particularly love the under eye patches.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film that I watched recently, it was great.
I’m hooked on Ted Talks, Monica Lewinsky’s one is amazing. She’s chosen not to be a victim and talks about how she made a mistake as a twenty-year-old. She was incredible.
There’s also one about germs that’s fascinating. About how they’re everywhere, necessary and good for you. It was cool to listen to.