Acknowledging Country – Fear, Mindfulness, Journey, A Script, Connection

Three years ago, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, 30 minutes before my event Changing The Game of Influence was due to start, my speaking coach said to me:

You have to do the Acknowledgement of Country, Toby. Google the right words, then say them.

He was right of course. It was my event.

But it had been a long time since I’d run my own event and I’d never started with an Acknowledgement of Country before. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it in my preparation.

And I was afraid of making a mess of it.

Afraid of missing an important piece of protocol or that I might offend someone.

But it was also really important to me, so I googled Acknowledgement of Country in Brisbane. Then I took myself off to hide in a bathroom stall and run through it as many times as I could before guests arrived.

I kicked off the event using the guidance from Reconciliation Australia:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

As a first time, it felt a bit clunky and awkward, but I was glad I’d done it.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though.

The day after the event I received some direct feedback that it could have been better. That I had sounded rushed and that I could have slowed down or paused to give it additional emphasis.

That feedback felt uncomfortable too.

It was time to practice.


Fast forward a few years and I’ve practiced and started events, keynotes and workshops with an Acknowledgement of Country many times using that same guidance.

Then a few weeks ago, I was running my Momentum Live workshop back at the Brisbane Powerhouse. 65 people were coming. A critical part of the workshop is the science of mindfulness and how it applies in wellbeing and performance.

One of the common misconceptions of mindfulness is that it is a practice that we do separately. In reality, mindfulness is what we bring to the present moment or an activity.

Rather than doing mindfulness, it’s about being mindful.

So prior to the event I wanted to see if there might be a way to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgement of Country and really help people connect to it.

The same fears that had shown up three years ago came back even as I considered this.

If I was going to try to bring the two practices together, I wanted to make sure it was acceptable in the first instance and if so, then done in a respectful and appropriate way.

Journey and a script

So I reached out to Dave Williams, a Wakka Wakka man and the owner and Executive Director of Indigenous creative agency Gilimbaa, that specialises in strategic and connected communication.

When I explained my thinking and experience in a phone call, Dave’s counsel was pretty clear.

He shared that everyone walks their own journey with understanding what it means to Acknowledge Country and the connection Country has for Australia’s First Peoples. And that this often starts from a place of discomfort.

So this would become another step in mine.

With his coaching, I developed the exercise and kicked off the event with the below.

I opened with the guidance from Reconciliation Australia again.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Then I invited my attendees to join me in an exercise to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgment.

We’re going to be talking about mindfulness quite a bit through this workshop, so if you’re willing, I invite you to join me in this exercise.

You can keep your eyes open or closed. I’m going to close mine. Just listen to my voice and follow my prompts.

Just for a moment, notice your breath. [Pause]

Then bring your attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice the texture of your socks or shoes. Spend a moment there. [Pause]

Then extend your awareness into the floor and then down the sides of the building and onto the land on which we gather. I’d like us to pause here for a moment to reflect on and acknowledge the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have walked this land before us, for tens of thousands of years. And that we stand on the richness of the contributions they have made in so many ways. [Pause]

Then I’d like us to reflect on the fact that many, many more will walk this land after us. And that all of those people, will stand on the decisions we make and the actions we take, today, in acknowledging, embracing and bringing forward that very same richness.

Take a moment to reflect on that. [Pause]

And then I’d like us to bring our awareness back up from the land, up the walls, into the floor and pause for a moment back on the sensations in our feet. [Pause]

And then, in your own time, come back to the room and open your eyes.


When it came time for me to actually deliver this exercise, all of the same anxiety and fears showed up once more.

I’ve run it in a few more workshops since and they still do.

But after each time, I have felt immensely grounded, present and connected.

With mindfulness accompanying the words and really trying to be present, this process has helped me to experience a deeper, more personal connection to country.

I have so much to learn in this space, so I wanted to reflect on my own journey to date and to share this in case others might find it useful.

In direct contrast to my own childhood, I’ve watched my daughters be taught Acknowledgement of Country as a near daily ritual in their kindergartens and primary school.

They do it beautifully.

I feel incredibly grateful that they will have such familiarity with acknowledging and recognising the contributions, traditions and cultural heritage of our land.

Their Acknowledgement of Country has started much sooner than mine and I can only hope their sense of connection will develop to be deep and rich.

High Performance Recovery: Step-By-Step Guide, Principles & Questions, Lower The Bar, Design For Fulfilment, The Long Game


“I’m just heading off for a swim.”

It was lunch time on a beautiful, sunny, winter’s day.

This was from one of the most experienced, senior executives I know.

For a long time, I’ve admired them in both their accomplishments and conduct. The decisions they’ve made, the organisation they’ve built and the impact they’d had on tens of thousands of lives (including mine) and organisations over decades of work.

But at the heart of the reason why I’ve sought their counsel over the years, is that they speak about their proudest achievement as being the relationship they have with their children. And all of this through accomplishments, curveballs and crucibles.

It struck me in this brief exchange that here was someone who’d created a habit of maintaining energy, health and wellbeing through it all.

But this conversation seemed in stark contrast to others I’ve had recently.

At work, the end of the financial year has been and gone, goals have been reset and the meaty, challenging projects are well underway.

In personal lives, the chaos seems to be mounting in the lead up to Christmas, squeezing in final plans and starting to decide what 2023 looks like.

“No more weekends free until next year.”

“Just got to make it through to the end of term/semester/year.”

“I thought we’d be post-covid by now.”

“I just have a mountain on my plate at the moment.”

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy looking forward to the breaks and time off too and absolutely feel lost in a full schedule at times.

But recovery is a practice like many others, which means it’s best done before you really need it.

Why recover at all?

We’re drowning in a firehose of information about tactics and tools for rest, relaxation and recovery.

I’ve come to realise that the important question here is not “What can I do to recharge?”.

Instead, let’s go back to Simon Sinek’s model and start with why:

“Why do I want to recharge?”

“Why is recovery important to me at all?”

“My recovery is in service of …?”

For me, recovery is about being the best husband, father, brother, friend, son I can be. It’s about living my purpose of helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do. It’s about expressing my values of Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration and Contribution in as many moments as possible.

It’s the old “oxygen mask” theory – if I fit my own first, then I can help others.

From Why, I can then ask How?

“How can I architect a recovery practice that will last me a life time?”

“How can I do this in a way that is so valuable and important to me that I never miss it?”

“How will I start?”

I wrote recently about cold baths and how I use them but I thought I’d use this article to bring more structure to how to quickly develop a personalised recovery practice.

One that will “refill the cup” and be thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.

How will we do that?

Well, before we get to the principles and activity, I want to highlight a couple of points.

Recovery isn’t doing nothing

So often recovery gets misinterpreted as sitting on the couch eating Tim Tams and binging Netflix. (Or is this just my fantasy?)

But it turns out that the opposite is true. Sport calls it active recovery.

Counter-intuitively, I often need to do more. Not just more exercise, more massages or more retreats, but specifically more of the things that truly matter to me. (Use this 3 min Momentum exercise to explore what truly matters to you. You might find it useful further down this article.)

If I can combine what matters (people, places, experiences, values, purpose…) then that’s my recipe for getting energised.

More on exactly how to do that below.

Ambiguity is the enemy

Another thing to note is that very rarely are we lacking information. Anyone I talk to nearly always already knows what they should be doing.

So how can we architect recovery so we actually do it? How can we make it specific enough to take action? And how can we make it valuable enough to truly enjoy it?

That’s what the following principles and questions are for.

Principles and questions to build a recovery practice

Principle: You already know what works

Don’t let the learning curve get in the way of getting started. You can explore new things later.

Question: What activity has energised you in the past?

Let’s start with that.

Principle: Set the bar so low that you can’t fail.

The hardest part is getting started. We want to do the first rep rather than be discouraged by not living up to a thousand rep ambition immediately. We can get to those later.

Question: What is the smallest possible increment you can do of the activity above?


  • Reading: read one page
  • Strength: do one rep
  • Running: walk around the block
  • Swimming: do 1 lap
  • Cryotherapy: do 3 mins
  • Mindfulness: Notice 1 breath
  • Time with friends: Send them a voice memo telling them you love them
  • Music: Play one song

In my experience, if I just do a single rep, then I’m nearly always inclined to do more. But I’m also willing to accept that one might be enough on a given day and that it’s still infinitely better than none.

Principle: Design for fulfilment

Make the recovery activity so valuable that you truly want to do it, rather than seeing it as a chore. By combining the answers to the questions below, we enrich the experience so much that we’ll love it and prioritise it.

Question: Who is someone important that you could do it with?


  • Partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Friend
  • Colleague
  • Client

Question: What’s an environment you love that you could you do it in?


  • Beach
  • Forest
  • Mountain
  • Home
  • Backyard
  • Cold bath

Question: Could you give the activity an important focus?


  • Listen to a podcast about a topic that matters to you.
  • Talk about a book you love.
  • Make a plan for an experience that excites you.
  • Ponder a question you’ve been trying to solve.

Principle: Time is non-renewable

An intention to do something is not enough. Diarising or anchoring the activity to something you already do will increase your chances of success.

Question: When will you do it?


  • Swimming at 11:30am on Tuesdays with mates has been brilliant for me. It’s been set as a recurring calendar appointment in my diary and one that I organise my week around.

  • I try to do a minute of mindfulness and mobility drills before coffee in the morning. Nothing quite like using my caffeine addiction for an incentive!

  • I’ve shared my cold bath example in depth, but basically 12:30pm every Wednesday is sacred time.

  • Meditation at night before bed.

Principle: Play the long game

Once you’ve booked in the time or anchored the activity to something you already do, open up to the fact that life happens and you may not hit the mark every time.

You might – and that would be great!

But don’t expect it.

Just start.

And if you falter, rather than beating yourself up, apply some love and kindness to the fallible person in the mirror and then start again.

Build your own practice in 3 mins

Here are the collated questions from the above principles:

  1. What activity has energised you in the past?

  2. What is the smallest possible increment you can do of the activity above?

  3. Who is someone important that you could do it with?

  4. What’s an environment you love that you could you do it in?

  5. Could you give the activity an important focus?

  6. When will you do it?

  7. Start

Given we all have the same 24 hours in the day, how well we recover may be the difference in how we show up each day and the kind of energy we have for the things and people that are most important to us.

My hope is that you can fill your cup long before it hits empty.

But if it’s already pretty low, then I’d urge you to start the process of getting it back to where it could be in order to have the impact and contribution only you can make in the world.

If you’re interested in the exploration and application of this kind of thinking, I’d love you to come along to my Momentum Workshop Live on 12 Oct 22 in Brisbane.

Or if you’d like to explore any of these topics for yourself or your team you can book a 15 min call here or you can click this link to download my 5 Reflection Frameworks Template >>

Practicing Discomfort – Cold Water, Benefits, Science, Safety, Architecting Recovery, Periodisation, Rituals

“…and have a great life.”

Breath work was over.

We’d followed Wim Hof’s breathing pattern on YouTube. His dutch-accented, closing words were already fading.

It was cold bath time. Full body, cold water immersion (9 degrees) up to the neck for 10 mins.

The tension in the room was rising.

“When you get in a cold bath for the first time, you’ll feel awful. Your mind will scream at you that you’re dying, that you can’t breathe, that you have to get out of there.”

“That’s completely normal.”

“And that’s where breath kicks in.”

“We’ll focus on our breath by counting. We’ll breathe in shorter cycles when we first get in. In for 2 and out for 2.”

“Then we’ll gradually extend that to Dr Andrew Weil’s breath pattern: in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. We’ll maintain that for the remainder of our time in the cold.”

“I’ll be in the bath with you, so just follow my prompts for the breathing to focus.”

“This’ll be great!”

Suddenly along with the tension, there was a huge dump of scepticism.

“How the hell can this possibly be great? What on earth are we doing? Why did I agree to this?”


Why I love cold water

There are some people I’ll never convince to join me in a cold bath (you know who you are!). But I love water and I love cold water – baths, oceans, lakes or streams. I don’t know when it first started. What presumably kicked off as an ego-centric tough test with mates years ago, has become one of my favourite weekly rituals.

While sometimes I still dread getting in, especially if I’m feeling tired, distracted, or worried, I always feel good getting out.

When I combine it with breath work (like Wim Hof or 4-7-8), it’s like an extended mindfulness session.

And when I share the experience with friends then that’s the icing on the cake.

[NB: Breath, water and cold are a powerful combination. I never do this kind of thing alone. And you should always check with your doctor if you decide to try.]


Practicing discomfort

While the claims of cold bath benefits can be grand, the science is actually pretty thin (more on that below).

But if nothing else, I find a cold bath is an excellent tool for practicing both mindfulness and sitting with discomfort.

As I’ve said previously, mindfulness is the scalpel that sits between my reaction (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can choose).

There’s dread, anxiety, excitement, the physical jolt of the cold water, the tension in my breath and chest, the shallow breathing as I get in.

Then I focus on my breath.

Then, after a few breaths, I say to myself: “Welcome the cold.” I begin to invite the cold and the discomfort in. I start to notice the experience of the cold against my skin. Where can I feel it most? Can I break it down into single sparks of sensation in specific parts of my body?

Sometimes I’ll play music. I love listening to Ludovico Einaudi’s beautiful piano in the cold. My favourite track: Nuvole Bianche from his album Una Mattina. I’ve also experimented with trance albums like Paul Van Dyke’s Guiding Light. This can also be a practice in mindfulness – listening to the distinct notes in the music.

Other times I’ll talk with friends, or count newcomers through the breathing patterns.

It’s also pretty delightful just to sit in silence.

It’s taken a bit of practice to get to this level of enjoyment but when it comes to my diary management, this is one weekly ritual that I truly defend.

The benefits, science and safety of cold water

While I love my cold baths, the science is a long way from definitive when it comes to the benefits of cold water immersion.

Claimed benefits

There are many claims including:

  • improved circulation,
  • deeper sleep,
  • spiked energy levels,
  • reduced inflammation in your body,
  • and weight loss.

Most are unsubstantiated to date as far as I can see.


Some studies I could find around cold and cold water benefits, basically conclude that it’s still too soon to know whether the claimed benefits above are valid.

Here are some studies that you might find interesting:

So while I’ve experienced some of the anecdotal benefits, I’ve come to see the primary value for me as being an extended mindfulness session in the middle of my week that helps me reset for the sprint to the weekend.

(If you’re interested, there’s a great list of mindfulness science studies here.)


The science is, however, pretty clear on the risks of cold water immersion:

And this is why all cold water facilities I’ve been to require a signed waiver. So know your limits and check with a medical professional if you choose to try something like this.

Architecting recovery and periodisation

Water polo drilled into me the importance of recovery. In fact, the better I performed, the more important it became.

If I wanted to survive, let alone benefit from, the compound effect of repeated, high quality, high intensity physical training, I came to realise that I’d better nail my recovery between sessions.

There are amazing stories of Steffi Graf pioneering the focus on recovery between each point in her tennis matches. When you’re applying recovery principles to that degree of detail, you know you’re getting to the pointy end of performance!

More formally in a physical training setting this is called periodisation.

Periodization is defined as the planned manipulation of training variables (load, sets, and repetitions) in order to maximize training adaptations and to prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome.

Periodization – Wikipedia

I think this is one aspect of high performance sport that is only just making it across into how we consider our time at home and at work.

It’s not just about how hard we work, but how intentionally we recover. This can give us huge gains of productivity or energy to invest in the people and situations that truly matter.

I view my cold baths, mindfulness and physical training as intentional recovery periods to be a better husband, dad, coach, colleague, brother, son and friend in my day to day.

Then, more tactically, I use them for specific situations.

Tactical cold

Recently I flew through the night from Singapore to make it home for a lunchtime work shop. I landed in Brisbane at 10:30am having had a grand total of 3 hours sleep. I raced from the airport to the cold bath, had 5 minutes in the cold, got to the workshop 15 mins early and then downed a long black coffee.

While my handshakes were cold for the participants, I couldn’t have felt better if I’d had 12 hours sleep in my own bed.

Active recovery rituals

An important note here: recovery is not about doing nothing.

As much as my mind might rebel at the idea, sometimes recovery means doing more. But it’s not just more of anything. It’s reconnecting to what matters and what brings me energy (a 3 min activity if you’re interested) and doing more of that.

Sport calls this active recovery and the principle applies at work and at home.

When water polo was my training, surfing was my recovery. When I was tired from an overnight flight, the cold tub and coffee were far more effective than having a 20 min sleep in the car.

So while cold water might not be your thing, I love to hear from you:

  • What are your rituals?
  • Do you have a way to practice discomfort?
  • How do you intentionally recover before you need it, so you can have the best chance of bringing the best of you to whatever situation arises?

Let me know in the comments.

If you’d like to explore any of these topics for yourself or your team you can book a 15 min call here or you can click this link to download my 5 Reflection Frameworks Template >>