When someone hears the word ‘athlete’, their mind predictably goes to their favorite player, one of the various athletes highlighted on Sports Center’s Top 10 from the night before, or perhaps one of the ‘greats’ – your Michael Jordon, Muhammad Ali or Michael Phelps.
These athletes are truly inspiring and exceptional at what they do. They define their sport and set the highest bars for those that compete around them.
What if we expand the definition of an athlete to include our own lives? Why can’t we view ourselves as athletes within our profession and begin to prepare ourselves for our own big games?
Interested? Let’s explore the concept of the ‘Inner Athlete’
Throughout my professional career, I would always get nervous before a meeting with upper management, or before a presentation in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know, or even worse – VIPs who could make decisions about my future that could stop my career in its tracks.
Now, that last example is a bit drastic, but unfortunately it is how I would feel. The nerves, the racing heartbeat, and the thousands of thoughts in my head about how I could screw up were not helping me to execute the task at hand.
One day I decided to approach these events differently. I would approach them as an athlete.
Treat the little and big moments as practices and games
Athletes are not impervious to being nervous, or stressing about an upcoming game or event. However, successful athletes can channel that energy in a productive way. They can focus their mind and leverage their training, preparation, and confidence to harness that energy and put it into a world class performance.
In our professions – whatever they may be – we can absolutely do the same. When I made the conscious decision to approach the big and little moments of my profession as an athlete vs. a regular office worker I felt that nervous energy turn into controlled energy and drive.
When I had a big meeting or presentation I would treat it like game day. I would throw on a tie, wear my best shirt and ensure I had a fresh shave (they may not be numbers on the back of a jersey, but I was in my uniform and geared up). Leading up the meeting I would go through a pre-game routine:
- Reviewing the relevant materials (pre-game walkthrough)
- Listening to inspirational music, podcasts, or videos – get the mind dialed in
- Engaging in positive self-talk and mantras that remind myself that I am here for a reason – I have the talents, skills, and knowledge to succeed and WIN
- Engaging in breathing exercises to calm the nerves and focus the mind
- Visualize what success meant for that event, and see that success happen
Do I still get nervous walking into the room? Sure! But you better believe I have a new level of confidence. I build upon each micro-success throughout the meeting to create momentum towards victory.
What if we still lose?
With life, as in sports, just because you prepare, get your mind right and execute to the best of your ability does not mean you will win every time. You may lose the deal, get crushed by the other opposing viewpoints in the meeting, get your budget cut, etc.
By viewing yourself as an athlete you can deconstruct the loss, identify skills or strategies that require improvement and then practice and prepare for the next game. It’s a much better approach than sulking and calling yourself an ‘idiot’.
You aren’t an idiot, I promise.
Don’t play the game as if you are a lone wolf – use your team
Be sure to leverage your team or a trusted colleague to give you feedback on what went well (what didn’t go so well). Unless you are someone on camera for a living you likely won’t have game film. Having someone to talk to can give you that outside perspective that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s a very low lift on their side and make sure to offer to return the favor if they are serious about improving their own game.
There is so much more to the inner athlete than just preparing for big meetings or presentations but my hope is that this introduction begins to open your eyes to the mind shift that can take place throughout more areas of your career and life.
The inner athlete concept will be an underlying theme in future posts to hopefully inspire and light the fire as we strive to become our best.
So let’s go lace up those cleats (or dress shoes) and start practicing for the next game!
Question: What steps can you take today to see yourself as an athlete in your profession? How does this change your preparation for the days ahead?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."