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Sports Mindset >> Life Mindset. What can we Learn from Top Athletes to Help us be More Successful?

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Believe what could be possible

I stopped watching football some years ago (The last time I watched the England team 'Gazza' was in tears) however I watched the World Cup in 2018 with interest, in particular, the change in manager and the new approach he was taking with the team.

Whilst I enjoyed the games, it was the ‘off-pitch’ action that really caught my attention. The change in leadership, with a focus on mindset, had started to impact the players making the tournament even more interesting to watch.

There was a lot of focus on the differences in this team to the last big tournament, and the change in approach really did appear to have paid off. Whilst England didn't bring the World Cup home, the team advanced further than they had done in quite some time, and the positive mindset of both players and staff was hard to miss.

Social media the following morning was filled with posts of pride, and belief that the next tournament will be theirs to win.

The team had a country behind them with a shared belief that they could win the tournament. They saw the self-belief in their ability, not just as individual players, but collectively, as a team.

One of the sources of limiting beliefs is experience and faulty logic. It is not uncommon for people to take a previous experience and apply it to the future. Having one bad experience is generalised and then the self-fulfilling prophecy takes over.

The team had worked on their belief to achieve success, in this case, a penalty shootout, using visualisation techniques of what that success would look like.

“We’ve spoken to the players about writing their own stories,” said the manager, Gareth Southgate, after the team beat Colombia in an unprecedentedly victorious (for England) penalty shootout.
“Tonight, they showed they don’t have to conform to what’s gone before. They have created their own history … We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.”

The more we challenge what has gone on before and our own experiences, the more we can open the belief that the future can be different. We can tell ourselves that we can, or we can continue to tell ourselves that we can’t.

We choose the story, we choose the ending.

Whilst the team did not get the outcome they were aiming, for they did get closer, they changed limiting and constraining beliefs into liberating and enabling beliefs that helped take them closer to their goal. They have changed the experience to one that is more positive and now they can continue to build on that.

  • Are you writing your story based on what has happened before?

  • Are you holding yourself back based on previous experience?

  • Is this a legitimate experience or have you generalised and are holding yourself back from your goals based on faulty logic?

  • Can you visualise success and write your own story?

Source: ‘The Guardian’

Be greater

In the same week I watched with interest, and complete respect, an interview with an athlete I admire for her mindset as much as her achievements.

Serena Williams was asked if she minded always being the one to beat. This was the answer she gave:

“Every single match I play these young ladies bring a game I have never seen before… This is what makes me great, I always play everyone at their greatest so I have to be greater”

What a great example of a liberating mindset.

A self-limiting mindset would have given in to fear or excuses, but this way of thinking sees the opposition as an opportunity to improve and be better.

Both are examples of ‘Growth Mindset’. Seeing opportunities, feeling excitement, seeing failure as part of the success and ways to learn rather than reasons to give up.

Growth mindset is the belief that we can be greater, that we can develop and improve and that our capability is not set at birth or through genetics.

How often do we look at the excellence of others and see it as a threat rather than an opportunity to learn from them? When we spend time with those who inspire and motivate us to be better, we are more likely to push out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves to improve and be greater.

"Your lack of commitment is an insult to the people who believe in you."

What is your level of commitment to your success? Are you investing time and energy into reaching your full capability?

Success doesn't happen without emotional involvement and the investment of physical and mental energy. To achieve success we need to tap into our internal resources, our mindset, our beliefs our skills and our experience as well as using the best external resources available to us, coaches, mentors and experts that can help us evolve and grow.

Conor McGregor has often been a controversial athlete and he has recently spoken about how he has evolved his own way of thinking to focus his mindset for peak performance.

Speaking in an interview with Tony Robbins, McGregor explained the shift in his mindset in recent times.

“For so long, in my mid to late twenties when I started to acquire wealth and acquire money I was fascinated with materialistic things. I would buy myself cars, watches. I have switched off of that.
“I realised I was spending things on material items and not on myself, my being, and my fitness. I’ve switched that completely. My nutritionist travels with me full-time, my doctors, my training partners, my coaches. I have a full team and it’s all for health, fitness and peak performance".

Once you have determined where you want to get to, visualised what that success looks like and adopted a mindset to achieve that success what internal and external resources are you utilising to give you the best opportunity to achieve that success?


Self-belief – When it really counts

In the summer of 2017, I competed for the second time at England’s Strongest Woman Championship. In my first year when I competed at that level, I had no idea what to expect, I had no expectation of how I would do and I threw myself into training to hit the weights in each of the events.

It wasn’t easy, week after week I was hitting new numbers but it still wasn’t enough. Right up until the week before I was still fighting for those final kilos. This is a very strange feeling and it becomes a tough mental challenge. You get the euphoric feeling of a new Personal Best (PB) followed by the realisation that you still have a long way to go. My relationship with 'failure' started to change. Failing became part of the journey to success rather than an end.

The second-year was very tough but in a different way. The sport was a hobby, it didn't pay the bills. It could not always be a priority even though I was mentally and physically invested in doing the best I could. I had a full-time job and parenting responsibilities to manage alongside training to compete at that level.

In that second year as I competed at a regional level and secured my place at the national competition, I was put given notice of redundancy. This wasn't expected and the impact was significant. I had a short period of notice to determine my next steps for employment and this took a lot of my mental energy and focus.

The sport of 'Strongwoman' is not an easy one, preparing for a competition at that level isn’t easy either, you have to put the work in. The sport is as much mental as it is physical and the success of a lift or event is down to the conversation between your ears just as much as it is about your physical capability.

As I worked through my employment notice period and started to piece together what my working future would look like I did my best to also focus on the competition. I didn't miss many training sessions. I stuck at it and fought through as much as possible, followed the plan as much as possible. It was a constant battle. Redundancy had impacted my self-belief and my focus and energy were depleted.

The last week is named ‘peak’ week of training. It’s the final week of heavy weight before you take time out to eat sleep and rest up ready for the comp.

In that last week, I peaked in negative self-talk!

“I can’t”
“I always struggle with this”
“I’ve never been able to”
“I hate this “
“This is my worst event”

I was fortunate to have had a very supportive team around me, (even if they have called me ‘moaning Margaret’!). The issue is the conversation that went on between my ears, something only I can control.

This isn’t something new, or something that only impacts me. I know that when I am at my most successful it is because I have invested time and energy to reduce these self-limiting beliefs and work on confident, enabling beliefs. Ensuring that the conversation I have with myself is positive and reflects what other people around me are saying.

In the last week before the competition, I spent time on visualisation and challenging myself every time a self-limiting belief popped up, turning it around into an enabling belief or positive affirmation.

“I can’t” became “I haven’t yet”

“I always struggle with this” became “I might struggle but I am still trying”

“I’ve never been able to” became “I aim to PB this on the day!”

I gave it 100%. It was a different 100% to the year before, however, it was 100%.

The mindset and behaviours that I learned and experienced as a competitor have all transferred into life and business. The importance of self-belief, seeing the possibilities of success and believing that you can keep pushing through your perceived capabilities the more you invest in you.

What we believe is possible often changes the closer we get to it, the possibilities really are endless.

Do you want to learn more about how you can do this?

Not sure how you can make this work for you?

First published July 2018

Revised and republished February 2020

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