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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

10 Olympic Athletes' Daily Habits You Should Steal (That Don't Involve the Gym)

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As morning people who appreciate routine even while we try to embrace some spontaneity, we’re admittedly fascinated by the drive, dedication, and self-discipline embodied by Olympic athletes. Following a rigid diet that involves counting protein grams and being mindful of carbohydrates isn’t at the top of our things-that-thrill-us list, but it’s hard to argue with the positive impact that certain habits have on our productivity.

We’re both runners, for example, who value the feeling that comes from a good workout. Some days, it can be a push to get outside after we’ve laced up and gotten the playlist ready, but a three or four-mile jog or 45-minute session at the gym can be the difference between feeling on top of our game and at the bottom of it.

Eight-plus hours of sleep a night gets a thumbs-up from us, not just because getting a good night’s sleep feels oh-so-nice, but also because it affects how we work—the very quality of work we produce, in fact.

Habits are helpful. There’s no question that athletes at the Olympic level take their habits and routines very seriously. We were curious to see what else we could be doing that would give us a professional edge and make us feel accomplished day in and day out. While we’re not about to start setting our alarms for 4:15 AM to fit more in and double the length of our workouts, we might be willing to try taking more regular breaks to give our tired minds a much-needed rest.

1. Get the Right Kind of Rest: Kassidy Cook, USA, Diving

Photo of Kassidy Cook from “American Star Watch: Kassidy Cook”

Routine Fun Fact

The day prior to competition, Cook takes a bath in a tub full of ice to ensure her legs are fully rested and ready to go when she arrives at the pool the next morning. (Oh, she also makes sure she gets a manicure and pedicure, too.)

How You Can Apply These Habits

Rest is crucial. Just as Cook wants her legs to be fresh for the most important dives, you want your mind to be as rested as possible in order to reach optimum productivity. That means listening to your body, getting enough sleep each night, and unplugging from work on a consistent basis.

2. Focus on the Nutrients: Novak Djokovic, Serbia, Tennis

Photo of Novac Djokovic from “Novak Djokovic - Inexplicable | Tribute (HD)”

Routine Fun Fact

Djokovic has a very specific routine to start out his day, and it goes in this order: a large cup of room temperature water; two tablespoons of honey; and a nutrient-rich breakfast comprised of muesli or oatmeal, nuts, seeds, fruit, coconut oil, and a non-dairy milk or coconut water.

How You Can Apply These Habits

Djokivic’s ritual is designed to set his body up for ultimate success. And you can do this, too, by fueling with foods that are whole and healthy and staying hydrated throughout the day.

3. Aim for High-Quality Sleep: Michael Phelps, USA, Swimming

Photo of Michael Phelps from “Michael Phelps’ Final London 2012 Race - Men’s 4 x 100m Medley | London 2012 Olympics”

Routine Fun Fact

Phelps’ sleeping situation is, well, unique. Each night he dozes off in a special altitude chamber (yes, you read that correctly).

How You Can Apply These Habits

We’re willing to bet that these contraptions aren’t cheap (or even close), but you can still aim for high-quality sleep in other ways. Make sure your room is as dark and cool as possible, keep electronics away from the bed—or out of the room all together—and try to fall asleep and wake up on the same schedule each day.

4. Visualize Goals: Carli Lloyd, USA, Soccer

Photo of Carli Lloyd from “Carli Lloyd: 2015 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year”

Routine Fun Fact

There’s one thing Lloyd is focusing on a lot more these days: her mind. Prior to each match, she dedicates time toward visualizing exactly what she wants to happen in that game. In 2015’s World Cup final, she netted three goals. Do you know what she did leading up to that game? Imagined she would score four. Not bad odds, right?

How You Can Apply These Habits

You may not be playing soccer in front of millions of fans, but there are still goals you may want to achieve, such as making a great impression in an interview, nailing that presentation you have to give to a client, or negotiating your salary with your boss. Whatever it is, envisioning yourself doing it beforehand could be a huge help.

5. Prioritize Sleep: Usain Bolt, Jamaica, Track and Field

Photo of Usain Bolt from “Usain Bolt beats Justin Gatlin 100m Final WC Beijing 2015”

Routine Fun Fact

What does it take to be the fastest human in the world? Usain Bolt would know. But while sprint training and eating lots of veggies is important, Bolt explains that his number one priority is sleep. Why? Because it’s in those precious hours that his body repairs itself and builds upon all the hard work he’s done throughout the day.

How You Can Apply These Habits

We tend to put work first—a lot. “Oh, I’ll just stay up a few more hours to finish this up,” or “I’ll set my alarm extra early tomorrow to start [insert project here].” And though we may feel more productive in the moment, depriving ourselves of proper amounts of shuteye is hurting us in the long run. So, put sleep on your to-do list—at the top.

6. Keep a Record: Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, Running

Photo of Eliud Kipchoge from “Eliud Kipchoge runs 2nd fastest marathon of all time - London Marathon 2016”

Routine Fun Fact

Like most professional athletes, Kipchoge cares about sleep—going to bed at 9 PM and napping for an hour each day are musts—but that’s not all the elite runner does habitually. Keeping a training book to look back on all of his workouts and successes, Kipchoge has recorded each run, each piece of the training puzzle, so that when it’s time to compete, he can look back and “know he has done everything. It gives him the confidence to go and deliver.”

How You Can Apply These Habits

Keep track of your accomplishments, career goals—wins, misses, setbacks and achievements. Take note of everything from where you hope to be five years from now to what kind of feedback you got at your last performance review.

7. Possess Self-Confidence: Claressa Shields, USA, Boxing

Photo of Claressa Shields from “E60 Claressa Shields (E:60 FULL)”

Routine Fun Fact

Priding herself on being confident not cocky, Shields says this trait motivates her to work 10 times as hard as her opponents for a desire outcome. Before a big fight, she lets her family and friends know exactly where her focus is.

How You Can Apply These Habits

Avoid crossing the fine line between confidence and arrogance, and believe in yourself and the work you’re doing. Imposter syndrome has no room in your drive to succeed, and neither do family members who don’t understand your goals. Learn to effectively communicate so that you won’t be easily distracted when an important work project lands in your lap.

8. Don’t Be All Serious All the Time: Simone Biles, USA, Gymnastics

Photo of Simone Biles from “Gymnast Simone Biles Aims to Make Olympic History”

Routine Fun Fact

Unlike her competitive counterparts, Biles often has a more relaxed manner, even before a match, where giggling comes naturally to her. Once, in Glasgow, during the 2015 World Championships, Biles advocated for some down time from the coaches for her and the team, and they got it.

How You Can Apply These Habits

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember that a life of all work and no play can wreak havoc on your productivity. Whether you take a break to walk around the park near your office or you spend 15 minutes browsing magazines at the local drug store, give your mind some rest from the hard thinking you’re asking it to do for the majority of the workday.

9. Don't Worry, Be Happy: Katie Ledecky, USA, Swimming

Photo of Katie Ledecky from “Katie Ledecky, Olympic Swim 2016".

Routine Fun Fact

Ledecky is, it seems, pretty much always happy. She doesn't get anxious, and if worrisome thoughts start to creep in, she's able to push them aside so she can concentrate and get the job done.

How You Can Apply These Habits

If you tend to get anxious about your to-do list or big meetings with clients, try adjusting your mindset. Hold anxiety at arm's length, and take a page from Ledecky's book: Think of something else, something that doesn't cause you stress.

10. Never Skip Breakfast: Misty May-Treanor, USA, Volleyball

Photo of Misty May-Treanor from “Misty May Treanor”

Routine Fun Fact

One word that May-Treanor cares a lot about? Breakfast. Whether it’s an egg scramble with veggies or a morning meal with bacon starring in a side roll, she eats in the morning, no matter how busy her day is.

How You Can Apply These Habits

Make breakfast a priority. No matter how much you value those extra minutes pressing snooze each morning or how often you’ve told yourself that skipping that first meal doesn’t matter, know this: If you want to start your day on the right foot and you want to make healthy choices throughout the day (think increased energy and productivity levels), don’t pass on breakfast.

Olympic athletes are the best of the best, the cream of the crop, crème de la crème—you get the picture. But even if you aren’t competing in Rio, that doesn’t mean a routine can’t be helpful for you, too.

What each of these athletes have in common (besides being super fit and goal-oriented) is that they’ve found what works best for them. Djokovic’s three-step morning routine, for example, may be a bit much for you—water, honey, and that many ingredients in a breakfast? Oh my! Bathing in ice? Maybe not for you. But there’s more to a smart routine than willing yourself into doing one specific thing. Making the most out of your days is about embracing habits that help you be your best self.

The point isn’t to copy exactly what any of these elites do, but to develop a routine that prioritizes treating your body the best it can be. And because everyone is different, your ritual could be completely different, too.