What inspires people to be the best they can be? Performance psychologist Dana Sinclair believes that much of the answer lies within the heart and soul, and she has spent her life helping people rise above their fears to excel in whatever they do.
When it comes to conquering fear, Dr. Dana Sinclair is an expert. The Vancouver-born psychologist, world renowned for her work with an eclectic array of professional athletes and sports teams – including the Toronto Raptors, LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Maple Leafs – understands the nature of human performance and what it takes to excel. And she’s made it her mission to help clients find the kind of courage that will support them in achieving their personal best.
“It does take courage to try to find the right mindset to step out and try to be as good as you can be,” claims the stylish doctor. And judging by the fabulous, 215-acre Black Oaks Farm in Burnley she shares with her husband, Jim Sleeth, Dr. Dana practices what she preaches. Their property features a celebration of great design, thanks to Jim’s exquisite eye, along with bold architectural choices and the kind of innovative vision that helps inspire and ensure a life well lived.
Dana first fell in love with sports when playing field hockey, going on to become the captain of our Women’s National Team. At UBC, she started out studying agriculture, but with all the travelling she was doing playing field hockey, she began to learn about certain pressures first-hand and eventually found her way into psychology. She completed her PhD and then realized, “Oh, I’m going to have to teach at a university. And I didn’t want to. My dad had been a university professor and it was great, but I didn’t want to do that,” she says. “So I went on to do another PhD in Cambridge, in developmental psychopathology.”
After returning to her hometown of Vancouver, Dana worked at local hospitals, doing research for reproductive psychiatry and counselling people for postpartum depression and infertility. She loved what she was doing, but Jim – who she’d met in the sports world when he was on the Canadian Sprint Canoeing team – had started a management consulting business. Dana decided to launch a performance/ sports side of the business in 1995, and their Human Performance International enterprise really took off. In 2004, the couple moved to Toronto. However, Dana had already fallen in love with Northumberland County, a place she had the chance to visit often after she and Jim were married and lived in Ottawa in the late 80s.
It’s not just star athletes who benefit from Dana’s expertise. She’s also working with race car drivers, surgeons, actors – anyone intent on achieving their personal best performance.
Jim’s parents had purchased a Confederation-era farmhouse on 50 acres in Burnley as a weekend getaway in 1979. In 2007, Jim and Dana, who by then had two young daughters, bought the farm from the family and proceeded to lovingly restore the old house and erect a fantastic modern addition, which jived beautifully with the old-style charm of the original building. They also outfitted the huge barn with an impressive collection of gym equipment and went on to build a romantic little pond house, as well as office space and a glamorous modern studio for Dana, designed by local architect Dimitri Papatheodorou. An in-ground swimming pool was also recently added to the property and a wonderful, large greenhouse is currently in the works.
Besides doing a lot of biking, and regularly hosting and counselling clients at their farm, the fabulously fit Dana and Jim are not afraid to get outside and get their hands dirty. “We’re doing lots and lots of work on the land that makes you sore in ways that make you feel alive. Oh, it’s wonderful! I’d rather be working out here physically than in the gym in the city,” insists Dana.
They’ve also taken to planting as many trees as they can. “I did spend a lot of time on planes and my carbon footprint is not the best,” admits Dana. “So we’re trying to do what we can to rectify that.” She also concedes that their country retreat offers a much-needed respite from big city life. “Being from Vancouver, I used to think that I didn’t really need to go anywhere. Vancouver’s small – there’s the ocean, there are mountains… But after living in Toronto for a few years, I now see how you might want to get out of the city. And now that I’m out here, I just can’t get enough of it,” she smiles.
Confronting the challenge of a work/life balance is imperative for Dana. That’s one of the reasons she appreciates country life and loves inviting her clients out to Black Oaks Farm to share the magic. “You’re never going to be totally balanced when it comes to life and work. For me, anyway, it goes a little this way and you pull it back, so you’re just rejigging all the time,” she reflects. “But it’s great to be able to come out here and really rejig it and have my clients come out here too, and take it all in and get a different perspective. They might even come out here for an overnight, just to have a respite and breathe the air and even do their workout here, as opposed to always being in the city. They’re able to settle and rethink and then off they go.”
It’s not just star athletes who benefit from Dana’s expertise. These days, she’s also working with racecar drivers, surgeons, actors – anyone intent on achieving their personal best performance. And she’s got a book coming out on the subject later this year. “One of the things in my life that I love is watching people be great at what they do. So, working with people – whether they have something that they’re trying to overcome or they just want to be better – it doesn’t matter. It could be having a baby, it could be taking exams, it could be anything where you have to perform and do your best at something that’s important and meaningful to you,” she explains. “You don’t even have to have a problem to do this. It’s mostly just trying to get the most out of yourself and be better. I love watching people playing and be great, or being great in the operating room or getting over something.”
Of course, it’s fear that generally hangs people up, and Dana understands how paralyzing that can be. “Fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, fear of not being your best creates tension. And then people can’t stay focused on what they’re doing in the moment. They worry about how they’re feeling, and not what they’re supposed to be thinking about,” she says.
While total fearlessness is rare in any individual, Dana is intent on helping people find the courage to rise above their fears and achieve the peace and focus they need to really shine. As for her own peace of mind, as much as she loves the city and will have to return to a jet-setting lifestyle in the near future, Dana swears by her time spent in Northumberland County over the years, seeing it as the perfect antidote to the pressures of her work. “I love the city life and the restaurants and the vibe and all of that, but it was always wonderful to be able to get in the car at the end of the week and come out here,” she says. “And whenever we’d hit Port Hope, I’d start to relax and be calm and think about what we could do out here: riding, walking… It just really added to the calmness of life that you can’t get in the city. It was such a wonderful juxtaposition.”
Though Dana and Jim will continue to maintain a small office in Toronto for Human Performance International, they’re now determined to primarily work out of their country offices, desperately hoping to get their Wi-Fi problems resolved – often a necessary evil of life out here in Paradise. “I guess nothing’s perfect,” laughs Dana. “But I’ll take this over anything else, any day.”