We all know people in the workplace and in life who seem to keep moving forward, upward, and onward, always making real progress toward a new goal, a better job, the next life transition, or even their personal/professional reinvention in a new direction. Like Olympic star athletes, these people create challenging goals for themselves and often achieve success because they are mentally, as well as physically, attacking their goals with disciplined commitment. They are Elite Mental Athletes.
What sets an Elite Mental Athlete apart? These are people who continue to reach their goals because they know how to use their minds as their secret weapon. Sports psychologist Chris Carr, in his article “How to think like a Winner”, says that winning a gold medal begins in the athlete’s head. He’s worked with many Olympians, so he should know. I was struck by the similarities in the mental attitudes of elite athletes and what I like to call Elite Mental Athletes, the superstar performers whom I have known in the workplace.
Three of Carr’s points that really stood out for me included: 1) “Set goals wisely”; 2) “Talk to yourself”; and 3)“Visualize your performance.” When setting goals, Carr suggests that you “choose a reachable goal, and then plan out what has to happen every day to achieve it. That last part, “following a plan” is critical for success. Without a plan, you don’t have a goal, you have a daydream. Plans make goals real.
When Carr talks about “talking to yourself”, he means finding a mantra that you can say to yourself that, “cuts through distractions and focuses your mind.” Remember how Mohammed Ali used to say “I’m the greatest?” That was part of how he psyched himself up to perform. Try something like, “I’m really good at this,” “I build rapport easily,” or “I can do this!” You don’t have to say your mantra out loud, but you should repeat it frequently to yourself.
Everyone talks about the importance of visualizing your performance and Carr suggests “watching a mini movie of your success” day after day. You’ll hear pro athletes like Tiger Woods and Mia Hamm talk about how they would see themselves making a difficult shot in their minds, all the way from when they stepped up to the tee or the shot on goal to the motion of every part of their body when they took the shot, to seeing the ball sail through the air toward its destination.
When you compare articles and books that talk about the winning attitude of elite athletes’ it’s almost identical to the mind of a seriously committed motivated person, people you will find in all occupations. Exceptional goals are evidence of strong motivation and desire to achieve, and require exceptional efforts to reach the goals.
If you think about it, these three points are the opposite of what we often do. It’s all too often that people wish instead of plan, talk themselves down in their minds instead of repeating encouragement, and visualize failure instead of success. The secret is to turn those behaviors upside down and do what the gold medal athletes do. Then you will also be an Elite Mental Athlete and reap the benefits!