Lessons from Rio: How pre-event routines can help you be your best
Like great Olympians, you can thrive under pressure that crushes others
(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)
Freestyle mogul skier Jerry Bloom, a three-time world champion and two-time Olympian, uses a focusing thought in the seconds before starting a race:
“This is the single-most important turn. It’s all I need to think about. Just make a good turn here, and my skills will carry me the rest of the way. I imagined the perfect first turn.”
So do most other Olympians before their competition. Elite athletes use a mental and physical pre-event routine as performance enhancers. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, always does three arm flaps on the starting block after the starter says, “Take your mark”. Usain Bolt, a.k.a., the Lightening Bolt, Olympic 100 meter gold medal winner three Olympics in a row, always says a prayer and crosses himself after the starter says, “Take your mark”. These rituals are part of the race for these athletes.
Do you focus your thoughts this clearly before engaging in your most challenging situations? Do you know how to thrive under the pressure that crushes those who aren’t mentally tough? Like the great Olympians, you can learn to create an optimal state of mind before engaging in your most challenging or most important personal and professional situations.
Being your best under stress
One of the keys to being your best personally and professionally is having a pre-event routine to optimally prepare your mind and body to engage in the situations that are most important to you. Take a moment now to think of an upcoming situation or event where you want to be your best. It can be a personal or professional situation. Let’s refer to it as, “your important event”. As you continue to read, think about how you could create a pre-event routine to be your best during your important event.
Here is what Karen, a tech company regional sales director for 10 years, did to go from a middle-of-the-pack producer to the Vice President of Sales. She developed a pre-selling routine using three techniques for all her sales calls. She:
- Observed her thinking and changed any negative thoughts to positive ones;
- Focused only on what she controlled and
- Slowed her breathing and centered herself.
Karen became her company’s top producer and then VP of sales. She credited her pre-selling routine for her dramatic rise.
Structure of a pre-event routine
Have you watched Olympic gymnasts, swimmers, divers or track athletes, engaged in their pre-event routines? During the hours and minutes leading up to their event, they all have very individualized and well-practiced pre-event routines that include:
- Physical warm-up. The physical warm-up usually includes stretching, physical activity and practicing all or some part of the actual event. A sprinter might go for a slow jog, stretch, then do some brief bursts of speed work and practice their start.
- Mental rehearsal. Mental rehearsal uses one's mind to imagine engaging in the activity and performing at one's absolute best. Please see the previous article on mental rehearsal. (reference previous article)
- Self-talk. Self-talk can be quite powerful! Constructive self-talk is vital for performing one’s best. It is best done by speaking to yourself as if you are someone else coaching and encouraging you. Example, "You have trained really well, you're ready, just focus on your three keys to success to be your best."
- Relaxing. All athletes must find the right balance of being focused on the event (thinking about it and mentally rehearsing) and resting their minds and bodies. Most athletes understand the value of using slow deep breathing to relax.
- Choosing their emotions. Confidence is always important, as is having fun and genuinely enjoying the competition. When athletes are at their best, they love competing. Athletes learn how to create the emotions they need. What emotions best serve you for the event you want to be your best in?
- Mentally preparing. During the last minutes before an event, destructive thoughts often attack the athlete’s mind. Thoughts such as: “I didn’t train well enough”, “I’m not ready”, “I don’t feel well”, etc. And then there are all the fears the can consume the mind: fear of failure, disappointment, embarrassment, fear of success and a variety of other fears. There are many techniques to deal with and master these thoughts; one of the easiest is to have a focusing thought that is 100 percent in the athlete’s control.
Develop a pre-routine
Take a moment to reflect on your event.
- What would be a good warm-up to create the right amount of positive energy in your body?
- How could you focus using mental rehearsal and self-talk?
- If you get stressed or anxious before your event, how can you relax?
- What emotions help you be your best? Can you create them?
- What’s the one focusing thought that gives you a strong sense of being in control?
There are high performers in all fields who have learned to create an optimal mindset before engaging in their challenging and important business and personal situations. When making a big sale, leading a meeting, making a speech, interviewing for a job, conducting or receiving a performance review and even being with family after a hard day can all be improved with pre-event routines to create the optimal state for mind and body.