On the surface, professional sports looks like a completely different world than the one you inhabit in the office. If you look deeper, however, you’ll find the two share plenty of commonalities: a demanding schedule, fierce competition, and unrelenting pressure to excel. To thrive in their super-charged environment, elite athletes rely on a host of mind-training tricks, most of which work as well in business as they do on the playing field. If you want to win big in the boardroom, the three athlete-approved lessons below are the perfect place to start.
Even when the odds are stacked against them, athletes are always in it to win it. It’s tougher to place first when you think of yourself as a solid third, so why short-change yourself before you’re even off to the races? Whether you’re working on an ambitious project, pitching a roomful of discerning stakeholders, or looking to land a new job, maintaining a winning mindset can give you a subconscious confidence boost powerful enough to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mindfulness, a sharp awareness of the here and now, is a practice that aims to make the most of the moment at hand. The idea is that by consciously channeling all of your cognitive energy into the task in front of you, you can improve your performance while ditching the negativity.
In physical competitions, mindfulness is almost intuitive. After all, intense physical movement leaves little room for thinking about anything but what’s happening right now. In the real world, pushing aside distractions is much tougher. From a never-ending stream of tweets, posts, notifications, phone calls and emails to competing demandst outside the office; invasive thoughts are constantly vying for your attention, leaving you scattered and exhausted. The key is to learn how to recognize and dismiss these sneaky energy drainers so you can exist fully in the present.
Next time you need to be at the top of your game, or even when you just want to get a grip on runaway stress, try focusing on the physical at first, like the weight of your body or the feel of your desk under your hand. When you’re ready to shift back to your task-thoughts, chances are you’ll have an easier time identifying and shutting down the negative chatter that felt so overpowering just a few minutes before.
Embrace New Challenges
Whether it’s to beat records, qualify for more events, or face new competitors, athletes are constantly pushed to do better by managers and coaches who make sure that they’re never standing still. In an office environment, you have to be your own cheerleader. When you do the same thing day in and day out, it’s easy to let your mind switch to autopilot (“mindlessness”), a sort of middle ground where you’re not losing or winning but simply coasting.
If you’re stuck in this common routine rut, try asking for more responsibility, refreshing your career skills with a new course, reading a non-fiction book that might apply to your interests, or just brainstorming your plans for the future. You’ll be surprised at how one small step forward can reignite your spark for work and inspire you to reach for greater heights.
Lastly, cut yourself some slack. Keep the above tips in mind, but don’t stress if you don’t immediately reach your goals. Just imagine how different today’s sports landscape would be if the now-household names like Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Derek Jeter let early setbacks derail their careers. Michael Jordan, widely hailed as one of the best (if not the best) players in basketball history, was once just another high school junior who didn’t make the team. To an aspiring athlete, that must have been a devastating blow, but instead of calling it quits, he turned his disappointment into drive, and the rest is history.
Throughout your professional life, you’ll meet people who seem to be smarter, better, luckier, and more successful than you. Practice your mindfulness and bring your attention back to you. So what if you didn’t get that promotion or a stellar performance review? Dust yourself off and get to work — another opportunity is just around the corner.