The long-awaited 2016 Olympics are upon us, and with them our own musings of what it takes to cultivate a winning mindset.
Like these incredible athletes, how do you set yourself on the path to success? How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you get up and keep going after a setback? What sort of mindset do you need in order to achieve the extraordinary?
By studying the mental psychology of some of the world’s most driven people, you can learn how to drive yourself, even when failure seems imminent, and even after you’ve taken a fall. Here’s how to do it.
Lessons entrepreneurs can learn from top Olympic athletes
1. Go all in
There’s no point in doing anything if you’re only going to give it a half-hearted attempt.
A bronze medal winner in the 2004 Olympics, American triathlete Susan Williams says to give it your all.
“In training for the Olympics, I gave it everything I had each day. As my coach would say, ‘leave no stone unturned.’ So that is how I approached it.” To this day, Williams still considers this the best advice she’s ever been given.
U.S. strength and conditioning coach Michael Boyle subscribes to the same belief. In fact, according to Boyle, the primary differentiator between the non-elite and the elite athletes boils down to commitment. “I think the most common block is lack of self-discipline and lack of commitment. I think we all want to be fit. I think very few are willing to do the hard, consistent work necessary.”
If you want to achieve success, commit to what you’re doing. Go all in and don’t stop until you see results. Of course, you still need to take a balanced approach. Even Boyle warns as much: “Enjoy the process, enjoy the moments. Don’t be afraid of a day off or a week off. Take a vacation, have dessert, have a beer.”
2. Cultivate a growth mindset
According to Carol S. Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, the difference between the athletes who succeed and those who don’t—despite their talent—is mindset related.
Dweck says, “Those with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities are simply fixed. They have a certain amount and that’s that. In this mindset, athletes may become so concerned with being and looking talented that they never fulfill their potential.”
“People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, think of talents and abilities as things they can develop—as potentials that come to fruition through effort, practice, and instruction,” she says.
“They don’t believe that everyone has the same potential or that anyone can be Michael Phelps, but they understand that even Michael Phelps wouldn’t be Michael Phelps without years of passionate and dedicated practice,” says Dweck. “In the growth mindset, talent is something you build on and develop, not something you simply display to the world and try to coast to success on.”
To cultivate a growth mindset, there are a few things you can do. Dweck outlines these as “rules” that anyone can use to alter motivation and performance, whether that be in relation to business, athletics, or a personal pursuit.
The three rules of a growth mindset are as follows:
- Learn, learn, learn
- Work with passion and dedication—effort is key, so put in a lot of it
- Embrace your mistakes and confront your deficiencies
By cultivating a growth mindset, you’ll be able to better embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see the effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, find lessons and inspiration from the success of others, and as a result be able to reach even higher levels of achievement.
3. Forget the competition
There is a time and place to think about your competition, and every day is not it—unless of course, you’re writing the competition section of your business plan!
Dr. Steve Peters, a Team Sky sports psychologist who has provided mind training to athletes including renowned cyclists Chris Froome, Sir Chris Hoy, and Bradley Wiggins, says, “You cannot say, ‘I want to be the best cyclist in the world,’ because you have no influence over your opponents. You can say, ‘I want to be the best I can possibly be and devise a plan to achieve that aim.’”
Even track stars like gold medal winner Martyn Rooney know better than to stack themselves against the competition—after all, what can you really do when Usain Bolt is on the field?
Rooney says, “There are superhumans out there and if I try and race them, I would die a horrible death. I can only focus on my own lane and my coach has for a long time worked on getting me to focus on myself and running the way I trained to run. Being honest with yourself about the competition and your own level is important for any athlete. For me, getting to the 400m final will be as good as winning the European championships—that’s my goal. Though amazing things could happen.”
4. Don’t forget to focus on process goals
As a software company, we talk a lot about the importance of setting goals. This is because we know firsthand that if you set goals, you’re much more likely to actually achieve those goals—especially if you write them down.
Rebecca Symes is a sports psychologist who works with the Great Britain Paralympics team. She is also a big believer in setting goals. According to Symes, there are three types of goals that are used to set intentions. This includes outcome goals, performance goals, and process goals.
Outcome goals focus on the long term and not necessarily about winning or achieving something immediately. Performance goals are slightly more specific. They usually get a time and date by which they are to be achieved. Naturally, they relate to desired performance outcomes. Finally, process goals are the small things that need to be completed daily. For an athlete, this might include how much water to drink, or what to do as part of the pre-race routine.
Symes says, “You need all three goals to feel you have control but as you go along, you would focus much more on the process goals and trust that if you achieve the smaller goals, that will help you achieve your performance goals which will then help you achieve your outcome. You can’t focus on the winning day-to-day but the tiny things you have to do in the process of getting there.”
So, rather than thinking only of the big, impossible-feeling goals, consider those process goals too. What do you need to do on a daily basis to get yourself into habits that eventually lead to success?
5. Visualize to achieve
When Andre Agassi won the Wimbledon Cup in 1992, he said, “I have already won Wimbledon at least 10,000 times before.”
What he meant was that he had visualized himself winning so many times that when it actually happened, it only felt natural.
“It just felt right—it felt like something I was rightly meant to do.”
Visualization as a means to enhance performance is not a new technique. In fact, most athletes are said to use imagery to boost their performance levels. According to psychologist Jim Afremow, writing for Psychology Today, it’s a good idea to practice mental imagery at least three times a week for about 10-15 minutes.
Afremow says, “Find a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted, and breathe slowly and deeply from the belly. Take yourself into the performance scene using all of your senses. Mental images can be experienced from an internal perspective as if seeing through your own eyes, or from an external perspective, as if watching yourself from the bleachers.”
But visualization isn’t just used to create a mental image of the thing you would like to achieve; it’s also used to maintain confidence, to refine technique, to rehearse strategy, and much more.
In fact, visualization is so powerful it even activates the same areas of the brain that activate when someone is actually doing something. One study found that when weightlifters lifted hundreds of pounds in their head, the same brain patterns were activated as when they actually lifted hundreds of pounds in real life.
Go for gold
To achieve success in your business and personal affairs, make sure you plan for it. Commit to what you’re doing. Visualize what you want to achieve. Set goals. Cultivate a growth-oriented mindset.
And, if all else fails, take a leaf from our book at look to those who keep getting up time and time again, eventually going on to achieve great things. What can you learn from them? How can you play the mental game to achieve success for yourself?
Don’t forget to enjoy the journey while you’re at it!