Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia wins the silver medal, Laura Dahlmeier of Germany wins the gold medal, and Anais Bescond of France wins the bronze medal during the Biathlon Men’s and Women’s Pursuit at Alpensia Biathlon Centre on February 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
By Jeanne Croteau
Have you been tuning in to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games? If so, you’ve probably noticed how strong the athletes are both mentally and physically. With their chiseled physiques and superhuman endurance, each of them will be trying to deliver a performance worthy of an Olympic medal. No pressure!
Behind those warm smiles and friendly waves, though, they are fierce competitors who have spent years perfecting their craft. How do they keep their minds so sharp, so focused? How do they still seem happy in the face of adversity? Can you learn to do the same?
With practice, absolutely. You may not ever become an Olympic athlete but you can definitely learn how to think like one.
Visualize Those Goals
This might seem like a no-brainer but if you want to accomplish big things, you need to allow yourself to dream big. Research suggests that being able to visualize what you want to accomplish is remarkably powerful. One study showed that while weightlifters who actually worked out gained 30% in muscle mass, those who only imagined exercising still increased their muscle mass by 13.5%. That’s crazy!
- Mind-Body Connection. The impact our thoughts can have on our bodies should never be underestimated. Just look at those weightlifters! For this reason, it’s so important to train your mind to focus on positive thoughts. Next time you want to complain about your situation, take that time to visualize a better future.
- Daily Practice. At least once a day, picture a highly specific goal. Imagine that you’ve already made it happen. See every single detail in your mind as if it’s reality. What are you wearing? How are you feeling? Do you hear something? Are you alone? What’s going on around you? As those images fill your mind, repeat affirmations such as “I am strong” or “I can do this” and push aside any doubts. You’ve got this!
People who are resilient recover from adversity much quicker than others. In competition (and in life), anything can happen – false starts, injuries, loud noises – but a world-class athlete knows how to recover with grace. You can too.
- Go With The Flow. When skiing legend Lindsay Vonn (and her adorable pup, Lucy) was delayed on her flight to Korea, she opted against complaining and, instead, took the opportunity to connect with her fans on Twitter. She didn’t let a temporary inconvenience rattle her. Next time you’re in a similar situation, find a way to make it a positive moment. It’s not always easy but, with practice, you will change how your mind responds to unexpected challenges.
- Shake It Off. When American figure skater Nathan Chen stumbled through his first event in PyeongChang, he didn’t dwell on it. He admitted to overthinking things and said he would “readjust” before the next competition. That’s the right attitude. When things go wrong, reflect on what happened and then focus on the future. Don’t dwell on it.
- Self-Evaluate. Ask yourself how you’d respond to being cut off in traffic, spilling coffee on your clothes or dealing with a flat tire. Would you recover from the frustration pretty quickly or would it ruin the rest of your day? If it’s the latter, you may want to focus on building your resilience.
Meditate Every Single Day
Changing your mindset probably won’t happen overnight but meditation can definitely help you get there. It may also relieve symptoms associated with stress and anxiety which can improve your overall sense of well-being. Bonus!
- Mindfulness Meditation. Studies suggest that “mindful people… can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down.” Dr. Richard Davidson, a leading neuroscientist, believes that through mindfulness and other contemplative practices, we can actually rewire our brains. If you’d like to try it, here’s a great five-minute practice to help you get started. This is the perfect opportunity to practice visualization.
- Focus On Breathing. British Olympian, Laura Tott, who won a gold medal in cycling at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, explained her method of managing anxiety. “It sounds stupid but by thinking about your breathing,” she said. “It stops you thinking about anything else. If you push your belly out when you take a breath in, like doing the opposite to what you think you should do, it really helps.” The next time you’re feeling anxious or stressed, focus on your breathing. It’s a quick way to get things under control.
- Practice Loving Kindness. As the name suggests, loving kindness meditation improves our outlook on life by shifting the focus to cultivating love and kindness towards ourselves and others. Additionally, this practice can boost resilience, attention and generosity. At the Olympics, we see it when athletes seem genuinely happy for each other’s success. If you’d like to give loving kindness meditation a try, this is a great introduction.
As the Olympic action continues for the next couple weeks, notice how mentally strong the athletes are. Pay attention to how gracefully they handle defeat. Watch for moments when they show support for a rival. Listen as they vow to come back stronger at the next Games. There will be plenty of examples.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to adopt that positive attitude. You can be the champion of your own life by refusing to fall apart when things are going wrong. Instead, in those moments, make the choice to rise above and regain your balance. Envision how the rest of your day will go, stick to positive thinking and give your brain a daily workout through meditation. You may discover that, after just a few short weeks, your outlook on life is golden.