07/26/2012 07:33 am ET | Updated Sep 25, 2012

Dr. JoAnn's Olympic Lessons For Life: Creating Your Inner Fire

Even if you never compete in the Olympics, you can think, and feel like an Olympian. The result? You perform like one in every part of your life.

We often read about athletes overcoming physical disabilities. I interviewed Oscar Pistorius, who makes his Olympic debut this year, the first double-amputee athlete. The "Blade Runner" races using carbon-fiber blades that raise blisters and rub his stumps raw. Pistorius, born without fibula bones due to a congenital defect, lost his legs at 11 months. Now he competes with the best in the world. And we're talking about the Olympics, not the Paralympics. Out of challenges like these, athletes develop a fierce desire to succeed.

Examples like these help hammer home the lesson that desire is sometimes more important than even talent or a healthy body.

Olympic athletes push their bodies beyond what seems possible. Why? More importantly, how? Because they believe they can. To excel in sports and in life, you need that belief. More, you need the motivation and the inspiration, as well as a hunger. I am coaching many Olympic athletes for the 2012 London Games. Those same Olympic athletes tell me it starts with a dream. But the dream alone won't work. Somehow you must light an inner fire or never reach your goal.

As an elite sports psychologist and champion athlete, I've coached athletes and people at all levels, training for every kind of sport. That includes running to tennis to golf to major league professional sports. Right now I have five Olympic gold medalist clients.

In them, I've seen a true Olympic mindset -- the love of your sport and a burning desire to achieve the best you can. Nothing easier than to skip a workout now and then. Cut just one or two small corners. Give yourself that half an inch of slack when it comes to standards. A coach or parent can give support and guidance, but you have to supply the rest, the mindset to strive for excellence. Only one person can push yourself when you're tired and alone, or work out despite countless distractions.

You. All the real power lies in you. Nowhere else.

I recently interviewed the legendary six-time Ironman winner Dave Scott. He said, "The most satisfying Ironman races for me were the ones when I competed in my 40s where I came from behind, where I felt awful, where I had to dig down deep, and do a major mind shift to get back in the game, find my passion, to go from 26th place to second place." That kind of drive comes from within, regardless if you're a novice, a serious athlete, or competing at the most elite of levels.

Here's the good news. Building and maintaining that self-motivation is a learned skill. Anyone can acquire it!

Motivation is all. Self-direction remains the single most powerful source of personal energy. Energy enough to shift whole lives. From individual passion comes the will to persevere to endure discomfort and even pain, and to make what sacrifices prove needed in moving closer to your goal.

Profile of the Olympic Gold Medal Mindset

What are the key characteristics of well-motivated Olympic athletes? And how do we achieve them? Through my extensive work with numerous Olympians over several years, I have developed a constellation of traits that defines the champion's mentality. Elite athletes do not possess superhuman powers or extraordinary qualifications limited to a selected few. The characteristics that make a champion can be attained and developed by anyone who wants to excel in sports, business or in life.

In my next Huffington Post article, I'll reveal the seven key qualities that make up the Olympic mindset that you can develop to think, feel, and perform like an Olympian in everything you do. Stay tuned!

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 as well as #1 bestselling author of Your Performing Edge.

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