What we can learn from the Olympics

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

I’ve always been a big fan of the Olympics and Paralympics, the spectacular ceremonies, the inspiring stories and of course the edge of your seat action. This summer I spent many hours glued to the TV watching the best athletes in the world strive to reach the pinnacle of their sports in Rio.

Here are six personal development lessons and insights we can glean from the Olympics.

1. Having an inspiring goal

Every Olympic medal winner emphasises how they’ve been working towards their success for at least four years, and for many, getting to the Olympics is the fulfilment of a life-long ambition. Even those of us with a results-focused mindset will generally not look beyond a twelve month timeframe. Taking a longer term view, an interesting question to ask is – what would be a stretch goal to aim for in 2020? (When we are watching the Olympics in Tokyo) In terms of your life or business, what’s your equivalent of ‘getting to the Olympics,’ or ‘winning a gold medal?’

2. Getting into the ‘zone.’

In all walks of life success and achievement is a mental game. Top athletes and teams utilise the services of sports psychologists to harness the power of the mind, or at minimum, to ensure they don’t self sabotage. When the mind is calm, the body relaxes, we remain alert and agile. We might use the phrase ‘in the zone,’ or ‘in flow’ to describe this sweet spot of mental and physical synergy.

Mental focus is about having less thoughts, dropping the distractions that serve no purpose. Contingency thinking is replaced by an empowered inner dialogue. ‘How can I seize this opportunity?’ ‘How can I deliver on my potential?’ You are focussed on the present moment and what is within your control. Olympians know that all the physical preparation in the world means nothing if your thoughts don't align with your desired results. A useful question to reflect on is – what do I need to change about my habitual thought patterns to achieve what I want to achieve?

3. Your Support Team

Success is rarely achieved in isolation. When Olympic athletes are interviewed they always acknowledge how the support of their families, friends and coaches were essential to their success. In our own lives whatever we wish to achieve, it’s going to involve others. This means having new conversations. We should always ensure that we acknowledge the support and encouragement, and maybe even sacrifices, that those close to us make to enable us to achieve our goals? Support of course is a two-way street, so how could I be more supportive of those close to me, to encourage them in their own endeavours?

4. Digging deep to find our Courage

At the Olympics courage is displayed in packed stadiums and heralded by cheers. In our lives courage is not found in such public arenas; we find our courage when we are alone with our thoughts and struggling with uncertainty. It’s in those moments, when without fanfare or applause, we make a courageous decision.

One of the simplest ways of accessing our reserves of courage is to recall times in the past when we exercised courage, when we overcame a challenge, when we acted in spite of feeling nervous or worried. It is a cliché but if we are looking to feel differently, we have to approach situations differently.

5. Visualisation

We all visualise. All worry is visualisation where we imagine the worst possible outcome. Olympic athletes visualise, but they visualise their desired result, crossing the finishing line first. They also preplan how they intend to perform and how they will respond in specific scenarios. We can emulate Olympians by ensuring our visualisations focus on what we want, not what we want to avoid.

6. Success is learning from the journey

Of course, the Olympics and Paralympics are not just about winning, only a small fraction of athletes go home with a medal. Every competitor endeavours to achieve a personal best which is a reminder to us to focus on our own unique accomplishments, our own standards. For every gold medallist there are thousands of others who train just as hard and sacrifice just as much. It is about competing, trying your best and of course getting into the game in the first place.

James Sweetman is a Business & Personal Coach specialising in assisting businesses and individuals realise their potential. He works both on a one-2-one basis with clients as well as delivering workshops on a range of topics including Communication Skills and Motivation. For more information on all his services visit www.jamessweetman.com. Or e-mail him at james@jamessweetman.com