Positive thinking is important. We all acknowledge the value of resilience and mental strength to get us through difficult times.
However, cultivating a positive mental attitude when the going gets tough, is like reinforcing the foundation of a house after the walls have been severely cracked. Kind of like those home improvement shows when the homeowners finally realize that a cosmetic upgrade won’t do the trick; when they begin to see the value of investing in the structure of their home.
Imagine if one were to build the foundation right the first time, strong and sturdy. The foundation would be not only withstand forces of nature but also provide a tenacious framework that will foster growth in the years to come.
In my coach training, I have explored numerous adjacent disciplines, especially sports coaching and NLP.
Turn to any book on personal growth and development and you are bound to find inspiring stories of athletes. Athletes who have beaten the odds to achieve a major feat, athletes who have redefined their sport by pushing the boundaries, athletes who have overcome heartbreaking loss or debilitating disease and not just regained their former glory but exceeded their personal best.
I am fascinated by these stories. As I read these books I wondered…
What sets these athletes apart? What makes them strive for and achieve the impossible? What might lie beyond their stories and reasons? What is their underlying mental attitude and how does it contribute to their success?
Researchers have been studying athletes on a variety of topics such as motivation, optimism and excellence. While studying athletes in rehabilitation, researchers identified 6 distinct patterns at the core of positive mental attitude. Each case of successful rehabilitation exhibited these characteristics. When researchers analyzed other successes – executives, entrepreneurs and athletes – they found the same mental patterns to be prevalent. Success it seemed was directly proportional to forming and sustaining these patterns.
Here are the 6 pillars of positive mental attitude used by athletes. Each on its own can make a big difference, used in conjunction they can transform a life.
Throughout each section, I have embedded powerful coaching questions to spark insights and enquire about your own mental attitude.
Pillar 1: Inner Motivation
Anyone who has studied change theory understands that the first pillar of positive mental attitude, inner motivation, is a key factor in creating lasting change. Often inner motivation manifests as a keen desire to move towards a compelling future. In the case of recovering athletes, the motivation to get away from their current state offers an equally powerful motivation.
You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.
Athletes and entrepreneurs employ both, a pull towards their vision and a push away from their current reality, to reap maximum motivation. This inner motivation provides the impetus to progress even when they face agony or defeat.
Anyone can utilize this powerful mechanism for change by focusing on both pain and pleasure motivators at the same time, working together in unison towards a common goal.
If you are attempting to accomplish a goal or an outcome, ask yourself this:
What is your desirable goal? What would it feel like to attain that goal? What might be an undesirable consequence if that goal is not achieved? How might your discomfort or suffering be alleviated, if you achieve that goal?
Pillar 2: High Standards
Followers of professional sports know how athletes settle for nothing less than their best. Athletes rely on the second pillar, high inner standards, to elevate their performance, often striving to exceed their personal best.
Researchers working with recovering athletes have found much the same. Their subjects are not only eager to regain their strength but want more; they expect to be even better than they were before their injuries. Far from being stressful, this desire to achieve ultimate results amplifies their inner motivation, pushing them to work harder at their recovery.
Athletes pursue these high standards of their own volition. The desire to improve with every shot, practice, and game emerges from their love of the game; it is fueled by the determination to win.
Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there.
As you are working on your own goals, be it getting fit or becoming a writer, do not be afraid to set high standards.
Last year, I dreamed about writing half a million words. The very idea of declaring such an ambitious goal was intimidating, but in hindsight it created a compelling vision for me to work towards. Even if I didn’t publish half a million words, working on improving my personal best, kept me motivated. Every day, I returned with renewed enthusiasm to the blank page.
What are your current standards? If it was guaranteed that you could not fail, how would those standards change? What is stopping you from elevating your standards?
Pillar 3: Chunked Goals
The third pillar of positive mental attitude is the ability to “chunk” goals, to work on your goals one step at a time.
Athletes who are overcoming an injury, even while setting high standards, focus their attention and effort on “bite size” achievements. They have to overcome the pain before they can move their limbs, stand before they can walk, walk before they can run, run before they can compete in their sport. Not only does this demand rigorous discipline, it engenders heightened levels of gratitude and positivity.
Chunking down enables the athletes to focus on the smallest task they are able to do now; it generates satisfaction in completing the smallest tasks to the best of their ability. Each task becomes a milestone on their journey to recovering their full strength.
Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.
If you are feeling frustrated in your own journey towards a vision, ask yourself this:
What might be the milestones on this journey? How can you “chunk” your goals? How can you celebrate each small step?
I turn to Mind Maps to visualize my goals in exquisite detail. There is nothing like posting a beautiful Mind Map in plain sight to motivate you to work on those chunked down goals.
Pillar 4: Flexible Timeframes
The fourth pillar of positive mental attitude is the capacity for temporal manipulation (i.e., view time differently), being able to operate successfully in the present moment while envisioning the fruition of one’s goals in future.
The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.
Athletes are able to be fully participate in the smallest tasks in the present moment. Rather than speculate on their success, they commit to focusing on the next milestone in their journey, whether it is achieving greater success in their sport or completely recovering from injury. To bring mindfulness to their games, many athletes have even integrated meditation practices into their routines.
In contrast to their singular focus on the present moment, they retain a vivid vision of the future when their dreams will manifest. This future orientation is incredibly motivating especially when they face setbacks or failures. When confronted with physical pain or mental fatigue, they are able to bounce back by visualizing doing what they love, feeling healthy and achieving a cherished goal.
If you are feeling distracted or discouraged, put yourself in the shoes of an athlete and ask:
What task can benefit from your complete attention now? How can the next milestone help you achieve your goal?
Pillar 5: Personal Involvement
The next element of a positive mental attitude is being personally involved in the journey.
You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
Researchers found that athletes who participated fully in their rehabilitation plan, made faster and more consistent progress in their recuperation. Being engaged in each aspect of their treatment allows athletes to influence the plan. It makes them more persistent, increases their commitment to completing tasks. It also makes them more positive and optimistic about any progress, no matter how small it may be.
Change requires personal investment, it seldom occurs by watching others from the sidelines. No one can care about your goals more than you. In order for your achieve your goals, in any segment of your wheel of life, you need to have some skin in the game. You need to be determined, jump in, take charge and take action to make your dreams come true.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how involved are you in setting and planning your goals? How can you become more involved in the process? How often do you review your goals and plans?
Pillar 6: Self-to-Self Comparison
Is it any surprise that the sixth pillar of positive mental attitude is self-to-self comparison? This final trait was the most critical one for recovering athletes.
The whole world is eager to evaluate athletes. Everyone from fans to analysts, compare their performance on the field to other athletes. Followers even take to social media to tweet out their disappointment.
Rather than succumbing to negative thinking under all this scrutiny, athletes who were rehabilitated successfully, focused on their own progress.
The rest of us “normal” folks are not much different. We often compare our success, looks or clout against others. I have written about my own battle with perfectionism and my commitment to embracing my holistic identity as a gateway to greater self-acceptance and growth.
The point is that comparing your performance against others doesn’t serve you. It may discourage or even intimidate you. When it comes to analyzing your progress towards goals, it behooves you to compare your current achievements with your beginnings.
Where did you start? How far have you come? When did you begin to achieve a sense of competence and see progress?
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
However, comparing ourselves against others, when done sparingly might benefit us. We can learn a great deal about habits, skills and strategies by observing others’ journey. We can also gather information on what is possible and a model for achieving that goal. When engaged in such comparisons we might ask:
What does mastery look like for someone who has accomplished the same goal? What other possibilities might need to be considered?
By focusing on learning and growth, we can avoid feeling inadequate in our current status or jealous of other’s achievements. We can train our internal narrator to paint an attractive picture of all the possibilities while reminding us of the distance we have travelled on our own journey.
These six elements create a compelling vision of success. They have worked wonders for recovering athletes and can do the same for the rest of us.
By building habits around these pillars you can reinforce a positive mental attitude. By employing those mental habits on a regular basis, you can achieve true mastery.
What insights have emerged from this article? How will you apply these pillars to your goals? What other questions might you have on this topic?
Might coaching increase your positive mental attitude and help you achieve greater success? Contact me to experience a powerful coaching session.