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The success secrets of Olympic athletes

TC North //February 17, 2010//

The success secrets of Olympic athletes

TC North //February 17, 2010//

Would you continue doing your job if you knew you could die in a painful crash every time you showed up? What if you knew that you had a 100 percent chance of serious injury if you did your job for more than a year? And if you were willing to accept these physical risks, would you be willing to fail in front of millions of people on television?

These are risks most winter Olympic athletes have to accept.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is sometimes criticized for his foot-in-mouth comments, had a brilliant insight into the winter Olympians. He said that what set them apart from other athletes, who also had great physical skills, was their courage to fail in front of millions of people.

It’s also one of the characteristics that separates most successful people from others: They have the courage to both succeed and fail, and they accept that they can’t succeed without failing sometimes. Most people are so afraid to fail that they greatly limit their success. But as Wayne Gretzky, known as “The Great One” in hockey, said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

It’s the fear of failure and/or embarrassment that these athletes have overcome, and anyone who has a strong enough passion for what they do and good self-esteem can overcome these fears. I’ve had the privilege of working with elite athletes and entrepreneurs, and both groups have learned to control their fears – learning to use them to understand the dangers they face and then make smart aggressive decisions, rather than fear-based decisions. They understand they must be aware of and in control of their thoughts and emotions to be great.

Jeremy Bloom, three-time world champion and two-time Olympian in moguls skiing, says this about competing: “It’s at least 90 – maybe 95 percent – mental.”

Elite athletes train their brains to handle the stress of Olympic competition with millions of people watching, wondering if they will fail. To perform and survive death-defying events at an Olympic level, they must be confident and fearless.

There are many strategies athletes and business executives use to be confident in competition. Katarina Witt, two-time Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, uses this strategy:

“When I go out on the ice, I just think about my skating,” she said. “I forget it is a competition.”

Witt trained her mind to focus on her skating – what she controlled – instead of on the audience, judges or cameras. This is a strategy anyone can use in a stressful situation: Focus on what you control, do it to your best ability and let go of everything else.

Most of us don’t face death by taking on the challenges work and life provide us. But how would life be different if we had more of the courage of an Olympian?

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