Who doesn't admire the focus and dedication of Olympic athletes? Watching the games unfold in London, I can’t help but wonder—how do the athletes stay focused when everything is on the line and the whole world (literally) is watching? As a small business owner, there are days I would give anything to have the focus and dedication of an Olympic athlete.
Though most of us will never be (anything close to) Olympians, a recent read through psychologist Jim Loehr's book, The Power of Story, inspired me to draw a few parallels between their training and my own life and business goals. While I may never achieve gold in the 800m freestyle swim, I can apply the same tactics used by Missy Franklin and her teammates in accomplishing my goals.
Loehr and his team at the Human Performance Institute (HPI) in Orlando, Florida, help athletes (as well as Fortune 500 leaders) find their focus, their passion, and their path. And HPI's core philosophy seems very simple on the surface: Loehr believes that we all have a script or story that 'runs' our lives. And by focusing on our story, we can harness the ability to write and live out that story to its fullest potential.
Your Story is Yours
If it seems a little odd to think of your life as a story, it's time to think again. When you're working toward something, your day-to-day focus is to create the path to get to there. That is your story—and it includes reaching your goal in the end (as long as you include the necessary chapters and details).
Olympic athletes don't simply physically practice; They visualize their goals. The perfect landing. The new record time. Standing on the podium with the gold medal, proudly representing their country. And with that goal in sight, they live out the story that will get them there.
Writing Your Story in 3 Steps
Step 1: Visualization
The first step in writing a good story is determining how you want it to end. So figure out your goal. Coaches and psychologists work with their athletes to visualize the record-breaking outcomes and first-place victories. There are several ways to visualize, from guided meditation and writing out the expected outcomes to using a method called storyboarding outlined by Loehr in his book, where you visually sketch out your goals.
Step 2: Indoctrination
The next step is to instill your story in your life through your thought patterns, your attitude, and your behaviors. Leohr discusses how hidden stories—those embedded in our unconscious—can interfere with the new story we are working to write and live out. Loehr recommends embedding the new story by “writing and re-writing it, including keeping a journal to document all the energy and investments you make—physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually—and re-reading it every morning.”
Step 3: Ritualization
Once you've both visualized and embedded the story into your lives, it's time to adopt and adhere to rituals that keep you on track. These can be as simple as reading up on your industry over a cup of tea each morning, or getting together with friends once a week to celebrate what you all achieved that week.
And remember, you don't have to go it alone. Olympians often work in teams for a reason—so as you’re working toward your goals, find some friends to help you along the way, and share your rituals with them, too.
Focus is Selfish—But Sometimes You Need It
Beyond the coach and the team, much of an Olympic athlete's training requires a sort of mental training and focus that may seem selfish to some. Peterson recalled the advice given to him by his coach while preparing for the 2004 games in Athens:
"Training at this level is the most selfish time in your life. It is the one time that you are allowed to focus on you and let go of everything else. Focus on what is and needs to be achieved."
Loehr and his team believe that focusing with that degree of intention, purpose, and clarity is absolutely necessary to succeed when you have a challenging goal ahead of you. No, you can't—and shouldn't—direct all your attention to every little gain you'd like to see. There are other things that matter in your life. But, there are times when you need to work single-mindedly toward a big goal.
At times I feel guilty for saying “no” to collaborating or jumping on board with a new venture, but the reality is that our time is a limited commodity. And to create the business and life I want, I must stay focused on telling my story and living out its outcome. Or as Loehr succinctly writes, “when we give something extraordinary attention, it grows extraordinarily”.
Erin Haslag is a writer, designer and business consultant to women-owned wellness and lifestyle brands. Her background is in public health and psychology (dual masters degrees) and she's written for The Daily Love and The Style Network as a guest contributor and worked as a ghost writer for several fitness/wellness online magazine. She can be found at her website Well in L.A..More from this Author