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July 13

How to use an athlete's mindset to achieve your goals

Tips & Tricks

James Bosson

James Bosson

A swimmer stands, transfixed, before the Flex Legal branding. His mindset his flawless. His goals are clearly defined. He is perfect.

The world of elite sport, it goes without saying, is competitive. Competing at a world-class level requires not only physical skill, but a strong psychological mindset. Anyone who has ever tried to commit to even a casual workout or dietary regime can attest to how surprisingly difficult it can be. Curating a mindset that allows us to push ourselves beyond the reaches of our existing abilities is exactly what allows elite athletes to excel. There are an absolute myriad of lessons there that we can appropriate, and apply to our own goals, that will allow us to achieve more than we previously thought possible.

We wanted to explore this in more detail, so we invited Catherine Baker to speak at one of our Virtual Lunch events. Catherine is an incredibly impressive individual, and is an ex-city lawyer who now works as a leadership and mindset coach through her work as Founder and Director of Sport and Beyond. She’s worked with Olympic Gold Medallists and FTSE 100 CEOs, so her advice was packed with great practical insights. This article is based entirely on information she presented during her talk.

It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude

Zig Ziglar

According to research conducted by Professor David Lavallee and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, mindset is the foremost factor that allows athletes to excel at the level they do. Rather excitingly, research has demonstrated that those mindsets have highly effective applications outside of athletic settings. Professor Lavallee and The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust broke these mindset points down into 5 key areas: Confidence, Focus, Resilience, Motivation, and Determination. Let’s take a look at each of those in more detail, and see how we can apply them to our own objectives.

CONFIDENCE.

A lot has been said over the years about confidence being the foremost ingredient to success. It’s a highly sought-after professional attribute that is arguably necessary for success. Without confidence in your own abilities, you’ll never get off the starting line. A consistent thread you’ll often see in high-achieving athletes is their high level of confidence in their own abilities. So, how do we harness our own confidence?

Essentially, it comes down to two “Ds”: Discover and Do.

First of all, you have to discover where your skills actually lie. By simply identifying what you have a pre-existing aptitude for, you can cultivate more confidence behind those skills. One way to do this is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out what you feel you’re good at. If you struggle with this, try simply asking those around you. These could be colleagues, friends, or family, but all can afford you an external perspective on your skills that you won’t have. Alternatively, use an online test that can roughly identify your strengths and weaknesses. Even the act of recognising where your strengths lie can be empowering in of itself.

Secondly, you have to do. This bit can undeniably be tricky, which is why we’re giving it the space it deserves in our second key area.

FOCUS.

When you know what your skills are – lean into them! You, reading this, have abilities that set you apart from the crowd. Some of them will come naturally, and some of them you will have developed over time, but you have them. Leveraging your skills, and believing in your ability to do so, is everything.

Instead of focusing on things you’re poor at, find something you’re already good at but could improve on. Then, build your confidence in that skill by starting to use it more regularly. Start small if you have to - but do something! Believe in yourself and test yourself accordingly. Start by setting a goal that’s a little out of your reach. Decide on a deadline to achieve that goal, and work towards it. When you reach the deadline – carve out some time to reflect. Did you reach it? What went well? What didn’t go well? Have you improved? Was your goal ambitious enough? How can your next goal build on this one?

Focusing on consistent, purposeful practice will help you develop your skills even further. As you get better and use your skills more regularly, your confidence in them will grow, and accordingly so will your confidence in yourself.

Amateurs call it genius, masters call it practice

Thierry Henry

RESILIENCE.

Let’s get something really important out of the way here – progression is not linear. When working towards your goals you will inevitably face setbacks. Things will go wrong – and they’re supposed to. If you can easily achieve your goal, then you aren’t pushing far enough. Setbacks are an unfortunately necessary part of the journey.

Many athletes have written about the importance of resilience. When things go wrong or get in the way, how will you handle it? You can’t control what things go wrong, but you can control how you react to things going wrong. Instead of focusing super heavily on what has gone wrong, focus on what you can improve, and use it as an opportunity to grow.

MOTIVATION.

Let’s not sugarcoat it. Working towards a goal, especially one that pushes you beyond your previous capabilities, is exhausting. “Hitting the wall” is a well-known phenomenon in endurance sports. In a nutshell - it’s where your body reaches its physical limit. Hitting setbacks when working towards a goal can feel just like this. Even when you’re pursuing something you’re passionate about, it’s normal to hit a wall, reach burnout, and feel like you’re at your limit. Digging deep and finding the motivation to go on can be tricky – but it’s not impossible.

A good way to stay motivated is to find purpose in what you do. The more purpose you can attach to something, even if it’s something relatively small, the more likely you are to pursue it and be successful. This shift in mindset can recontextualise that struggle, and help you stay on target. When you start working towards you goal remember to have a good think about what the purpose behind it is. Will it help you improve your career? Will it give you some essential skills you need? Will it help you improve something you’re passionate about doing? The sooner you can figure out how setbacks slot into your purpose, the sooner you can attach a better mindset to it and stay motivated.

DETERMINATION.

Our final key area is arguably the most important, and underpins everything we’ve covered thus far. Determination is the driving force towards any objective. It encompasses the confidence to identify a goal, the focus to work consistently towards it, and the resilience and motivation that must be shown in the face of adversity and setbacks.

This article has focused heavily on the merits of having goals, but a goal is ultimately only one small part of the equation. The work you do towards that goal is the real challenge, and requires determination.

Determination is, simply, the act of doing. It is starting something, however small, and forming habits that allow you to improve over time. Improvement never comes in big dramatic changes, it only comes over time through incremental small tweaks. Forming a positive mindset with this knowledge is what allows athletes to excel. If you can take this and apply it to your own goals, you too can push yourself beyond the boundaries of what is possible.

The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in determination

Usain Bolt

Additional Resources:

  • Attend a Flex Legal Virtual Lunch - we host a Virtual Lunch each and every month, and they’re all rather great if we do say so ourselves. You can register for upcoming events here!
  • Sport and Beyond - if you enjoyed this article, take a full look at Catherine’s website. It’s packed with loads more posts about mindset and outlook that build on the points raised here!
  • How to Keep Productive - this other post from our Virtual Lunch series takes points from neuroscience and psychology to help you maximise your daily productivity.