The Olympics are here! I love the games and am so amazed by the physical and mental strength that Olympic athletes have developed at such a young age. I looked into what habits Olympians have so that we can learn how to create our own winning habits. Huffington Post and Forbes magazine have some good articles about the habits of Olympic athletes. Interestingly, 6 of these habits have to do with our mental states. At Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, teaching people these skills and helping them practice them regularly is one way that I help people improve insomnia, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.
1. Olympic Athletes Visualize the Outcome.
Visualization is a brain training technique that has powerful effects on the body, mind, and motivation. Its power comes from using all your senses to imagine doing what you want to be successful at. If you are using visualization to help you start the habit of exercising, you might imagine what your breathing sounds like, what you are wearing, what your skin feels like from the sweat and heat of the exercise, what your internal body feelings like (heart beating harder and faster, adrenaline pumping), what the gym or your yoga mat smells like, and of course, what you can see and hear around you. Here’s an informative video about using the power of visualization for athletes.
The more you can visualize the habit you are trying to create, the more likely you are to actually do it and succeed because you’ve already done it first in your mind – the brain doesn’t make the distinction between visualizing an action versus actually doing it.
How do you visualize yourself tackling your work day, or effectively tackling that difficult conversation? Set up your visualization for what you want to do, as well as how you visualize yourself responding to expected challenges. The more you practice visualization the better you’ll perform or get into that new habit.
2. Olympians Meditate Daily.
Meditation is a mental exercise in which you train your mind to focus on one thing, or to become aware of what your mind is thinking. There are multiple ways to practice meditation, including prayer, mindfulness, or through an activity like yoga, cooking, or driving. As you get better with being able to meditate the end result usually produces relaxation, increased awareness of thoughts or feelings that keep you stuck, spiritual closeness, and general feelings of wellbeing. Here is a great “how to” about meditating.
3. Olympic Athletes Disband the Mental Judges.
Imagine what it would be like for an Olympian to not only listen to the judge’s criticisms of their performance, but to also believe that they can’t perform better. I’m sure that these athletes are pretty skilled at taking constructive criticism and using that to propel them to perfect a skill. Often times, we can get stuck in a cycle of listening to our own internal judges. That criticism can lead to lack of confidence and fear. Those feelings can prevent us from continuing actions needed to develop habits. So, learn how to recognize and challenge critical thoughts you have about yourself and disband the harsh judgments.
4. Olympic Coaches Encourage Actionable Items.
When coaches train an Olympic athlete, they encourage the athlete to practice very specific skills that the athlete can take action on. We can do the same. Think about one or two “trigger” actions that lay a foundation that will help you solidify a habit. For me, one of my trigger actions is to go to bed at 10pm. This trigger action leads to a cascade of other actions that actually occur the next morning. Over time, the cascade of these small, actionable steps, will help me solidify my morning routine so that I can play and work well. (I have to admit, with the Olympic games on I have NOT been disciplined at going to bed at 10pm…and yes, my mornings are suffering).
5. Olympic Athletes Learn to Block Distraction.
Imagine that you are in the Olympic stadium: there is a ton of noise, a fleet of thoughts racing through your mind, feelings and physical sensations coursing through your body. How does one ever learn to block those distractions? Olympians have learned to be mindful. Mindfulness is a GREAT skill to develop that helps you focus on one thing (whichever thing you choose) and not get carried away by the distraction of the environment around you, or the environment inside of you (racing thoughts, pounding heart, feeling of dread). Here is a quick video that explains mindfulness in a really simple way.
Need help learning mindfulness? Check out my blog on a free mindfulness app called Mindfulness Coach to help you practice daily. And, if you notice that you struggle with blocking distracting thoughts and feelings at work, this post about how to decrease the distraction of anxiety at work in 10 minutes will be helpful.
6. Olympic Athletes Practice…A LOT.
“No kidding!” you’re probably saying. Obviously, we expect top notch athletes to practice a lot. But, did you realize that many practice every day for 4 – 6 years! So, why do we expect that level of practice for Olympic athletes, but, when we are developing a new skill or habit we get frustrated with our results and don’t have the mental stamina to keep practicing daily for an extended period. We need to have realistic expectations about how long it takes to get really good at something. Having self-compassion and learning to say no and to prioritize things are actions we need to practice in order to solidify a habit.
If you want more tips about changing your mental state of mind when you are working on developing winning habits, you might also want to check out this great interview with Marie Forleo and Todd Herman, an elite athlete performance coach and business coach I love this entire interview…definitely worth watching (or listening to). It’s a bit long at 25 minutes but really worth the time. One nugget I took away from this interview was the “trigger action.” What trigger action are you going to put into play? .
Dr. Leedy is a clinical psychologist at Legacy Counseling Service serving Broken Arrow, Tulsa, and all of Oklahoma through online counseling. She specializes in helping people struggling with internal stuck points that contribute to insomnia , chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. Her favorite Olympic sports to watch are men and women’s gymnastics, swimming, and volleyball. If she were to create her own Olympic sport category, she might be able to qualify in Yoga and Walking. LOL