Over 20 years competing against the very best in athletics I was always striving to improve. Over 10 seconds I needed to explode into life, to be aggressive, to be in control, to push myself to the limits and yet be completely relaxed.
You don’t have time to think. All this, must happen at a subconscious level and must be executed with supreme control and confidence. So how do we express and build true confidence?
It may seem old fashioned but there is no substitute of practice. Every successful person I have met in sport, in business and in education has worked hard. However, the difference with elite performers is that they practice with a very clearly defined goal in their mind. Train with the same mentality of that which you wish to compete.
What is important to realise at an elite level is everyone can work hard, extremely hard! But the key is not to waste your hard work without emotionally combining it with the physical. To practice and to understand the purpose why this will enhance my performance, to then focus on this goal.
The clearer and bigger the goal is, the more effective it can be in channeling your practice time into positive results. As your approach the starting blocks or an important meeting or an exam you want to feel that you have prepared well and you are heading to a pre-defined goal in your mind.
Nerves are normal reactions to stressful situations. In fact, nervousness, channeled in the correct way can make your body and your mind ready for peak performance. Your mind is incredibly powerful and can be your greatest ally or your greatest enemy.
One step I took that made a big difference to my performance was to surrender to my nerves. My coach Dan Pfaff told me this and it has resonated with me since then. By acknowledging your nerves and accepting them you can use them to your advantage. If you try and fight, ignore or suppress nervousness it fuels the fire. If you ask yourself what is the positive intention of this nervousness you can embrace it and channel it for your own benefit.
It is by surrendering to these nerves that you can achieve a healthy confident state, to be relaxed and yet ready to use that energy to explode into action when you really need to. Remember you’re suppose to be nervous because it matters to you.
“One of the secret’s to peak sports performance is to have purposeful aggression through relaxation. An oxymoron that allows access to achieving your potential”
With the nerves, the anticipation, the opinions and the voices around a race it can be easy to get distracted. Sitting in the call up room just before the race boxed in with your competitors and sensing the anticipation of those outside and within the camp all sorts of ideas can enter your mind.
What is happening on the outside is not important, the only thing which is important is how you execute your own plan. By focusing on you, you can assume complete control of everything that is within your sphere of influence. You can acknowledge elements outside of your control but your focus must be on what you want to achieve in that moment. With an almost selfish dedication to your own plan, you need to focus on what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it.
It’s natural for an athlete to take care of their bodies. We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure we are in peak physical condition. However, it is imperative that we are in peak condition physically, mentally and spiritually.
In this respect there are real parallels between peak performers in sport, in business and in education. At BISS Puxi, the teachers and I collaborate with a great number of academically gifted students and I am often amazed on how, at such a young age they have understood a great balance between health, study, fitness and many other aspects of their life. This holistic approach engrained at such a young age sets them up well for a great future.
All the great sports people use visualisation as a tool to perform well. Increasingly business executives and education providers are using similar techniques to excel in tough environments. In athletics I would create a vivid picture using all the senses, the smell of the track, the sound of the crowd, the feeling of the race, the taste of the sweat mixed with my favourite energy drink, it all had to be vivid. It had to be real.
The mind cannot tell the difference between an imagined and a real experience, which is why visualisation is so powerful. I would visualise difference scenarios from lane one to lane eight and create confidence and success in my mind. This is something anyone can try. You too can take a situation when you need to be confident and visualise your own success scenarios.
Take a challenging situation you know you will face and with a positive mindset, see what you can see, hear what you can hear, feel what you can feel and smell what you can smell. The important thing to remember is to see yourself winning or doing it successfully. Why not give it a try right now and see how it works for you.
Your body, your mind are like muscles. They all need regular work outs. When I am working with students at BISS Puxi I work as much on getting them psychologically ready as much as physically. All of my top tips above are not silver bullet answers for confidence but tried and tested techniques for peak performance that require dedication and repetition over time.
Peak performance is to some extent an aggressive and focused determination to deliver. However, it can only be achieved if we surrender to our nerves and channel them in a positive way. The real work is done at a subconscious level.
I prepare students for taking part in sports activities at school or the various competitions around the world, but I know that these tools will not just be applied in sport. The real goal is for them to be confident in sport, to deal with the nerves of exams, to see themselves acing university interviews and to walk into a career, surrendering to their nerves and following their own plan for peak performance.
As they execute their plan there will be lots of challenges and choices that need to be made. Next week we will look at D for decision making. See you then.
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