By John Harvey
When setting goals, embarking on a mission, dreaming a “new dream”, or just trying for improvement, it’s your mind that can be your biggest asset or your worst enemy. We set numerous goals everyday – and reach them – without even thinking about it or even realizing that they were goals.
Just getting up the in the morning, eating breakfast, getting ourselves dressed and ready for work on time is a set of goals all rolled into one. We accomplish this task and think no more of it... until the next day, of course, when it happens all over again. When we make an appointment – be it for a work meeting or a meeting with friends to have a meal or play a game of tennis – we set a goal. A day, time, place and event. Again we think nothing of it.
In fact, to be totally correct, we think “plenty of it”. That’s why we achieve it. Once the “goal” is set (say for instance, a game of tennis), we plan other activities around this appointment, and because it’s a goal that’s easy to “see” (picture), and one we’ve set and accomplished before, it becomes easy to accomplish again.
Now, if we try to set a new goal – for example, to win a contract, to lose 5kg in one month, or give up smoking – this can be more challenging and more of an effort. Worse still, if we fail or give up, we often end up thinking of ourselves as not being very good at achieving goals. We “think” differently about it. It’s our mindset (mental state) and our thoughts that influence the outcome.
Realizing the Olympic Dream
The athletes I work with face exactly the same scenario. The rules don’t change, just the thoughts. With elite athletes, it’s normal for them to plan their race strategy in minute detail (usually in conjunction with coaches and managers), but very few plan what they are going to think about during training and competition. The athlete, the parent, the student, the entrepreneur, and the businessperson are no different.
I have been working with Australian athletes selected for the Athens Olympic Games. The last few weeks before competition have been crucial. Intense focus is required. Optimism, hunger for success, internal drive, pain tolerance, unwavering concentration and the feeling of super wellbeing are all prerequisites. Yet for the Australian team, the “drug scandal” surrounding the cycling team has thrown most, if not all athletes “off”. Gossip, innuendo, constant media publicity, finger pointing and inter-athlete suspicion has broken team and individual focus.
Only the champion “thinkers”, the athletes who can shield themselves from these outside distractions, will be able to perform at their expected best. I predict that regretfully more than one athlete will openly blame the pre-Olympic drug scandal on their poor performance. Even coaches and team management may well put any poor showing of Australian team members down to what has taken place in the media and gossip circles, leading up to competition day.
If there was ever a time for the Australian Olympic team members to concentrate on their own self-talk it is right now. It’ll be the difference between performing and performing brilliantly. The athlete, the parent, the student, the entrepreneur, and the businessperson are no different, every day of their life.
Neuroscientists have proven than we think in words, pictures and emotions at the rate of 400 – 800 words per minute. These thoughts are often referred to as self-talk. Whichever category you fall into (elite athlete, businessperson, parent, etc) you will find that most of these words (thoughts) are random and unplanned.
The first step in becoming more organized, more focused, more goal orientated, and more purposeful, is to become more aware of self-talk – how words shape our thoughts.
Once we learn to script self-talk, we become very aware that setting bigger goals is not so daunting. A bit like rehearsing an important phone call, or a speech.
Rehearsing self-talk, with positive words and phrases, helps consolidate the planned goal and assists with focus.
In sport, in business, at home – whether in a personal or social setting – when it comes to doing your best, it’s the thoughts that count!!!
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