Medal-Worthy Success: 3 Inspiring Tips from Top Athletes

In many ways, to be human is to strive. We want to go farther, to climb higher, to create or do something extraordinary that will live on in history.

Those dreams change with time; most of us do not grow up to be the astronauts or movie stars we imagined. So we strive in new, more grounded ways: testing our mettle at the gym, through artistic expression, or in our daily work. But tending our inner fires can be tricky. Success takes grit and courage, especially when deadlines loom or life drops obstacles in our path. It also takes more than a little inspiration.

Right now, the world’s best winter athletes have gathered for two weeks of elite competition in PyeongChang, South Korea. What’s more inspiring than watching as these elite competitors push their bodies and minds to the limit? Or seeing a lifetime of training finally pay off with a coveted gold medal?

In that same spirit of striving, here are three tips from the world of sport that are worthy of medals in their own right. Each of these insights can help you define, focus on, and reach your goals like a champion.

Bronze Medal

“You become what you think about and focus on the most. See yourself attracting the things you want to accomplish. Thoughts and desires in your mind can become a reality.” — Jonathan Toews

Ice hockey star Jonathan Toews is still in the prime of his career, but he already has two gold medals with the Canadian national squad to go along with three championship rings as captain of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. So he knows a thing or two about finding success with a team.

Toews’ quote invokes the so-called “Law of Attraction.” But even if you don’t believe in the notion that visualizing an outcome can make it happen, there’s no doubt that finding focus is a good first step to achieving any goal. Here are some more exercises that can help:

  • Reframe your goals. As motivational expert Michael Hyatt explains, “we tend to experience what we expect.” So it’s important to structure goals in such a way that we can truly believe in our capacity to make them real.
  • Hold on to the things that inspire you: Create an inspiration notebook to capture images, articles, and other things you find online, so they’re always handy when you need them most.
  • Begin collecting your ideas, reading, and observations in a “commonplace” notebook. This centuries-old practice gathers messy thoughts into an ever-growing repository of personal wisdom that you can draw upon anytime.

Silver Medal

“Winning doesn’t always mean being first. Winning means you’re doing better than you’ve ever done before.” — Bonnie Blair

American speed skater Bonnie Blair came in first quite a lot during her career. She’s among the most decorated women in the history of winter sports, earning five gold medals and a bronze between 1984 and 1994. But she also understands that there are many different kinds of winning, and that’s an important lesson for us all.

Blair’s insight about “doing better” can be a powerful motivational tool. Nobody gets everything they want. Some level of failure is inevitable in any large effort. But if we keep striving to reach a personal best, and learn to channel our frustrations into resolve, we can transform “maybe-someday” fantasies into real accomplishments. That starts with being more aware of the steps we take:

  • Treat your life as a series of experiments. Look at it this way: you can invest all your energy in an ideal and quit when things don’t go the way you expected. Or you can work to develop a growth mindset, learning from your failures so you’ll do better in your next attempt.
  • As you experiment, take careful notes of your process. The more detail you can capture along the way, the easier it will be to analyze a failure or duplicate a success. It’s all part of using your notes as a tool for growth.

Gold Medal

“Dreams are free. Goals have a cost: time, effort, sacrifice, and sweat. How will you pay for your goals?” — Usain Bolt

No, he isn’t a winter athlete, but who are we to neglect a tip from Usain Bolt? By the time he retired from competition in 2017, the Jamaican superstar had carved out a permanent place in the annals of sport. He’s the greatest sprinter of all time and an eight-time gold medalist. But even Bolt’s unearthly talent on the track had to be developed. He underperformed and struggled with injuries in his early years, only rising to his potential when he combined a renewed sense of purpose with intense training to improve his technique.

Of course, few people are as naturally gifted as Usain Bolt, who made achieving the impossible look effortless. But no matter how difficult the goals you’ve set for yourself, you can reduce some of the friction by planning carefully and tracking your progress:

  • Get clear on what it is you want out of life and commit to making those things your priority. The GTD process is a great way to begin by organizing and ranking your projects and to-dos.
  • Forget about “someday” and start making progress today. And the next day, and the next. Because over time, those small steps can add up to big success.
  • Keep track of what you’ve accomplished each day, no matter how small. Few things are as motivating as seeing how far you’ve already come.

While you’re rooting for your favorites in PyeongChang, think about the struggles that got them there. What can their success teach you about following your own dreams? Capture those insights in a note, and refer to it the next time you find yourself in a slump. Let those thoughts lift you up, and before you know it, you’ll be ready to get back into the game.

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