How The Still Small Voice Ended My Olympic Journey (+ 5 Tips For More Guidance)


Recently, I was interviewed for a peak performance summit lead by Dawson Church. (In case the name seems familiar, I interviewed Dawson several years ago for his book The Genie in your Genes for the Wellness Olympiad.)

Dawson Church constantly is looking for ways to research and show the impact and connections of emotions on health and performance. He founded the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare ( to study and implement evidence-based psychological and medical techniques. He is the editor of Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, & Treatment, a peer-reviewed professional journal (

We reconnected again due to our common interest to reach the world of athletic performance with EFT.

For this interview, Dawson was interested in my Olympic story, particularly the contrast between the highs and lows I experienced. One question I brought up specifically caught his attention:
“Why was it harder to overcome an eating disorder and depression than to win an Olympic medal?”. This question (and its many twists and turns) is what propelled much of the journey I’ve been on for the last decade. Now I can see how much it’s paid off not to give up. I’ve discovered so many gems as a result of looking into body, brain, food, and emotional connections.

Sharing my Olympic story usually includes mentioning how I decided to end it which, to my surprise, came in 2002. I was at the Fina World Championships when I unexpectedly heard the Still Small Voice speak to me.

We were in our focus group (we did this in a circle right before we performed). I was very focused and silent inside. This was our way to get in “the zone” for our performance. But this time, quite unexpectedly, I heard a ‘voice’ say: “This is your last swim. Time to take care of yourself.”

I could have panicked, but I didn’t. Oddly enough, it felt like a relief. Training wasn’t fun anymore. Binging on sugar had become unbearable. Using laxatives to relieve myself of the bloating felt horrible, and inexplicable sadness was affecting my joy of swimming, my studies, and my social life. I knew something had to change. I just couldn’t get myself to see what.

“This is your last swim. Time to take care of yourself.” was clear.
Allowing a couple of tears to fall down my cheeks, a beautiful feeling of acknowledgement washed over me. We all were in our ‘zone’ moment. So I quickly wiped my tears, took part in recalling our focuses, and got in line to swim. No one could tell what I had just experienced.

I like telling this story because I think it’s so important for athletes (and all high-level performers) to pay attention to those moments. When is it too much? When is it time to live life a little differently? How do we leave behind something we love so much?
Intrigued by the way I described the Still Small Voice, Dawson asked me to expand on this more, on how I hear and listen to it now.

As I answered this question in the interview, I knew I would be contemplating this more.

First I wondered if the Still Small Voice came only as a gift of grace, to guide us, when we may not otherwise listen. But then I realized that I invited it, too. Especially recently, becoming more and more emotionally and physically clear has enabled me to hear the Still Small Voice more often, and more clearly.

“The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Maybe you’ve been denying yourself the freedom to change direction in life.

Maybe you’ve been hearing guidance, but you’re afraid to make that decision.

Maybe you Go! Go! Go! and can’t ‘hear’ anything that feels clear.
No matter what this story has inspired in YOU, for YOUR life, here are five tips to help you welcome, recognize, and listen to the Still Small Voice:

1. Getting in “the zone.” Listen when you least expect guidance:
When the voice spoke to me SO clearly, I was about to compete and perform at a very high level. I was in “the zone”. Think about those moments in your life, when you are about to ‘perform’ or deliver your greatness. These moments are precious. I believe we can utilize them even more by being in the awareness of welcoming inner (or guided) messages.

Listen for something subtle. It may feel like it’s coming out of the blue, but don’t be fooled. It could provide you with life-changing insight.

2. The Still Small Voice is never defensive.
If you are wondering, “But how do you know that it’s the Still Small Voice?” Here’s how: the Still Small Voice has no desire to confirm, to justify, or to defend. “This is your last swim. Time to take care of yourself.” could read like it came from a very authoritative voice. It actually felt like the opposite. It sounded like a soothing invitation, with no attachment. If you hear something that comes with justifications or excuses such as “Come on, you deserve it.” “Do it now, before the time runs out.” “Your mom will be proud.”, it’s probably not the Still Small Voice. Listen for the gentle and subtle messages ☺

3. Relax – often – you’ve earned it!
Inviting stillness doesn’t mean forcing yourself into meditation. (This can feel like a nightmare for adrenalin junkies.) Instead, see if you can set some time aside to relax at least once a day. Lie on the ground with your feet up on a chair at a 90-degree angle degree. Do this for twenty minutes everyday, if you can. You will reset your sympathetic/para-sympathetic cycle (fight-or-flight versus rest-and-digest states). Start accepting that relaxation is part of peak performance. Without it, stress slowly will creep into everything you do, preventing you from hearing your inner-most guided answers.

Take a break. Everyday. See what happens.

4. Quiet the ‘What will people think?’ voice. If your heart says ‘Yes,’ take action.
So many women I know or coach hesitate to act on what they know is right for them because of the ‘What will people think?’ voice. If you are like me, and you have a history of concerning yourself with what everyone else will think or say, try this trick: When you notice yourself listening to a series of worries regarding ‘What will people think?’, picture it being a radio station. Picture yourself checking this station, maybe it has a name, maybe the volume is very high. Really get into this visualization. Then turn it down, all the way down, until you decide to turn it off completely.

Now, pick another radio station to listen to. Maybe it’s God101 ? Or 2FeelGr8 ?

5. The 90 percent – 10 percent ratio – Share only the minimal truth until later.
When we doubt our decision, it often feels more reassuring to ask others to verify what we’re thinking or feeling. When I heard “This is your last swim. Time to take care of yourself”, I kept it to myself. Even when the sports psychologist sat beside me on the bus back from the pool, I just told him I was done with swimming. I didn’t share why. I didn’t share my doubts about it, yet. I just shared the minimal truth.

The idea of the 90 percent/10 percent ratio for containment can be so helpful. Over-sharing your doubts and questioning may be fueling more of it to feel real for you.

Keep 90 percent of your contemplations, guidance, and messages to yourself. Share 10 percent. See what happens. You may be amazed. Your inner listening skills will expand. Your confidence to trust yourself will soar.

Thank you to Dawson Church for instigating this deep inquiry into how to welcome, recognize, and listen more fully to the Still Small Voice.

How did this help YOU? What else might you have questions about?

Sending LOVE!

Catherine xox

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