What You Can Learn from the Beijing Olympics

While I admit I love to watch the Olympics just for the thrill of it, there are so many lessons to glean from it in terms of professional and personal success. The Olympics put a real global and human spin on everything which means that there is something in there for all of us to latch onto and learn. So far I’ve found the Beijing Olympics sorely lacking in “behind the scenes” athlete profiles but that doesn’t mean I don’t dig for a good story. After all, without the backstory, it’s just someone hitting a ball with a tennis racket or some woman dribbling a ball, right?

The underlying theme with any Olympian is the sheer personal investment that goes into being able to compete at that level. The financial, personal, and professional demands and sacrifice are beyond what most of us would ever commit to. I was reading some article about an Australian swimmer who shared that it was over a year and a half since he has gone out with friends. Another swimmer commented on the hype surrounding the swimsuit technology by saying something to the effect that he’s sure it helps, but the suit isn’t getting up at 5am every day to train. Think about the focus and discipline required to sacrifce in that way. How many of you (myself included) would be willing to focus in this way day in and day out?

Yet success in any area of our lives requires that we tap into the Olympic mindset. Monika Mundell writes about the “8 Attributes Of an Olympic Mindset” as it relates to a career in writing. Here’s what she had to say about Determination:

You don’t have to be a sports nut to desire the attribute of determination. This is as valuable to business owners, workers, or parents as it is to Olympians. Determination is showing, when you are 100% committed to your dream.

By showing commitment, opportunities will present themselves to you which you wouldn’t even know they existed otherwise. Iron tight commitment is what will eventually lead you to success.

Come hail, rain or sunshine, a committed athlete keeps training. That is the price he pays for the ultimate success.

Success is a distance run, not a sprint. Determination will keep you committed and on your desired path even when the going gets tough.

Pam Slim at Escape from Cubicle Nation wastes no time heeding the inspiration and lessons from the Olympians as she is “Channelling Olympic focus to finish The Book”. Whether writing a book, sealing a business deal, or competing in the Olympics so much of life is a mental game:

I imagine that they have the following thoughts right before competing:

* I see gold.
* I am meant to do this.
* I am present. All that matters is now.
* Breathe in. Breathe out.

When the mind is calm, the body relaxes. And creativity flows.

What most (winning anyway) athletes would not be saying right before a race is:

* Why didn’t I train more last month?
* This is an impossible task.
* My competition is better.
* Why did I have donuts instead of granola this morning?

Top athletes know that great performance is really a mental game. All the physical preparation in the world means nothing if your thoughts don’t align with your desired outcomes.

So many of us live in the self-talk of Pam’s second example. Second guessing and looping self-defeating and sabotaging thoughts over and over. No wonder we struggle so much! You need to look only as far as the current economy to see that some people are succeeding just fine and others are languishing. Is it all mental? Heck no…but I do know that what you think about you bring about which is why I still am a firm believer in recession proofing your mind. Sometimes you just have to “fake it until you make it” which sure beats sitting around counting the reasons why you can’t do, be, or have what you want.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that with all the talk of winning, it really is about the journey. Of the thousands of athletes only a small fraction of them will come home with a medal. That is a great reminder to focus on your unique accomplishments without comparing yourself to others. Take this bit of “Olympic Inspiration” from Debbie at “They’re Making Me Blog”:

For every Scott Hamilton or Janet Evans or Michael Phelps there are hundreds of others who train just as hard and sacrifice just as much, if not more, to work toward that dream of competing in the Olympics. Notice the word I used: competing. Not winning. Not even medaling. Just competing. There is a rule at the Olympic Committee. Well, there are lots of rules, but the one I’m thinking of is that you never refer to someone as “former Olympian.” Once an Olympian, always an Olympian. Because just getting there is such a huge accomplishment that it cannot be taken away ever.

It’s more than just about drive and success though. Show me someone who can’t see the big picture and I’ll show you someone who is miserable because they are lacking the very connection that makes us human and life worth living. Success without good relationships with people is hollow at best.

I was reading Laura Berman Fortgang’s blog “A Meaningful Life” and really enjoyed her take on “The Opening Ceremonies”:

It has nothing to do with competition and domination and yet everything to do with the shared wonder of what humans are capable of creating when using their best. In that collective inhale and exhale of awe we meet at a base level that everyone can understand. We meet in the place where solutions to our ills could be birthed.

What if we could step into that feeling of unity and connection as we approached our daily lives? How would you treat people differently, show up for yourself differently, or spend/save differently if you truly believed that we are more alike than we are different?

I was watching Team USA Women’s Basketball the other night when a member of the opposing team literally ran back up the court to help an opponent’s player up. Now that is beyond sportsmanship. While I wouldn’t recommend such behavior in the last seconds of a tied game, who does it hurt when you stop what you’re doing to show compassion to others? Sometimes it is these little basics that we forget about in our pursuit of success. Just another hidden lesson you and I can learn from the Olympic Athletes as we pursue the road to our own dreams.

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