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How to be a Truly Positive Person and How this can Impact Others with Tonia Cawood

by Rowena Yee 14 Feb 2022


Good Change

We feel so privileged to have caught up with Tonia Cawood. Tonia started out leading sports marketing with Adidas New Zealand, some roles in TV and worked in a variety of projects with the Halberg Trust, A1GP World Cup of Motor Sport, Home of Cycling/Avantidrome.

Tonia managed double Olympic gold medalist’s, Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell . She is a recently retired independent director of Rowing New Zealand, Alandale Lifestyle Village, CatWalk Spinal Cord Trust along with a whole lot of others. And most recently the first female Chair in Super Rugby with the Chiefs. She’s managed a role with the New Zealand Olympic and High-Performance Sport New Zealand black gold initiative to accelerate New Zealand sport through philanthropic funding.

And along with all of this is the founder and co-owner of The Company You Keep offering accelerated inside out leadership programs.

We don't always look back and self-assess where we've come from and what we've achieved and to voice it today will hopefully be a great reminder to Tonia she's lived an extremely successful and fulfilling career and through highs and lows has always managed to remain positive. I've always been a real believer that people inspire people and knowing that other people have made huge shifts and changes in their lives to get where they want to be.

I know that that's what inspires me when you meet incredible people who have the power to transform your life. I know that's the essence of what makes Tonia Tonia - bringing genuine gratitude and positivity into her life and everything that she does. Tonia has an unbelievable amount of personal wisdom to share with us today and I hope that you find her as uplifting as I do. I hope this read will give you a few great takeaways of how to live a more positive and rewarding life.

So, Tonia, I've known you for about 20 years now. And I still remember that first summer we spent together. You were without a doubt, the most uplifting, inspiring person I'd come across. You were driven, ambitious and not to mention pretty smart. You built rapport really well with both men and women and just related really well to all characters in life.

Can I just ask you for a minute…Was this all a learned behavior or did you actually work through a whole bunch of personal development tools to become that way?

Tonia Cawood

Well,  there's been a long number of years between the start to where we are at now. Is it something that I have developed or been born into? The truth of my answer is that actually it's a product of my environment and that has been mostly shaped by my parents. So it was just a truly ‘can do get out and do your best’ upbringing, and nothing was ever a limiting factor.

So I think I was just surrounded by that as an attitude. A little bit like the oxygen that you breathe. The schooling environment came through Tamihere Model Country School, everybody just got stuck, everyone was equal. Everybody was believed in and you actually got support if there was something that you really wanted to do.

I think as we age and we get maybe teenage years and until your twenties, you start to get a little bit more reflective about caring about yourself and at that stage probably that's when your limiting beliefs start to kick in.

Good Change

So you mean like inhibitions as you get older, you learn a little bit more about people and environment around you and you form some sort of inhibitions. Is that what you mean by that?

Tonia Cawood

Yeah, absolutely. I think you get much more aware of judgment and scared of what people think.  You don't want to stand out, you want to fit in. And then also if you have some bad experiences in terms of you know, a knock back in a career or you are deemed to have felt like you've failed at something, that can really curb your enthusiasm or your positivity.

So I think hand in hand with yes having an environment that was incredibly encouraging, but also then being able to do the self-work and to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on.  

Good Change

Yeah the old saying, you can compare yourself to an onion and if you strip yourself back, peel those layers back and suddenly you're back to the base, your ground zero of where you started and without those inhibitions, and then build yourself back up.

Tonia Cawood

I think that’s life’s work. We put all these layers on and society encourages and creates and moulds those layers. They want you to be somebody, you know, and we're encouraged to be somebody. We're encouraged to be all these different pieces of ourselves, but actually what's at the heart of it?

And, I think, you put all these layers on. Life's work then is probably taking all those layers back off again, getting back to that authenticity. I think some people I'm around I've witnessed they are just truly like that. They haven’t developed all these other layers, but so many have, and I know I did as well. And Kristy, you talk about, you know, that first summer, and I think, gosh, to hear you reflect on me saying I was the most positive and the most ambitious and uplifting. I'm thinking “really? Me?” I didn't view myself like that. So it's really interesting to be able to have that reflected back to me.

Was some of it masking? Maybe that was because I'd fallen into a pattern of the fact that oh Tonia’s got high energy and got the enthusiasm and that the expectation was that I was to be ambitious and successful. And so did I fall into that pattern of needing to live up to that expectation as well, needing to live up to being the fun person, being the ambitious person. And, you know, if I am honest, I think I probably sat on that train for the last 20 or so years. And it's a train that I've been checking and having a look at, and I'm making sure that I'm in charge of where it's heading and that's particularly over the last two or three years.

Good Change Store

That was really interesting. I was just wondering those boxes that we put ourselves in, maybe even at a young age, you put yourself in the box of having to be maybe ambitious and driven. Do you see those as self-fulfilling prophecies as well?

Tonia Cawood

I think we become whatever we sit our intention to be. So being formed at that period of time to be successful, or to be ambitious. I thought that that was what was the expectation was. That was just the environment that I'd been created into. And I was never driven or pushed by anyone, but everybody was always encouraging and you get good rewards when you try hard.

So I guess a little bit comes from that. You’re wanting to please people. You want to please yourself. So did it become self-fulfilling prophecy? Yes, but at what point was I driving myself perhaps too hard or beyond what the measure should be in terms of living a really balanced life and something really fulfilling?

You know, in the last two or three years, I've certainly asked myself about what does success look like? And it really helps when you start working and the development with other people, particularly around the leadership development work I'm doing, and I'm helping them to ask questions. What does success look like for you?

So I had to go through that work myself first and do my own inside out job before being able to help others on that pathway. So, you know, is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if we sit down our intention to be successful and ambitious, we've got to be really careful that we are defining what successful and ambitious is for us, for every single individual person because it's different for everybody. It's not a linear upwards career path. It's not a home and a lifestyle that looks a certain way because of all those inputs that we get from society, it's really easy to get into that mindset, so we've got to stop.

Good Change Store

Quite often we end up comparing ourselves to others. I think that's really an important point.

Tonia Cawood

Living their truth and they've been far more authentic about what their idea of success looks like to them. And success to me now is around an absolute wholesome balance to bring about how I feel.

It's not about what I do. It's about how I feel and how I feel usually is to do with the impact that I'm able to have with and for others.

Good Change Store

And what are the tools that you use? Is there a toolbox that you use to actually look at yourself from the inside out and channel that?

Good Change Store

Yeah, there’s a suite of all sorts of different things. I think I've come from, I guess, a toolbox of goal-setting and ambition and, you know, set a goal and then work backwards from there and push yourself out of your comfort zone and say yes. So there's a lot of motivating tools.

They're really helpful when they’re helpful but if you don't know where you're going, then you continue to push on that on that ambition pathway for no reason. So for me, it's about purpose. Who am I? What's my why? And going into the DNA of saying what's truly my purpose here on Earth.

And how do I know that? It's a big question. And how do I know that it's not about what you do, but I think it's about how you feel and how you feel when you're doing those things. So it's attunement, the tool is attunement, I think, but then there's a whole lot of tactics that enable you to get there and that's different for every person.

So for me, I know that getting out into nature and stillness and open spaces creates an open mind for me. So I'll dive. I love going out into bush tracks or the ocean or the beach or the rivers. And just finding that space. I find that if I'm with people who are really like-minded, I can dive into these conversations and you explore things a lot more.

So that's the company that you keep when you might be doing those things. And the paradox to that is that actually being alone and having the stillness. So having them creating the space to allow your mind to go into the enquiry of those questions. So the curiosity to ask yourself, when do I feel most alive?

When are the moments that I have felt most energized or most fulfilled and you start to understand the themes of what those things are, then you start to get a picture of where am I at my best. You have to listen to your body. So that's attunement. So listen to your mind. Is the mind shattering? Is it creating a story? Or are you hearing what you really truly are believing? Listen to your body. Is the body giving you signals when something's really meaningful to you?

For me, I know that I get, I call them thrill bumps or goosebumps. I know when something’s meaningful to me and I catch that and I think, oh, why am I responding like that? Or if I get that tight stomach. For me, it's a tight stomach feeling or a shortness of breath or a tight chest. Then, I know that I'm not resonating well with something. So for me, it's about the attunement to the curiosity. What's going on in my mind and what's going on in my body to be able to help me?

Good Change Store

I remember Stine teaching me a little tool when you feel that incredible sense of positivity and something really amazing happens. Go and stand on the lawn in a quiet place and take your little pinky and dig your nail into your little pinky and press it hard and remember that moment and that feeling.

And then when you want to feel that feeling again, in two weeks, two months, two years, press your pinky and it'll shoot you straight back to where you want to be.

Tonia Cawood

What you're doing is you are reinforcing the memories, if you like, the synapses, the pathways that are in your brain about that positive feeling. So on the flip side, I know when I feel a bit crap, the best thing that I can do is come back to gratitude, come back to remembering all the things that are good. Instead of being a  why is this happening to me? Or in a victim type mindset come back to gratitude and think of all the good things. We are an incredibly blessed species in New Zealand following our own pathways, you know, and our health and wellbeing in our physical environment. I mean, that's amazing. So there's you just open your eyes and there's plenty to be grateful for.

Good Change

And Stine, and I were just talking about that in the car on the way over. You are totally 100% responsible for you. So there's only one of you. Don't rely on anyone else to keep you happy or make you positive. You go out there and you're a force to be reckoned with. You’re IT!

Tonia Cawood

Your sovereignty to make your own decisions. Make decisions that make you happy. And sometimes the hardest part is that you've got to make hard, right decisions. And that might be about the people that you're spending time with. Are they actually adding value to your life? Or are they energy vampires?

Good Change

I was just about to ask that question. What do you say to those people who want to go down a positive path, but the environment and the people they're around are not contributing to that?

Tonia Cawood

Yeah, well, I guess it's hard, right decisions. You just think about the company that you keep. Where's it positive and where's it being detracted, and you've got to make decisions that enable you to live that full potential in your own life. And that's taking an audit of where you are in your life. So, you've got to have the fundamentals absolutely in place. And the majority of that is around your own health and wellbeing. So, how you're sleeping, how you're eating, how you're exercising. What are the quadrants of your heart, your mind, your spirit and your soul?

So how are you feeding and nurturing all of those elements to enable you to be a balanced human and what makes up even in all those spaces is the people that you're doing those things with. And, you know, if we're all really honest, there's people in our lives that detract from some of that really good energy and can hold us back or because we're fearful of what judgment they might make and they're not supporting us. So, it might be time to have a little audit.

Good Change

And I think you get into your forties and you just say to yourself, who are the people that are adding value to me? And if they're not just pop them aside.

Tonia Cawood

Yeah and we're all so busy. It's hard to spend time with people that I really would love to spend time with and fuel that energy in you but hand on heart theres not that many people like that in my life anyway. I’ve either done a really good job at cleaning up or, you know, you create your own reality. And I'm continually meeting some fascinating people who I just love spending time with, and I think in life also there are seasons of time when you spend and have the opportunity to have more time with people at certain times so, I'm coming into a whole new season of my life with my daughter now 17, so much more independent. And so many of my friends still have two or three children. And so their lives are still very structured around school and all those great things that I have just come through being Mum to our now 17 year old.

So for me, it's another season with all of this free time of mine. Who am I spending it with and how am I spending it to add value to myself and having some fun.

Good Change

Are there key people out there that you could pinpoint that have had an influence on your life? It might take you right back to primary school days.

Tonia Cawood

It just springs to mind now - there was a gentleman called in Ian Collier when I was working at Adidas and he was at Telecom at the time and used to cross paths quite a lot because of the work that we did across the All Blacks. And when I left Adidas I was actually really exhausted and I didn't at that point have another role that I was stepping into, but Ian wrote me a handwritten card. And I remember now just the impact that it had on me, ‘cause I had a sense of failure for not, I guess taking the role to where I thought that I visioned that I would be expected to, and to end up in a role internationally, I just didn't have that desire to be able to go and work and be placed over at Adidas headquarters.

So, I decided to leave the job, leave that role and Ian sent me a card and it was a handwritten card and on it it said: “some people talk the talk and some people walk the talk, you're walking the talk” and I couldn't quite make sense of it at the time. But when I spoke to him not long after, and he said, I'm just so proud of you and so proud of your decision to walk away from something that wasn't right for you at the time.

And, you know, your career will blossom and what have you, which I had no belief in at that time. And I was asked to speak somewhere a year or two ago and that question came up for me: Who has inspired me? And it made me think about, you know, when we see or identify someone that's either struggling or actually they've just done something great, and they're not seeing it, let them know. So it's those little moments of belief. So I rang Ian Collier and I said, “I'm just sitting here preparing to speak and I'm talking about a moment of belief and I need to let you know that 20 something years on you were a key moment of belief for me, just that handwritten card.” And, I'm surrounded by people that I'm constantly inspired by.

Good Change

You've done exactly what we're talking about, you've surrounded yourself with the right people to add value. And the thing is it's all about choices and what you've been just talking about with Adidas, you go down a path and if it's not right for you, you chose path A or you choose path B and wherever that will take you will hopefully be the right path.

Tonia Cawood

Yeah and whatever pathway it is, it's always right. But that's having the courage to make what you believe is the right decision for you at that time.

Good Change

Tons what does a standard day look like for you? Do you incorporate gratitude in the mornings or meditation?

Tonia Cawood

My biggest thing is to not pick up my phone and try and get through some of the emails that I can nail before I'm even out of bed. So before I touch my phone, I'll just bring myself into a sense of, I'm just really feeling in connection with myself. So it's meditation, it's mindfulness, whatever it is, it's just stillness with myself. It might be on a certain day that I'll use an affirmation to focus on, to bring some focus into what I'm thinking about.

But mostly I'm just trying to feel my body and just feel what state I'm in, and prepare myself for that day or just connect in stillness in my mind. And sometimes in doing that, I will get a little bit of insight about what's coming for the day or a little solution to something that I've been thinking about.

And more recently in the last couple of years, I have been working with breath work. So breath work is really just an accelerated way to bring about that connectedness internally into my own body and into the clarity of my mind. So, I've got a Phys Ed background, so I do love understanding why as opposed to yes, it's you know, there's the woo woo side of it, if you like which I absolutely love. But it's about the scientific benefits of bringing a greater amount of oxygen into your body. So the increased immunity, the decreased cortisol, decreased adrenaline, increased serotonin. Well, you know, it's free, it's accessible and it's all yours.

Yeah. So the breath work, I just do it in the mornings. I'll do a mini session, maybe,  10 minutes of breath work and there's different modalities you can do, like, you know, it's usually open mouth breathing to bring the oxygen and release the toxins out of your body. Maybe I'll go outside get the feet on the ground, do some deep breathing, that's just grounding and connecting.

And for the day I'll try and drink half a liter or a liter of water, just again its that detoxing. But if I don't, I don't worry about it also.

Good Change

Isn’t it funny? We all know what to do.

Tonia Cawood

Yeah, it's water and air. How easy is it?

Good Change

But exercise for me is the key. That's what makes me personally feel amazing. And I have to do it in the mornings. I have to get up, get my exercise and just get that blood circulating around the brain and the body.

Tonia Cawood

And it's all of those hormones in your body, the serotonin and dopamine, you know, it's all those good things that help you to have clarity in your mind and feel good in your body as well.

Good Change

Brilliant. So if you were talking to the audience with some takeaways or little things that they can do to take away from today's session to make them feel more positive.

Tonia Cawood

Okay, I’d go probably, a circle of Cs.

So go curiosity. What's happening inside of me and try and understand and get connected to yourself.

Then I would say the courage. The courage to make decisions that work for you, so that sovereignty. Choosing and making decisions that honour you.  Not trying to please other people or be in fear of the judgment of other people. And that's to do with where you spend time, what you do, what job you ran, what relationships that you're in, how you interact with those people.

And then I would say the clarity. So get really clear about what best serves you, and then continue to make decisions with courage around every little thing that you can, that helps you live your most beautiful life.

So that's the curiosity to go in, the courage to make those choices, the clarity  to continue to make those choices and the commitment. And the commitment can mean the hard work. If there's something that you want to do, do it. A girlfriend of mine's just decided to be a Montessori teacher in her mid-forties. The commitment.  She worked part time for a year, has two children, two stepchildren and studied for a year and she's just completed her Diploma.

Good Change

Tonia, thank you so much for such an inspiring chat.

Tonia Cawood

I have to say, it might sound like I am this person that sits here with unicorns and rainbows glowing around my head but I'm not. I am human and I have cloudy days and I have way more than what people would imagine them to be. But I also know that if I can get myself into a state of positivity and use the tools we can make great stuff happen.

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