I tightened my grip. I straightened my back. I lifted my chin up. As I focused my eyes forward, I took a long, deep breath. When I heard the judge’s bell go off, I knew it was time to deliver. It was time to focus my mindset and perform.
This is how I feel before every dressage competition I do with Mickey. This is how the Olympic athletes feel right before it’s their time to give everything they’ve got. Four years (if not longer) of hard work are about to pay off for real. Every athlete has been mastering not only their physical skills but also their mental skills. They know that half of their success is their mind. If the mind isn’t with them, neither is their body. That is why having the right mindset is the key to success, not only in sport but also in your career and life.
As the 2016 Summer Olympic Games are about to start in Rio de Janeiro (and I’m so excited!), it’s the perfect time to look at what we can learn from a successful athlete’s mindset.
1. Practice a positive attitude.
Olympic athletes realise that attitude is a choice and they understand a positive one will help them to succeed. They see their sport as an opportunity to grow and progress, and they learn not only from their successes but also their failures. They acknowledge that failing is a part of every sport (and life), and it’s often the failures that teach you the biggest, most transformational lessons.
2. Pursue excellence rather than perfection.
They know that they are not perfect – and neither is anybody else. They aim for excellence, which is about them mastering themselves and mastering the sport they are engaged in. Basically, they focus on reaching their best potential.
3. Believe in yourself.
Especially in times of stress. Olympic athletes know what their strengths are, what their capable of and how much they’ve progressed in the past. They know self-doubt happens sometimes but they know how to overcome it quickly. They realise they’re not competing against the world but against themselves. They want to be better now than they were in the past, and they know they can be.
4. Engage in positive self-talk.
Professional athletes talk to themselves in a positive, realistic way, as if they were talking to their best friend. They use effective self-talk to regulate their thoughts, feelings and behaviours during competitions. If momentary doubt creeps in, they don’t let it blow up but rapidly rationalise it out of their head.
They know how to focus on one thing: their performance. They practice this unilateral focus inside and outside their sport by unitasking and resisting distractions, both externally and internally. They also have learned to regain their focus if their concentration is lost for a moment during competition – a lot of which comes through self-awareness and repeated practice. They know how to be in the present moment, focusing on their performance, without thinking of what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future.
6. Visualise success.
Successful athletes practice a positive mindset by visualising their best performance. They visualise themselves performing well in the competition, and they live through a successful performance in their head again and again and again. They make these visualisations super detailed, specific and realistic. They also use imagery during competitions to prepare for action, and also to recover and learn from past mistakes.
7. Acknowledge both negative and positive emotions.
They understand that both negative and positive emotions are a part of the competitive sporting world, as they are a part of life. They accept anxiety, stress and disappointment throughout their sports, and learn to manage negative emotions in a way that it enhances their performance rather than prevents it. They know the right amount of stress can push them to perform better, and they know exactly how to manifest that. They use their positive emotions as fuel and learn to embrace positivity not only from winning but also from progressing.
8. Dedicate yourself to hard work.
No Olympic athlete gets to the top without hard work. They know discipline, dedication and drive are an essential part of the equation – and they don’t shy away from that. They know sometimes they have to say no to things to say yes to success in the sporting world. They’re not afraid of difficult times or sore muscles, and they know their sense of achievement may come from the participation not only the outcome.
9. Bounce back from setbacks.
Every successful athlete is prepared to fail – and they know how to bounce back from it. They don’t let setbacks or failures bring them down. Instead, they use them as learnings and as fuel to try again.
10. Surround yourself with a dream team.
Nobody gets to the top on their own (and if they do, it’s a lot more miserable and a lot less fun alone). Every athlete has a support team which could include a sporting coach, a mental coach, a nutritionist, a sports physiotherapist, supportive family members, and encouraging team members – and many others. They’re not afraid of asking for help and they know it’s a team effort to get to the top.
11. Set realistic short and long-term goals – and create detailed plans to reach them.
Olympic athletes know where they are and where they want to get to. They use that information to create realistic and measurable short- and long-term goals. They then create very detailed plans to reach those goals. They stick to those plans as much as possible so they don’t waste mental energy trying to decide what to do. Saying that, they do know sometimes plans need to be adapted if their situation changes so they also remain flexible and adaptable in the face of change.
12. Set aside time to recover and recharge.
They know recovery and recharging is just as much as training. If they’re not eating the right things, getting enough sleep and doing everything they can to help their bodies and minds to recover, they know they’re at an immediate disadvantage.
As you can see, Olympic athletes know what they are doing and there is a lot we can learn from them. I feel so privileged to be able to watch them perform at the top of their game and I can not wait for the Rio Olympics to kick off! I might also have an extra soft spot for the Olympic Games because it is one of my personal lifelong ambitions: to compete in the equestrian dressage discipline in the Olympic Games. Who knows, maybe Tokyo 2020? ;)
Now I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to train your mindset and make sure you’re on the top of your game? Or will you start practicing one of these tips from today onwards? Comment below with your thoughts to inspire and help the rest of the Happyologist readers.
If you enjoyed this post, please like it, share it, tweet it, all of it – I really appreciate it :)
With that, I wish you good luck in your adventures & I hope you enjoy watching the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as much as I do!