Learn how to succeed like an Olympian

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Once every four years we all get excited for the Olympics – well usually once every four years. Some people love it, it brings out the patriotic pride in all things Kiwi. For others it feels like a waste of time and energy – a frivolous expenditure of energy that could be better spent elsewhere. But the reality is that those in business could learn a lot from our Olympians – and I know this because I have worked with some of them for the past few years.

Having worked with several swimmers who have been hitting the pool in Tokyo, I can tell you first-hand what it is that they do, and while you might not be up at 5am every day to train, there are a lot of lessons to be learned when you see the discipline involved.

Your average Olympic swimmer trains twice a day, two to three hours each session, they limit their calories, regulate their body to some pretty extreme measures all with a singular goal in mind – be better than you were the last race.

And there’s a cost to pay for this – One swimmer I worked with has never had KFC. There’s no conventional social life because of the odd training hours, the effects of chlorine on the skin and hair really become apparent fast. A competitive swimmer can’t shake that chlorine smell and because it sticks to the skin a swimmer’s clothes don’t last long as the chemicals eat away at them quickly. And then there’s their ligaments…

Swimmer’s bodies go through such extremes they gain a lot of flexibility – imagine a foot bending backwards, arms moving in weird ways because they need this flexibility to achieve their goals.

And in a way that’s the lesson here.

If you really want to succeed – in business, in life, at the Olympics or at the park with the kids on the weekend – then you need to show dedication to working towards your goals, but also make sure you have a bit of flexibility.

It doesn’t mean body dysmorphia and giving up on your favourite fast food but it does mean learning to focus on what your priorities are, and working towards them – and being open to change as you need to, when it arises. But it’s more than just getting motivated, there’s two other key factors in sports that non-sports people often forget about, but they will help you in your non-Olympian goals.

First, get a cheerleader – the right cheerleader that will celebrate your success while suggesting changes to do even better, seeing how much potential you have – and we could all do with one of those. It could be a business mentor, an outside consultant, or others within the industry you work in through places like LinkedIn Groups. These are the cheerleaders who want you to succeed and have the skills to guide you to that success.

The second thing is a sense of purpose. Yes – there is a difference between a goal (where you want to end up) and a purpose (the reason you want to end up there).

Every Olympian is where they are, representing their country at the highest level because it fits into their sense of purpose around who they are and what the world means to them.

It’s an outlook that drives them to keep going after a loss, to learn from their mistakes and to work their way towards their goals. In business your purpose is the reason you get up every morning and go to work – because you want to see your goals realised and change the world in some personal way.

Knowing what your purpose is, be it in the pool or in business – and having yourself a cheerleader who wants nothing more than to support you in succeeding is the perfect way to be inspired by our Olympians and to inspire those around you.

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Paul is a former columnist for Stuff, who now works in marketing.  He has worked with some of the most recognisable names in technology, entertainment and swimming to help deliver their vision locally, and most recently worked as Marketing Manager of New Zealand’s largest swim specific retailers.


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