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Interview for Thrive Global: 2021
As far back as I can remember I have had issues with overthinking, OCD, and obsessive thoughts. This is not uncommon, with many people, in the same way I did, suffering in silence. Unfortunately, I did not have the self awareness, knowledge or openness to question, understand or seek answers to why my mind operated like this. I just had extreme thinking that would manifest in many different ways.
As a very young kid I always wanted to be the centre of attention, trying to do the most extreme acts I could think of and always pushing the boundaries. I was incredibly active, which even as a young boy was a way to cope with putting my overactive mind at bay. Trying to ignore or push away compulsive thoughts does not always work.
This behaviour manifested in many different ways during my adolescence and caused incredible difficulty for me in my developmental years. I became obsessed with competing as a professional athlete, to the point where, as an 11-year-old kid, I would train for 6 hours a day.. I didn’t know exactly why I felt this urge, and I didn’t really question it. I didn’t have the self awareness or life experience to understand what was happening. It felt like what a lot of addicts describe regarding substance abuse – a never ending pit where no amount of fuel is enough. I was incredibly shy and insecure and this only added to my need to prove I was more capable in sport than anyone around me. It was a way of compensating for the noise going on in my mind. Perhaps this was fuelled further by growing up with a well-known father – throughout my teenage years, he was one of Australia’s most prominent politicians.
I can remember vividly, at the age of 12, getting up at 2.30am to exercise. Like most addictions, those around me (my parents) could see I was showing very unhealthy and obsessive behaviour patterns. And like most addictions, I felt extreme shame and guilt about it and would do my best to hide my actions. I would go out into the backyard and sneak bricks into my room, hiding them anywhere I could. In secret, I would use them to train. As a young kid, I was training for 6 hours a day and this stunted my physical development, and ultimately my emotional development, as I became so insecure about not fitting in that I would isolate myself.
It was toward the end of high school that my body had broke down from overtraining, leading me to put an end to competitive sport. And as I finished high school, I found myself completely lost and alone in the world. I didn’t have the social skills to cope and I believed I didn’t want to have a future if I could not be a professional athlete.
After high school I deferred from university and took a gap year. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I had been admitted into a double degree of commerce and health promotion at Deakin University in Melbourne Australia. The Gap year was a good experience for me in leaving Australia and experiencing something different, but it was also problematic. I was incredibly insecure and shy and found it very difficult to interact with others. I would spend a lot of time alone, hiding away trying not to be seen. I did get to travel through Europe with one of my childhood friends, and spent a lot of time drinking to mask my discomfort and my inability to cope. For the most part I struggled.
It was during this period that I really discovered alcohol. And when I returned to Australia, this discovery quickly turned into regular drinking and, soon after, alcohol abuse. It wasn’t long before I left my newly-started University course and began a very long period of doing nothing, hiding away from my problems and getting into dangerous situations through alcohol abuse…the most severe of these involved a night of drinking that ended with me crashing my car while with my best friend lay across the back seats. Had he not had a reflex to jolt up as the car crashed, he would have been killed instantly. Luckily, we both came out of it in one piece.
Due to my father’s political prominence, the incident became a national story, and I couldn’t leave the house for a number of days due to the media being camped out the front. At the time, I remember telling myself that I had to make a change, that I was going to stop drinking, and make a plan to get myself on track. Enough was enough. I had been given a second chance. I stuck to this for a couple of weeks, but because I was still not willing to talk openly about what had happened and seek the help I needed, I very quickly fell back into the same patterns. My condition got to the point where I couldn’t leave my bed, even to do something as simple as walk downstairs to wash the dishes. I was almost catatonic. By this point, I couldn’t hide the severity from my family and my Mum intervened. She literally dragged me to a psychologist for help.
I remember finding out in the first session that I was severely depressed. Even after all I had been through, it still came as a shock. I saw myself as stronger than depression and thought it was embarrassing for a man to fall victim to such a thing. However, this feeling very quickly turned to relief. I was being shown examples of people who had been through similar things and came out the other end. I was starting to understand why it was happening and was able to start making plans about how to make changes. I found this liberating as, when you are in such a state, often no amount of reasoning or logic will change your mind. You feel so overwhelmed that the thought of facing a future is simply untenable in your mind. It really scares me to think back to the times where I had lost hope. Where I felt like my life was over. Where I was so riddled with emotional pain that no amount of words could describe what it felt like. But I am thankful to have experienced it, and I am forever grateful to have such a close knit family and friends who love me. If I did not have these experiences I would not have been able to develop the same level of empathy for the suffering of others. It taught me to never judge, to always listen and never compare two situations.
Shortly after starting with the psychologist, I remember telling one of my close friends about what I had been going through. At this point I had not told anyone and I was even too embarrassed to tell my parents. I was literally trembling, thinking that she would never look at me in the same way. But her reaction was the complete opposite – she understood, offered emotional support and was there for me through this process. It was a major weight off my shoulders and the first step toward telling others about my journey.
Not long after this, I enrolled in another course at university, this time on business entrepreneurship. After so long out of University and not working, I needed some purpose and something to focus on. My psychologist was instilling in me the importance of taking baby steps forward. I had no idea what I wanted to do and was still in a bad way, but I liked the idea of starting my own business. I applied and got in, only to find out, in the week leading up to the course, that students had to do 15 oral presentations in the first semester. I was still too shy to speak in front of even one person, and I struggled to look people in the eye. I completely panicked. I couldn’t sleep. I was sick to my stomach and I even met with the course coordinator to try and pull out. Had it not been for the support from my Mum, my psychologist and my friends, I would have left the course. But they all knew, as I did, that pulling out would not be just a matter of wasting more time, it was almost life and death. If I pulled out I would go back do doing nothing, having no purpose, abusing alcohol and potentially not surviving the life threatening situations I was putting myself in. This installed in me a key point that I regularly speak about…the importance of having unconditional relationships. I still have three people in my life that I can call on 24/7, three people who understand me and can instantly put my mind at ease. And I offer the same to them. I think this is an incredibly important thing to have and it makes a huge difference.
The experience of this course was an important turning point for me.
I remember turning up for the first of the presentations. It was a small course, so they were often in front of just five people. But despite the small audience, I would be in a state of sheer panic, often leading me to vomit in the bathroom before speaking. I remember having my speech written out word for word and just standing there, staring at the floor and mumbling the words. No one would have understood a word but I got through it. And the more I did, the more I learned that nothing bad happened, even when I stuffed up. This taught me another invaluable lesson in not listening to all of the stories that our mind tells us. My mind would be telling me ‘Nick you’re not good enough’, ‘you are pathetic’, ‘you have nothing good to say’, ‘you don’t deserve to be here’, and so on, to the point where I would have a physical reaction. It taught me a lesson that I apply to this day, to not give credit to everything my mind tells me. We have thousands upon thousands of thoughts each day…good, bad, and indifferent. We can’t stop ourselves from thinking, but we can control what thoughts we decide to give power. Often, negative thoughts or stories have developed from traumatic experiences that we cannot even recall. Like a computer program, that story gets repeated so regularly over so many years that we believe it to be the truth.
By the end of that course I was comfortable speaking in front of groups of people and had made major progress in my mental health. I had also started to develop a passion for mental health and helping others. Following University I got approached by modelling agencies, started to appear in the media and before I knew it was asked to go on a reality television show called Dancing with the Stars. I instantly said ‘yes’ as my competitive side kicked in, and it was an opportunity to raise money and awareness for mental health. However, I woke up the next morning in a cold sweat thinking ‘what have I said yes to!?’ I wouldn’t even dance if I was out with a group of friends, let alone in front of a live audience with my moves broadcast on live television to three million people watching around the country. I panicked and tried pull out, but ultimately, as I reminded myself of the experience with public speaking and how it changed my life, I didn’t make that call. I thought if I could get through that then maybe this was possible, and that I may learn something. To this day, I have not been as nervous as before the first episode of that show. I was probably one of the worst dancers in the history of that show but, somehow, I stayed on there for seven of the seasons’ ten weeks. It was an experience that helped me to grow and to realise that I can overcome anything.
This national exposure lead to being asked to speak in schools and to share my story. From this I started working with experts and doing research to understand the mental health epidemic. Had I not got over my fear of public speaking I would not have been able to do so, and I would have missed an opportunity that has changed my life. Those first talks showed me the impact of simply speaking openly and authentically. Kids would come up and tell me it led to them getting help for the first time. It sparked something in me, and in the years since I have spoken over 1000 times in Australia and overseas, at schools, universities, companies, in the media, even doing two TED talks.
Following these experiences, I really learnt to back myself and follow my gut. I co-founded three businesses, threw myself into acting, landed a two-year role on the long running Australian Television show Neighbours, and continued my public speaking and mental health advocacy work. It lead to working with behaviour change companies, charities, individuals and eventually starting my own educational company, Move Your Mind, delivering seminars, producing video and audio programs, running a podcast, and my latest venture, releasing a book titled Move Your Mind.
As a summary, I cannot stress how important it is that we speak up about our emotions and to encourage others to do the same. We need more mainstream education, and we will only bring major change if we all take the initiative to speak up about how we view and approach mental health.
One of the best ways to look after your mental health is through daily habits.
Habits help us to cope with the uncertainty in the world, but creating a new habit can often be confronting, and we often make any excuse we can to avoid taking action. The key to successful habits is to keep it super simple and start small. Pick just ONE thing (the most important thing) you want to work on and stick at that until it becomes a new habit.
Move Your Mind was written for this exact reason…to give EVERYONE access to information and tools to create daily change in our mental wellbeing.
Here are some quick tips:
Exercise: Simple movement can make all of the difference. Find a small space at home and do 15 minutes of exercise per day. It can be anything: push ups, lunges, skipping. Just move at your own pace!
Meditation: Take five minutes a day to sit with your thoughts. There is no perfect way to do this. You can use a mantra, focus on breathing, use an app (there are hundreds of free ones online). Just give yourself the time out to try.
Phone a friend: Call your best friend or a loved one, or a few of them, and offload your stress. Make it clear that they can do the same to you. Being heard can go a long way.
Nutrition: Make sure, to the best of your ability, that you are eating well and drinking enough water.
Sleep: Sleep is critical for our wellbeing and stress can majorly affect our sleep patterns. If we follow the healthy behaviours above, we will sleep better and, in turn, have less stress.
You can find further information by visiting: courses.nickbracks.com
Move Your Mind is a podcast that breaks down and explores the mindset of people who have excelled in careers across a range of industries. Each episode explores what is underneath the individual, what they have been through, the lessons they have learnt, and what helped them create a mindset for a healthy life. We ultimately want to give you, the listener, practical tools to make real change to your mindset and create a better life.
Listen to the Move Your Mind podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or visit: nickbracks.com/moveyourmind
Nick’s book, Move Your Mind (Wiley), will be available from all good booksellers in August 2021.