Watching the Olympics this week, I’ve often felt inspired by the possibilities of what the human body can do. Even as someone who will never dive, tumble, or race competitively, there are lessons I’m taking away from my viewing.
Know what your strengths are
Of course, Olympic-level athletes possess tremendous natural capabilities, but that alone isn’t enough. First, their natural skills or physical tendencies are matched to particular sports, which you can see so clearly as the evening’s television coverage of the Games moves from, say, gymnastics to swimming. Different people are naturally going to have different gifts, whether we’re talking about sports, academics, or the world of business. Figuring out what your natural strengths are and matching them to your chosen activities and goals will generally bring you more satisfaction and achievement than you will find working against your strengths.
Do you like to interact with people? Are you detail-oriented or are you better at seeing the big picture? Do you prefer to work with your hands or with your words? How important is financial gain to you? Working with these and other questions about your natural preferences and abilities can help you find the right match of activities.
Develop your support team
Many people contribute to the success of elite level athletes, including family members, coaches, trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists, managers, business assistants, and many more. Like an athlete, you probably have many different areas of your life that affect your ability to perform at your best and reach your goals. Try periodically reviewing what kinds of support you need and seeking it out, no matter how big or small it seems. Who or what could support you in moving forward?
The power of practice
It’s often inspiring to me to consider the thousands of hours of practice that the Olympic ahtletes’ performances represent. A big part of practice is simply consistency and repetition: the brain forms and deepens neural connections with repetition so that initially unfamiliar or difficult tasks in time become habitual. But practice (whether of music, sports, or other activities) is also more than just repetition — it involves planning, measurement, analysis, and adjustment.
Serious athletes don’t just go out and run or swim. Their training schedule is carefully planned to allow for periods of intensity followed by periods of rest. During practice, an athlete (and/or her coach) measures her achievement by assessing her form, speed, distance, accuracy or other variables. Taken over time, such measurements offer a picture of improvement, plateaus, or decline that then gets considered in adjusting her training plan as part of a feedback loop. The point of practice is that you make mistakes. That’s how you learn and improve.
Focus in Action
Borrowing these lessons from the Olympic athletes and applying them to your own goals can be helpful, no matter what your area of focus is. For example, let’s say you want to write a book.
Now, writing is going to inevitably be part of that work! But how exactly you write that book can still be fine-tuned to your particular strengths:
- If you’re good at mapping out big ideas, start each writing session with mind-mapping or outlining to get your ideas flowing.
- If you enjoy fine-tuning your prose, then start each session by editing the previous day’s draft for a few minutes.
- If you’re good at talking about your ideas, try voice recording your first drafts rather than writing them.
Who or what could support you in writing a book? As you imagine your support team, think beyond the obvious candidates. For instance:
- How could a friend, family member, coach, or writing group support you?
- Maybe you need a babysitter on your team to take over childcare duties for a few hours each week?
- Things, rituals, and places can be on your support team too: a new cushion for your chair? an evening bath ritual to help you sleep better? a new pen or notebook? a coffeeshop or particular corner of the library to work in?
Developing a writing practice can borrow from athletes’ planning, measuring, analyzing, and adjusting:
- Developing your own plan means figuring out when will you write? for how long? How will you balance intensity and rest?
- Keeping track of your writing over time helps you discover what helps you be successful.
- Analyze what you measured: was your plan reasonable? too easy? too difficult?
- Adjust your plan periodically based on what you notice in your writing practice. If you miss a session, or don’t write well, just remember — it’s practice. Ask yourself why it didn’t go well, and try again another day.
How might you harness the power of practice for your own goals?