(Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Garret Kramer, author of Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life. Garret is the founder and managing partner of Inner Sports, LLC. His revolutionary approach to performance has transformed the careers of professionals athletes and coaches, Olympians, and collegiate players across a multitude of sports. Kramer’s work has been featured on WFAN, ESPN, Fox, and CTV, as well as in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other national publications. For more information on the author visit http://www.garretkramer.com, and you can follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.)
What do successful Olympic athletes have in common? Do they train until exhaustion sets in? Are they positive thinkers? Do they grind through adversity? Have they set gold-medal goals? Indeed, these characteristics are often associated with athletic success. But when Olympic winners are asked about their state of mind, physical preparation, and journey to the top, they almost always define their experience in a different fashion.
So, what are the common keys to Olympic achievement?
Take a look at the following list. Then decide if these characteristics are present, or needed, in your own quest for success, contentment, and long-term productivity.
1. Winning athletes attribute their success to a lack of thought.
How many times during the London games have you heard a gold-medal winner say, “I wasn’t thinking about anything. Things just seemed to fall into place for me”? Olympic winners know that they cannot consistently reach this state of high performance by using their intellect or employing mental strategies. Why? Because both require deliberate thinking—exactly what is not present when an athlete is in “the zone.”
2. Winning athletes relish the ride.
Top Olympic performers understand that chasing a medal thwarts their own clarity, freedom, and creativity. Contrary to what many of us have been taught, the “goal” of top athletes is almost always to savor the journey, relationships, and experiences. They know that narrow-mindedly setting their sights on a title restricts awareness and reduces possibilities.
3. Winning athletes care, and don’t care, about outcomes — at the exact same time.
Obviously, Olympic champions strive to win, and their competitive spirit doesn’t take losing lightly. However, they also know that, win or lose, they will be perfectly okay. There is a big difference between one’s life (a constant) and one’s life situations (always in flux). The best athletes know that what occurs in their life situations (a particular Olympic event, for example) has no ability to infiltrate their life.
4. Winning athletes understand that competition is the ultimate form of cooperation.
Although athletes are often encouraged to perceive opponents as the enemy, the Olympics show us that respect, compassion, and love are far more conducive to consistent achievement. In fact, conscious athletes understand that their opponents are there to push them past their current limitations — to make them better. This reverence increases awareness, expands the perceptual field, and slows down thought — greatly increasing the odds for victory.
5. Winning athletes presume that they know little about their sport.
Openness is an almost always-overlooked characteristic of success. Believe it or not, the most insightful athletes know that there is always more to learn and more efficient ways to operate. As they arrive at the Olympics, these athletes put what they know on the back-burner; they start fresh. Like small children, they live full of wonder and constantly seek to soak up more.
6. Winning athletes feel pressure and think negative thoughts.
Some of us think that champion athletes are immune to anxious thoughts, that they have ice water in their veins. But the truth is that they are subject to errant thoughts and feelings as much as the next guy. What champions know, however, is that low quality thoughts and feelings are a normal byproduct of the human experience; they have nothing to do with a specific circumstance. Therefore, great athletes understand that they can triumph no matter what thoughts and feelings might occur.
7. Winning athletes use stillpower — not willpower.
Isn’t it obvious? The winners in the 2012 Olympic Games in London have a light, calm, and clear look about them, while the also-rans seem to be grinding and pushing. Olympic winners rarely try to will themselves through wayward perspectives and outlooks. Instead, they apply stillpower. They leave their low thoughts and feelings unattended, and, instantaneously, clarity and consciousness return once more.
Keep in mind, Olympic excellence — like excellence in any arena — is the natural result of high states of consciousness. And you can’t get to this powerful psychological perspective by forcing, exerting, or laboring. Compare Missy Franklin to Ryan Lochte; the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to the Russian team; Andy Murray’s state of mind in the Olympics versus his state of mind at Wimbledon — and it’s plain to see: Effort is only as productive as the state of mind from which it comes. Olympic champions know that their perceptions are created from the inside out — their state of mind in the moment will determine their experience (#8), the most essential characteristic of them all.
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