Picture Your Gold Medal

gold-medalIn keeping with the Olympic spirit of the upcoming winter games in Sochi, we’ll start with a story:

Six months before the summer Olympics in Sydney, say Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their Harvard Business Review article, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” diver Laura Wilkinson broke three toes on her right foot while training. Unable to go into the water because of her cast, she instead spent hours a day on the diving platform visualizing each of her dives. With only a few weeks to actually practice before the Olympics, she pulled off a huge upset, winning the gold medal on the 10 meter platform.

Now picture yourself beaming on the podium with the national anthem playing and the gold medal draped around your neck (or your equivalent, which might be you beaming at the board meeting as the President and board serenade you with applause for exceeding numbers and then rewarding you with a nice, big raise…).

There are all kinds stories of top athletes accomplishing amazing results despite the odds, and Loehr and Schwartz explain that leaders such as you and I can have similar extraordinary results – if we train in the same, systemic multilevel way that world class athletes do.

Loehr and Schwartz say a successful approach to sustained high performance should be viewed as a four-level high performance pyramid. Click here for my blog on the foundation of that pyramid, physical capacity, and here for part 2, emotional capacity.

In this post, I’m going to discuss mental capacity, the third level and what Laura Wilkinson worked on to help her win the gold medal. Mental capacity training works on time management, focus, and positive thinking through techniques like visualization.

Top athletes consciously manage their time and energy to achieve peak performance that is also sustained. They accomplish this by alternating periods of stress (work or training) with renewal (rest), aligning with the body’s need for breaks every 90 to 120 minutes.

This concept can be remarkably challenging for compulsive hard workers and over achievers, who are used to being the first one in the office and the last one to leave.

Loehr and Schwartz tell the story of Jeffrey Sklar, a managing director at the New York investment firm Gruntal & Company, who had long been accustomed to simply out-working his competitors. By doing the previously un-thinkable and alternating periods of stress with renewal – taking 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, going for a short walk over lunch, working out five days a week and no longer working any weekends, Sklar’s earnings have actually increased by more than 65%!

Growing one’s ability to focus is another key component to becoming a world-class corporate athlete, and a highly practical technique is simple meditation. Sit quietly and breathe deeply, counting each exhalation and starting over when you reach ten. Practiced regularly, meditation quiets the mind, emotions and body, promoting energy recovery,

Loehr and Schwartz cite studies that show experienced meditators need considerably fewer hours of sleep and shift mental activity from the left brain to the right. Have you ever discovered the solution to a challenging problem while doing something mindless? That’s the left-brain, right-brain shift at work.

Visualization is another ritual that grows mental capacity and produces results. Just as Laura Wilkinson used it as a key training component when she couldn’t train physically, you can do the same for your performance at your school, especially because there isn’t a physical component that determines whether we win or lose.

What does your gold medal winning performance look like?

Chris Wills About Chris Wills

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness. You can reach Chris at: cwills@studentpaths.com

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