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Becoming World-Class: Olympians And You

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We are glued to the TV watching our country's finest athletes gracefully negotiate the fine line between paralyzing fear and full commitment -- between real physical and emotional danger, and the reward of realizing personal excellence. We are enthralled by the behind-the-scene stories of what it takes to become world-class -- to experience the moment-to-moment excellence of high achievement.

And we privately question the quality of our own lives while witnessing the truest forms of commitment toward excellent human performance.

We quietly wonder if we could do the same, if we'd only taken a different course in our life.

We silently reflect on what it must be like to "win" -- to be tested -- to be challenged, and to be left not wanting. We wonder what it would be like to experience the fullness of striving, and striving honestly.

And then ... we watch more TV.

The question is begged: In your own life, are you connected to passion and meaning? Are you striving for excellence? Are you fully committed, fully engaged in creating your dreams -- your ideal life?

Over the years, the Olympians that I've worked with have demonstrated several specific traits that allow them to "go for it," in life and in sport.

Here are a few of those gems:

World-class athletes invest in themselves. They invest in the way they think, the way they move, the way they handle pressure, the way they eat, and even the way they sleep. Sure, some world class folks are so naturally talented and gifted--so freakishly, biologically blessed, that they don't put in anything strongly resembling a quality investment in themselves. These folks--contrary to popular belief and what the tabloids might have you thinking--are the rare exceptions to the rule. Most world-class performers have a clear understanding that the quality of mind and the quality of body is the foundation for generating consistent high performance.

At some point, they push "all in" toward their goals -- toward the way of living that is most important to them. They have a sense of what they want in their life, as well as how they'd like to live their life toward that pursuit. They also know that their goals are lofty and extremely challenging. High achievement requires a full commitment toward that aim. Likewise, for those of us pursuing a world-class life, this too requires a full commitment toward both goal attainment and an "ideal" way of life. When we strip it down, living an "ideal" life (however you define that) is really not that different in the inherent challenge of winning an Olympic gold medal. Both are equally challenging and inspiring.

If "it" were easy, it would be easy. Since it ain't easy, it requires a tolerance for being uncomfortable. There is no real way through this. There are times when it's really scary, difficult, uncomfortable, and even boring. Those that can accept and navigate through this process defiantly have a running start.

The world-class pursuit involves consistent and deliberate practice. I'm referring to a very specific and focused commitment to any and all activities that are aligned with you being world-class. A few weeks ago, a two-time Olympian (winner of three medals) that I work with reminded me of this. When we first started working together, we created a daily mental-training process for her. It was a simple activity that required her to journal three very specific things everyday (more on this later). After a while, this task often becomes really monotonous, and many people begin to become less consistent with the task. About four months later, I asked her how it was going. I fully anticipated her to describe the same loss of commitment and to tell me, "Ah, yeah, I gotta get back to doing that." Instead she reached into her bag, grabbed a little brown book and said, "Do you mean these?" As she handed the brown book to me, it was filled with detailed and consistent logs of the tasks -- every day for the past four months!

When you watch Olympians perform this week -- when you watch them strive for personal and world-class excellence -- consider creating a life of personal excellence for yourself. Consider these gems:

1) Invest in yourself by creating a clear vision of how you'd like to live your life.

2) Invest daily in high quality thoughts, high quality movement, high quality sleep, and high quality nutrition.

3) Commit to "this" way of living.

4) Embrace that when it gets uncomfortable, it's simply part of the process.

5) Deliberately and consistently practice the skills that help you live according to your vision of an "ideal" life.

Dr. Michael Gervais, the Director of Performance Psychology at D.I.S.C, is An Official Medical Service Provider for the U.S. Olympic Team. Dr. Gervais, as a licensed psychologist in California, has consulted with numerous NHL, NBA, NFL, UFC, MLS, AVP, Mixed Martial Arts fighters, Olympians, collegiate athletes, and military personnel. Most of his time is spent with people who are at the "top of their game," performing on the largest stages in the world. Dr. Michael Gervais is a published, peer-reviewed author. He is a nationally recognized speaker on issues related to human performance.

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