As the summer Olympics kicked off Friday night, I sat captivated in my living room, watching the elite athletes arrive and wondering what thoughts were running through their minds. News of steroid use and disqualification among some teams has always cast a bit of a shadow on the Olympics, but overall the event has always held me in awe. The arrival on a stage such as that is the culmination of a lifetime of work, and I admire that.
When I was younger, I used to dream of being in the Olympics. I had no athletic ability whatsoever, was on no sports team to speak of, and spent most of my time watching musical theater on television. But I had a feeling that living like an Olympian was more mental than physical, and it turns out I was right.
Sure, every elite athlete has been blessed with a natural ability that makes it easier for them to perform athletically. But I believe their success is not just the result endless hours of practice, private coaches and trainers, meals crafted by sports nutritionists, and dedicated teams of people to get them to the gold medal. Those who succeed have vision, discipline, and resilience. Here’s how you can channel some of the Olympian mentality into your life:
Know what you want
Parents of elite athletes often tell the same story of their child being driven and focused almost from birth, declaring at a young age that they were going to achieve the highest pinnacle of athleticism. We all have an essence of that in us, and having a vision for our lives doesn’t necessarily have to mean being the best of the best at anything.
Yes, having a vision of being mediocre is perfectly legitimate. The key is in being able to visualize and even sense what it would feel like, look like, smell like, or sound like to achieve it. If your vision is to be a champion for rescuing animals, then that may feel like a warm furry animal curled up in your lap, smell like dog food, and sound like the yapping of happy puppies who are glad to see you.
Studies suggest that visualization training is just as important as physical training. Olympians don’t just think about the race and the finish line, they put time into thinking what it would feel like to receive and take home the gold. The sharper this vision, the more likely it is to be achieved. Practice regular mindfulness and visualization to achieve this level of focus on your dreams.
Know how to push through
Of course, just wanting something is not enough to achieve greatness. A great mental athlete knows how and when to buckle down and power through. This is achieved with a combination of knowing one’s strengths, staying connected to the motivation for the outcome, and creating a routine that brings it all together.
In the big picture, this can mean a vision board or other visible reminder of the vision you have coupled with daily attention paid to working on that goal. In the moment when it is time to focus and perform, motivational self-talk is highly recommended by Olympic trainers. It’s amazing how much we can achieve when we simply tell ourselves that we can!
Practice resilience in the face of fatigue
Even for Olympians, failure happens. They don’t show the bad workouts, the missed shots, the seventh-place finishes, and the face-plants on television, but they happen. Of course they do. The secret of those who rise above those flops and achieve greatness is in their ability to exhibit resilience in the face of frustration and disappointment.
Resilience is a byproduct of a strong support system, an optimistic perspective, and hope for something better. Great athletes don’t quit when they fall down. They expected to fall at some point, and they had a plan for when they did.
Imagine what you could do if you thought like an Olympian every day. As you watch the summer games in Rio, remember that every gold medal started in their minds.