Personal Best

Trevor Sylvester (Hypnotherapist) 2009

Many top sportsmen and sportswomen seem to be born with an exceptional talent which transcends the limitations of normal mortals. But talent alone is not enough. In all sports there are gifted performers who don’t make it and others less gifted who do. Why is this? It’s because elite sportspersons have certain attitudes in common which override the differences in talent levels and enable them to become winners.

Elite Thinking – consistency

‘The will to win is important but the will to prepare is vital’. There will always be examples of mercurial brilliance – either a brief career or brief examples within a career. But most of the true sporting greats achieve peak performances over extended periods. Real consistency in your sport can only be achieved by real consistency in your training. Top athletes just don’t show up, they engage totally in what they’re doing, focusing fully on their training and giving it all of their energy. This is a tough task. You can’t let up, you can’t negotiate with success, you either give it what it demands or success goes to someone else who’s prepared to pay the price.

Creating the drive

Just how do you create the desire to achieve the consistency in your training? First you have to evaluate your own values, the things that are important to you, the things that provide you with motivation. Ask yourself what is important about your training, about your sport. You are the only one who can identify your own priorities in life. Also it’s vital that your drive stays fresh and alive and that you keep on top of your motivation and question it regularly.

Apply your skills in a multi-context

We often compartmentalise our life, putting sport, relationships, job, social life etc. into different little boxes. However when we do this we unfortunately also isolate skills and good habits by attaching them solely to one context and leaving them in the one box. Often an attitude or behaviour from one part of your life could in fact considerably benefit you in other areas. Think about the times you have been consistent in any and all contexts of your life, write them down and work out how they can be applied to your training.

The tip here is for you to recognise what is really important to you about your goal and to ensure that all your values are being utilised in its pursuit. If you’re not doing well in one area of your life borrow the resources from another.

Elite Thinking – perseverance

Churchill defined success as –‘The ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm’. The development of resilience in children has been found to be a key ingredient in predicting their mental health and success as adults. One of the most significant factors is the difference between having an internal or external locus of control. People who have an external locus look to others for their solutions and blame others for their difficulties and failures. Having an internal locus means not ‘something must be done’ but ‘I must do something’. It’s about seeing yourself as the cause not as the effect.

Shield yourself

How many people remind you of baby birds the moment there is a problem, flapping their wings, running round in circles, mouths open, asking for help? Successful people first look inside themselves. This doesn’t mean not listening and learning from others, it does mean being in control of what you listen to and evaluating the best information you can before making your own decision. You don’t have to be on the receiving end of anything from others which will diminish your resolve or bring you down. You should have the power to reject things which don’t fit your needs. When faced with any setback ask yourself – ‘What can I do to move myself forward?’ The setback should usually be treated as a learning opportunity.

Feeling in command, feeling that you’re the one making the choices, both reduces the stress and is also a powerful motivator to push past any setback. This ‘push’ is important, ‘take action’ should be your personal mantra. Stubbornness and perseverance are qualities which make champions. Will Smith was quoted recently – ‘You might have more talent than me, be smarter, fitter and stronger, but if we get on a treadmill together, one of two things will happen. You will get off first or I will die. I will never be outworked.’

Elite thinking – self-belief

The final attitude step is self-belief. A lack of belief in yourself can be expressed in many different ways but something it does require is an audience. The fear of the opinion of others is a most common phobia. Scientist Paul Ekman has identified that seven facial expressions are universal indicators of particular emotions. Many of his students when demonstrating various expressions reported that adopting the facial expression caused them to begin to feel the related emotion. Our mind affects our body but our body also affects our mind. Adopt the posture and expression of someone who is depressed and your mood will dip too. Look and act confidently and everything about you will reflect your self-belief. The old adage ‘fake it till you make it’ can be changed to ‘fake it and you’ll become it.’

So take a tip from the sporting elite and emulate that elite attitude. Persevere in your self-belief and be consistent in your confidence, despite what the world throws at you and you’ll soon notice how your perception of yourself as a winner reaches a new level. Once your perception changes, so will your performance – for the better.

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