Guidelines for Thinking Like an Olympian and Maximizing Your Potential
Would you like to think, feel and perform like an Olympian (e.g., like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps) in every part of your life? The people who develop the Olympic qualities mentioned in my previous article and practice these skills regularly have the best chance of excelling in sports as well as personally and professionally. Each of us begins at a different starting point physically and mentally. We all have strengths that we can build upon.
Now that you have an idea of the constellation of traits that successful Olympic athletes possess, how do you begin to build them into your life? How do you turn these qualities into useful behaviors that will make a difference in the way you train and race? Numerous researchers in the sports psychology field have reported on the critical skills and behaviors of successful athletes. Below I have offered suggestions that have helped many of my own clients tremendously toward excelling in their sport.
• Create a Positive vision: Direct your focus to what is possible, to what can happen, toward success. Rather than complaining about the weather or criticizing the competition, the mentally trained athlete attends to only those things that he or she can control. You have control over your thoughts, your emotions, your training form, and how you perceive each situation. You have a choice in what you believe about yourself. Positive energy makes peak performances possible.
• Imagine your goals daily: Put yourself in a relaxed state through deep abdominal breathing. Then, as vividly as possible, create an image in your mind, of what you want to achieve in your sport and in life. You can produce a replay of one of your best performances in the past. Then use all those positive feelings of self-confidence, energy, and strength in your mental rehearsal of an upcoming event. See yourself doing it right. Then use your imagery during the event itself.
• Focus and stay calm: Develop the ability to maintain concentration for longer periods of time. You can tune in what's critical to your performance and tune out what's not. You can easily let go of distractions and take control of your attention. As you focus more on the task at hand (e.g. your training form, how you're feeling) there will be less room for the negative thoughts to enter your mind.
• Develop a balanced lifestyle: Create a broad-based lifestyle with a variety of interests; strive for a balance between work and fun, social time, personal quiet time, and time to be creative. Develop patterns of healthy behavior. Eat regularly, get a consistent amount of sleep each night, reduce your work load at times if possible, and allow time to relax and reflect between activities. Develop a social support network of close friends and family, some who are sports oriented, and some with other interests. Learn to communicate openly; resolve personal conflicts as they occur, so they don't build to a crisis on the night before an important race.
• Change your workouts: Train at a new, scenic place at least once a week. Change your normal training schedule, even if only for two days. Try "active rest" by doing a different sport for a few days (e.g. hiking, swimming, inline skating, cycling, or cross-country skiing). You'll get a tremendous psychological boost and probably not lose any of your fitness level. Put new spark in your training schedule by doing interval work, tempo work (fast 20-30 minute training), varying your speed and doing endurance work, rather than slogging along at the same old pace.
• Have fun and take the pressure off: Make a deliberate effort each day to create enjoyment in your sport, renewing your enthusiasm and excitement for training. Don't try to force your physical improvement. Lighten up on your rigid training schedule and exercise according to your feelings each day. Remove the strict deadlines and race dates which have been cast in stone. Let your next breakthrough occur naturally, at its own pace, when the internal conditions are right. Use setbacks as learning opportunities. Do the best that you can do, draw out the constructive lessons from every workout and race, and then move on. Look for advantages in every situation, even if the conditions are less than ideal.
Sports offers a wonderful chance to free ourselves for short periods and experience intensity and excitement not readily available elsewhere in our lives. In sports we can live out our quest for personal control by seeking out and continuously meeting challenges that are within our capability. To develop an inner desire and maximize your true potential, make the most of the talents you have, and stretch the limits of your abilities, both physically and psychologically. Training can become a means to personal growth and enjoyment of the pursuit of your goals. Try incorporating the profile above into your mental preparation, and you can learn to live more fully, train more healthfully, and feel exactly the way you want to feel.
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., Olympic keynote speaker and leading sports psychologist, is the founder of Performing Edge Coaching International Association, offering coach certification training, and the editorial director of www.DrJoAnn.com as well as #1 bestselling author of Your Performing Edge.
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