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Thought Leadership Tuesday, June 25, 2019 Hannah Prince

How to take lessons from the world of sport and apply them to your own life.

Think of some of the world’s most inspirational athletes – maybe Simone Biles, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, or Usain Bolt spring to mind. Their achievements are undeniable and awe-inspiring, such as William’s comeback from motherhood – a first in the tennis world – and Murray’s three Grand Slam wins, even though he was widely known to be playing through increasingly severe levels of pain.

Audiences around the world are endlessly captivated by the sight of someone running as fast as a car, serving a tennis ball at over 120mph, or coolly collecting an Olympic Gold medal while still a teenager.  These feats capture our imagination, because we can barely comprehend what it takes to reach such greatness, and we’re sure we could never do it in our own lives. We see footage of Tiger Woods wielding a golf club aged three and think ‘he was born to it’. We learn that Michael Phelps knocks out hundreds of lengths every day at 4am and tell ourselves that his dedication is out of the realms of possibility for most of us mere humans.

But the truth is that supposedly superhuman achievements are not just down to physical ability and the willingness to spend large parts of life perfecting every move and technique. Rather the world’s most successful athletes have learnt to cultivate a resourceful emotional and mental ‘state’ for them – they know how to self-manage and regulate their emotions to best support their performance and well-being. This isn’t exclusive to these athletes; we can all learn to do the same – it just might look slightly different for us.

Self-awareness is where success begins

This learning all starts with self-awareness. In any field or walk of life, getting the very best out of oneself is dependent on a solid understanding of who we are. For example, all successful sportspeople innately know the answers to questions such as: how do you thrive in challenging situations; what causes you stress; what emotions help you on your journey and which are harmful?

Anyone who wants to expand what they are capable of must become aware of who they are, and then leverage that knowledge to begin climbing to the top of their particular mountain, whatever that may be. The most successful people in life already know this, and they know that to become self-aware isn’t a destination point, but a lifelong journey on which they’re committed to continuing to learn and grow.

Telling tales

When times are difficult and our emotions are heightened, we really need the anchor of self-awareness to ground us to reality and enable us to navigate the complexities of life. If we don’t, we can often find ourselves ‘filling in the blanks’ and telling ourselves a different story, a story which may be unhelpful. Does anything like this sound familiar?

  • Nobody liked my idea in that team meeting. None of the team like anything I ever say, they probably all hate me
  • I shouldn’t have gone for that promotion; everyone will laugh at me for thinking I’m capable of a role like that
  • Since that project I led was put on hold, I’d be better off leaving. Nobody appreciates my abilities here so it’s time to move on

We’ve all done this – told ourselves a story that comes more from a place of fear or shame than one which truly reflects reality. Even the world’s best athletes do this, but here’s the difference: they don’t believe them, they don’t buy into them and they don’t let them dictate their behaviour or their life.

Instead they accept the emotions they experience and the inner voice telling them they’re no good – and suddenly these stories don’t become as threatening anymore. Their energy is freed up to focus on understanding what happened during their performance to lead to a particular success or failure. They can then learn from the experience and do something differently next time. In this sense it’s not the story we tell ourselves that matters, but how much we believe it, and how much we allow it to captivate our attention.

The industry is irrelevant; we may not all be on course for a gold medal or breaking a world record, but we can all learn to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves and decide how much we want to believe them. Self-awareness puts us in charge of the choices we make, the goals we set, and how much we allow the stories we tell ourselves to influence our behaviour during challenging moments. That’s the essence of an athletic mindset. What might you achieve if you could have an athletic mindset too? Get in touch with us today to find out.

* Hannah Prince is a Business Psychologist with a passion for understanding the underlying psychological factors required for high performance and general wellbeing. Connect at

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