My house, my bubble: As New Zealanders stay home to fight COVID-19, Fiona Connor is talking to well-known Kiwis about what's helping to pass the time, while learning more about their craft and passions.
For 20 years, Gilbert Enoka has been providing essential support to All Blacks as a mental skills coach from within the management team.
His many accomplishments working alongside New Zealand's top athletes are inspiring, but even more so considering his disruptive childhood.
Spending 12 years in an orphanage with his five brothers and navigating his teenage years with an alcoholic step-father formed a complicated view of where he would fit into the world as a young adult.
But adversity couldn't deter Enoka from his impending success, his hardships ultimately proving to be challenges that made him stronger rather than defeating him.
Today he boasts more than 20 years with the All Blacks following stints with the Silver Ferns, Canterbury Crusaders and the Black Caps.
Enoka's skillset is to help others work at the peak of their abilities. Over the years, he's equipped players with the tools to make the most of their potential, and display gratitude and perspective, while enhancing their performance.
He's still working during lockdown out of the Christchurch home he shares with his wife, connecting regularly with All Blacks coach Ian Foster and the players. He also runs sessions online for individuals and businesses working through the unique challenges COVID-19 has brought.
Here he reflects on some career highlights, how he refused to let a rocky childhood deter his aspirations of success, and some techniques to maintain mental strength in the last week of alert level 4.
Fiona Connor: What has been the most rewarding part of lockdown for you?
Gilbert Enoka: ‘Living at home’ rather than ‘staying at home’. My life outside of lockdown is hugely hectic. Most of the time when I come home I am just staying at home in between tours and other working events. What lockdown has allowed me to do is live at home; I’m cooking, I’m exercising, I’m cleaning and clearing things out, all inside my bubble - literally just ‘being at home’ has been so cool.
FC: What have you struggled with, and how do you address and cope with those challenges?
GE: I haven’t struggled with much really. I miss going to the gym; I have a ‘normal' routine which involves exercise and connection at my gym, and I do miss that.
FC: Have you tackled any chores that you've been avoiding?
GE: Cleaning out my study. I am a self-confessed hoarder of notes that connect to experiences I have had over the years with many of the teams I have had the privilege of working with; Canterbury and Silver Ferns netball teams with Leigh Gibbs, years with the Crusaders under Wayne Smith, 20 years with the All Blacks under Smithy, Ted, Steve and now Ian. There’s a book in all this someday, so I’ve managed to get a bit of order into the piles.
FC: How have you been keeping fit - and how much do you believe that physical wellbeing plays in our overall mental health?
GE: Physical wellbeing is intricately connected to overall mental health in my view. The wellness piece for me is about having a daily action plan rather than thinking of it as an outcome. Nicholas Gill, the All Blacks' strength and conditioning coach, has given us all a home-based exercise program which is great. That looks after my body. I practice Bikram yoga - I have turned my study into a Bikram studio and can heat it to 32+ degrees. That takes care of my mind.
For my heart, well, there is no sport on TV - and I am a sport-aholic. So I have series-linked a range of quiz shows - The Chase, Tipping Point, Who Wants to be a Millionaire - and I schedule appointments throughout my day where I sit and watch these. It’s the combination of mind, body and heart that fills my wellness tank.
FC: Can you recommend any techniques for Kiwis who are finding lockdown difficult?
GE: First and foremost I think it’s a matter of ensuring your mindset is right. Your skillset doesn’t matter if your mindset is wrong, so ensuring you have this within your control is important, in my opinion.
To help with this it's important to understand that we are currently living in a world that has two components competing for control: the situation that is lockdown. and ourselves as individuals living inside lockdown.
If you see the situation that is lockdown as bigger than you, then it puts you in a state of overload or overwhelm (not a good space to be). However, if you see yourself as an individual as bigger than the situation that is COVID-19, it puts you in a position of control - or at least influence.
The key question: are you dealing to the situation or is it dealing to you? Another part of this is about ensuring that you have solid daily action plans that combine activities that feed the heart, mind and body - doing this energises and mobilises me inside my bubble!
FC: Do you ever have moments of feeling overwhelmed or doubtful or stressed - how normal are these feelings for us all to experience, and what are some ways of coping?
GE: Hell yes, this is all part of being human - we all have a load that we can tolerate. It's not set in stone and fluctuates over time. The mental formula is the same – when our limit is reached the key is to NOT GET STUCK.
We teach our sportspeople that it's okay to 'feel the fear', get the jitters, wobble etc. The key is that we don’t stand still - you gotta KEEP MOVING. The key is in making sure that we don’t get stuck and that our worst enemy doesn’t lie between our own two ears.
FC: Your story of finding success is rather incredible considering a childhood that could have easily hindered you - where do you think a determination to succeed came from and what attributes has it taken to get there?
GE: I often liken my childhood to a sort of military service! I spent 12 years in an orphanage - extremely well cared for by the way, but lacking the nourishment that comes from ‘being truly loved’.
During this time, and for some time afterwards, I thought the world was made up of normal people... and me. On leaving the orphanage and entering into what was considered ‘normal life’, I quickly came to the realisation that if anything good was to come of my life then I had to be its architect. When confronted in life with challenging moments and times, you either GIVE UP, GIVE IN or GIVE IT EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT. I chose the latter.
FC: Is there a standout moment in your career that gives you a sense of pride?
GE: Being selected to represent my country at volleyball. Meeting Wayne Smith: now a brother from another mother. Putting an All Black tracksuit on for the first time (who would have thought that boy from the orphanage would end up here? Go figure). Working alongside one of my boyhood idols: the late Sir Brian Lochore.
FC: Is there one piece of advice you often give to the players? Are they any different to us 'normal folk' in terms of experiencing a range of emotions through different events?
The All Blacks I have had the pleasure of working with are wonderful people, without exception, and they are all exceedingly human. They're normal human beings strutting their stuff in an abnormal world that is ‘life as an All Black’.
They experience all the emotions that we so-called ‘normal folk’ experience – although the spikes in amplitude can often be greater.
It’s not so much about advice - that’s not my role. It's more about connecting them to key understandings: the All Black legacy is far more intimidating than any opponent.
The moment you think you have made it is the moment you stand still. Life is what we make it - always has been and always will be.
FC: What did you possibly take for granted before lockdown that you won't in future?
Home is a place to be lived in, not just a place to stay in.
FC: What's the first thing you'll do once lockdown lifts?
GE: Go to the gym.