A sporting winner's mindset: Lessons for lockdown

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Written by Jeremy Snape on 24 February 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

Former England cricketer Jeremy Snape brings a sporting mentality to the current situation. 

Our fascination with sporting legends transcends their speed, power and skill. As the media showcase more of their personal back stories their mindset has become a source of even greater intrigue. How do athletes maintain their motivation, how do they recover from setbacks and how do they shrink their self-interest to work as a team? 

Through lockdown many of us have experienced more change and pressure than we’ve known and this lack of control has left us craving inspiration. Stoic quotes aren’t enough, we crave human stories from people who’ve overcome adversity and retained their optimism when there seemed little hope.

The truth is, whether you’re in sport, the NHS, or the hospitality industry – your mindset will be the key to your success.

As a former England cricketer, I know that my mindset was responsible for man of the match performances as well as psychological capitulations. A pressure-induced failure in front of a packed stadium of 120,000 people in Calcutta taught me that my biggest opponent was in my head.

Sporting stories may seem trivial to those juggling businesses while home schooling their children but powerful parallels exist inside the mind of champions.

In times of adversity, refocusing our gaze on incremental progress is essential to retaining our optimism.

Our brains were built 50,000 years ago and haven’t had an upgrade since. We’re wired for safety so when the levels of novelty, uncertainty and uncontrollability spike, we fixate on the threat in the environment. Though the sabre-toothed predator has long gone, 24/7 newsfeeds and worrying headlines have taken their place to threaten our self-esteem and financial security.

Sports stars learn to focus on the present and translate the fixation on the ‘Win’ into ‘what’s important now?’. Bringing things back into our short-term control is the key and we can do this by limiting the amount of media we watch and zeroing in on our daily to-do list. In times of adversity, refocusing our gaze on incremental progress is essential to retaining our optimism.

Many of us have had our confidence knocked in recent months; something athletes see as the holy grail. There’s nothing worse than staring at a huge project or sales target, so breaking 2021’s goals down into manageable targets and routines is the first step.

In his best selling book ‘Atomic Habits’ James Clear says that ‘Our performance doesn’t rise to the level of our aspirations, it falls to the levels of our habits and systems’ so rather than wasting time enviously scrolling through the Instagram feeds of our peers we should define the three priorities of our gold medal day and take pride and confidence from delivering them.

Confidence also comes from our bank account of experience and our evidence of past success, taking the time to reconnect with the projects we’re most proud of can give us the lift we need to attack again.

 

All fans celebrate the action between the kick-off and the final whistle but they miss sports’ latest competitive advantage. None of us can work any harder but can all recover smarter. Elite sport calls for athletes and coaches to be at their best for the whole season not just one match so their recovery is as crucial as their performance.

How can we build recovery into our new blended rhythm of working from home? Can we replace our commute with exercise, schedule 45-minute meetings instead of 60, set device curfews and monitor our sleep as closely as our P&L?

Resilience is about sustaining our long-term energy, not being relentless, so as we plan for the months ahead – we should build a schedule which values impact over busyness and protects us from the dangers of burnout.  

To maximise our potential, we need high levels of both support and challenge. With expectations as high as ever, we need to dial up our support network to maintain our motivation. It can be easy to feel like a tiny cog in a huge corporate machine but considering yourself as the CEO of your own performance company changes the game.

Even the world’s top individual stars like Rory McIlroy and Roger Federer do not do it alone. They surround themselves with a hand-picked dream team who can help them to optimise their skills, wellbeing and finances. Staying connected to your own dream team or board of advisors could help you to navigate the turbulence of the year ahead.

When athletes shed a tear on the podium, it’s not because of the national anthem. Commentators describe their natural talent for swimming or assemble highlights reels of their gifted athleticism on the ball but in truth their success comes from the lowlights too.

The swimmer who unlocks the swimming pool every morning at 5am for six years in a row has more than talent, the cyclist who rides with broken bones has more than power and the striker who recovers from the shame of the penalty miss has more than power.

They all have something in common – that they can stay committed in times when everything is against them. Very few people are experiencing headlines and victories at the moment but our time will come. If we can retain our desire and patience and have the character to do the right things during these difficult days – our podium moment will come.

Whether you are in sport or business – your mindset will be the key to your success in 2021.

 

About the author

Jeremy Snape is a former England cricketer with an MSc in psychology. He’s supported some of the biggest names in sport and business and his podcast Inside the Mind of Champions is in the Apple top 10 for Management.

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