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10 good habits of Olympic winners to take into your business life

August 26, 2012

What a great few weeks, I loved the sport, the competition and the emotion. Blimey, the emotion. I don’t think a day passed when I didn’t get a lump in my throat! I really enjoyed the post-race interviews with the athletes which give an insight into what makes these people special. They were usually humble, engaging and friendly

There are a host of things they do and attributes they have that allow them to take that talent and hone it to the point where they become good enough to represent their country at an Olympic games, and for some of them to win medals and break records. I must have been close to getting a gold medal for the amount of Olympic TV viewing I achieved over the 17 days. From this, here is my take on the top 10 attributes that make a great Olympian, and each of these offer an insight to take into your daily business life

1. Have a goal Every competitor had a goal. It may not have been to win a gold medal or to reach the final, but a personal best. The important thing is having the goal. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, how can you ever succeed?

Having a target makes you start thinking about how you can achieve it, its the starting point in proactively planning what you have to do to get what you want. The alternative is essentially hope, and I didn’t see many gold medal winners relying on hope.

2. Get a plan Once you have a goal you then need a plan to achieve it. The Team GB Cycling Performance Director, Dave Brailsford explained how they look at their sport on a four-year cycle…with the Olympics at the end. He explained that it was impossible to maintain an Olympic gold performance standard continually for four years, they aim to peak at the Olympics with other competitions used as marker posts for expected levels of performance at given times, and for development of specific aspects of the cyclists conditioning.

The same logic can be applied to business. You can’t do everything you want all the time, so plan effectively, know what you can do and when. Know what steps you can take towards your overall goal over what time periods and what resources each step will take. Hit small milestones on the way to the overall target.

3. Have a great work ethic, but work smart In an interview, Chris Hoy talked about spending time with his family following the Games, as he had missed weekends, holidays etc. because of his training schedule. To achieve great results we generally have to work hard. Most business people I know certainly do. The real lesson, I believe, is to work smart.

I’m sure Hoy could spend seven days a week in practice cycling round and round a track and not win a medal in competition despite the miles clocked up. When he trains he is clear about what he is training for. If it’s stamina, what does that mean? If it’s sprinting, what does that mean? The same for business people. Work effectively not just long, work on the important not just the urgent. Work on your plan and towards your goals – don’t just work. Do something that makes a difference

4. Measure performance All athletes measure performance whether it’s time, weight, height, distance. Whatever the success criteria, they constantly evaluate where they are compared to where they expect to be, and whether they are on-track to achieve their goals or not. By evaluating performance they can determine if they need to change their plans.
At the end of every race, athletes debrief to both understand performance, but also set targets for next time. In business you need to measure so you can analyse how to be more effective, more productive, and more profitable in the future. What gets measured gets improved. It’s an attitude of constant improvement

5. Be prepared to experiment One of the interesting interviews I saw was with Ian Thorpe, explaining how swimmers use ballet in their training programmes. The logic was that ballet dancers train to reproduce very specific athletic movements perfectly, time after time, and this skill is also important in swimming where getting the body, arms or hands slightly out of position can cost hundredths of a second. It is important to keep an open mind in business and take lessons from other industries. See how others do things that you do – or things you don’t do, what can you take anything from them?

6. Train like a champion No matter how talented an athlete is, they train to perfect their skills and maintain peak levels of performance. Continuing to dream is part of this, they never stop striving for that next big performance. Planning to compete at the highest level, and putting in a shift, high-performance athletes plan out their training schedules in advance to make sure they reach specific performance goals.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his groundbreaking work ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’, discovered that people who were considered experts or genius in their work, put in 10,000 hours in order to earn the title – so start slogging! “To become a grandmaster seems to take about 10 years (only the legendary Bobby Fisher got to that elite level in less than that: it took him nine years.) And what’s 10 years? Well, it’s about how long it takes to put in 10,000 hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.

7. Don’t settle for ‘Good enough’, use pressure to improve your focus Most business folk lack the same level of mental discipline that successful athletes have in abundance. One of the risks for businesses is being tolerant of sub-optimal performance. When an athlete does badly, their performance is reviewed and analysed from all angles and they work out how to improve from there. In business, average performance is often tolerated.

The choice is yours — average work, yields average results. In today’s difficult economy it is easy to think you cannot change anything and to act like victims of circumstance. But in this recession we are all in the same boat, yet there are companies that are flying, so use the pressure to set the bar higher and to improve your focus. Chose your attitude and get the right mindset

8. Focus on what you do best Tennis players, weight-lifters and divers have specialised skills, strengths and body types that enable them to compete in one sport. Other than in the pentathlon and decathlon, high-level sport is dominated by niche-oriented athletes who focus on just one field. Increasingly, businesses must recognise that the more they pursue one single niche, the more they will succeed. Understand your true strengths and the unique way you create value for customers, and find an area of focus where you stand at the top of the world. Keep getting better at that one thing

9. Performance is everything – and then celebrate success When Usain Bolt crossed the finish line in the 200m final, he made one simple gesture. He didn’t point to the sky or raise his hands in the air, but held up his finger to his lips, making a gesture of silence. He’d reached a new pinnacle and his first reaction was to silence those who thought he’d never make it. Although Bolt could be seen as cocky and full of himself, his actual performance matched his level of confidence.

Elite athletes make the time to celebrate their victories, it helps to remind them of the hard work and commitment before. Besides his trademark celebration, Bolt is known to party hard and eat fried chicken when he is not preparing for major competitions, this is his way of rewarding himself for the times when he can’t even think of such dietary foibles. Of course Bolt is the fastest man on the planet of all time, the ultimate statement of ‘performance is everything’, capturing the work hard, play hard spirit of winners

10. Anything is Possible – never give up Oscar Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was a year old. He fought his way through the physical challenges, but also faced and fought a ruling preventing him from competing in the Games because of his prosthetic lega.

Oscar is a great example of someone who overcame barriers, rather than letting them prevent him from reaching his goals. We may not have the same challenges as Oscar, but we should all work to overcome barriers that are thrown at us so we can become better each day. It’s also easy to justify failure due to these barriers, but then live a life of regret, ….’if only….’.When you get knocked back, get back up straight away.

By getting back up and in the game quickly, you don’t lose your momentum and drive. If you whine and feel sorry for yourself you lose ground. When a boxer gets knocked down he has 10 seconds to get back up. If he gets back up in 11 seconds, he loses the fight. Be like a boxer. Get back up quickly so your competition does not have a chance to get ahead of you

Most businesses aren’t physically demanding by nature, usually it’s about our mental and emotional state of mind. Success comes from finding a way to tap into your inner strength, your core values, your passion and your attitude. It’s what you’ll need to put one foot in front of another, and to keep going. Establishing a successful business is like a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and the habits and approaches above offer insights from successful Olympians. Whilst we had many iconic British gold medal winners, David Boudia, who won the first U.S. gold medal in platform diving since 1988, for me captured the essence of a winner underpinning all of the ten points above: when asked about his feat, Boudia said, “I only did what I do in practice.” Such a simple comment, but it contained so much.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Simon permalink
    August 26, 2012 9:25 pm

    Ian, Gold Medal

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