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How to Think and Act Like an Olympian to Win at Work, Training, and Life

Updated: Mar 25

“You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

What do the most successful business executives and world-class athletes have in common?

A whole helluva lot, it turns out. While the body of research on this topic is limited, it is compelling. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz conducted research on this topic way back in 2001 and published their findings in the Harvard Business Review article “The Making of a Corporate Athlete.” By studying consistent high performance of world-class athletes and applying their practices of physical and emotional care to over-stressed high-level corporate executives, they developed the High Performance Pyramid and learned that “recovering energy is as important as expending it.”

The High Performance Pyramid layers different skills that we need to develop and nurture in order to achieve peak performance. At the foundation of the pyramid is Physical Well-Being. As an enthusiastic endurance athlete, this is tremendous news for your health as well as for your career! With your dedication to training, you are already well-positioned to build your Olympian life. You are likely training more than the 30-min, 3-4 times per week that is recommended, but I ask you this -

Is your training enhancing your work and family life? Or does it make you feel exhausted, guilty, foggy-headed, and burdened?

If your training is a burden on your life, you may be ignoring the need to recover and restore, and the other elements in your High Performance Pyramid are suffering.

Let’s take a look at each of the areas and define the next steps for you to live like an Olympian!

Physical Capacity

Yes, you’re training enough! As a busy professional, remember that the objective is not to train as much as possible to meet your racing goals. You need a strategy that lets you train as little as possible to meet your fitness goals.

Actions you can take today to course-correct an over-burdened training plan:

  • Right here, right now, take 1-2 miles, or 10-15 minutes off of every workout you have planned for the next 7 days

  • Take a rest day. A real rest day. No cleaning, shopping, laundry, or other chores.

  • Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual every night for the next 7 days

  • Block off your calendar at lunch to take a 20-min leisurely walk

Emotional Capacity

If you are carrying around negative emotions - frustration, guilt, resentment, anger - you are draining yourself of energy that could be used to perform in other areas of your life. C’mon people, this is not rocket science. We all know this! The best athletes in the world - corporate or Olympian - are the ones who can control their emotions.

Tactics you can use today to control your emotions:

Mental Capacity

One day, while mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed, I was halted by a post from Mirinda Carfrae (Ironman Champion) in which she said something to the effect of, “I always get the best out of myself when I am focused on the moment.” Don’t we all? Such simple words. So hard to execute. The ability to focus on the task at hand is the essence of high-performance mental capacity.

Here’s how you can implement a skill you already have to increase your mental (and physical) capacity:

Practice visualization with elaborate imagery. Picture yourself performing in your ideal state. What does it look like? How does your body feel? What smells are present? (ok, maybe skip this one if your ideal state is on the trainer!) What colors do you see? What emotions do you feel? Go all in with your visualization. Detailed visualization rehearses and creates neural pathways that you need to perform in real life at your ideal state.

Spiritual Capacity

The High Performance Pyramid states “Spiritual Capacity” but I’m going to replace this with the word “Purpose.” Know your WHY. Why do you dedicate yourself to your training when it takes such a toll? Why is it important for you to excel at your job? This type of soul-searching can take weeks, months, and even years. Be patient with yourself to come to the answer, but take the time to learn your WHY.

Stop! I have one more task for you

Want to go deeper on improving the elements in the High Performance Pyramid? Stop what you are doing right now and schedule 30 minutes in your calendar in the next 3-4 days to review this incredible resource from the International Olympic Committee: “Olympic State of Mind.”

This resource reviews three aspects of the Olympian mindset: Mindfulness, Visualization, and Motivation. You’ll watch video interviews of top-performing athletes, and will then complete an exercise in each of these areas. I found it both fun and insightful to test myself in these areas. I know your time is valuable, and I promise, this one is worth it.

After you’ve gone through this resource, I would love to hear from you. What was one thing you learned about yourself? How did you do at the Mindfulness game? Were you distracted? When did you get your best results?

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© Northwest Energy Lab, LLC