As the London Olympics draws to a close, and athletes, coaches and people the world over look to the lessons to be learned from the Games, one thing is clearer than all the others: Successful Olympians set high goals, and discipline themselves to achieve them.
Every four years, the world focuses on three weeks of the spectacle and celebration of human skill and achievement that the Games represent. In ancient times, we even interrupted wars so the Games could go ahead. Yet in interview after interview with medal winning athletes, its clear that there is more to success than just sheer talent.
At Olympic level, success is not about physical skill or natural talent, since all Olympians share a similar level of physical prowess. The key to being an Olympic champion is to know how to maximise your strengths through self-knowledge, discipline and smart planning.
If kids in country towns or poor countries can grow up to be gold-winning Olympians, then we can all do what they do, and learn from their experiences.
1. Aim high
To be an Olympian, you have to aim high and dream big. You have to think that you can be better than just being the school champion or village big-shot. You have to dream of playing on the world stage. In business, this means you have to want to be the best you can at what you do.
2. Know yourself
It’s no good wanting to be a champion basketballer if you can’t catch or are not very tall. You need to know what your particular strengths, skills and talents are, and maximise them. Know your strengths and weaknesses, then minimise your weakness and play to your strengths. Know what you are good at.
3. Take small steps
If you want to climb a mountain, you have to take a lot of small steps, and have the tenacity to keep reaching small goals. Olympians aim high, but they know that the way to their dreams lies in putting in the hard yards: getting up before dawn every morning, slowly building better times and improved technique, and getting stronger and better bit by bit.
4. Learn discipline
You have to learn to play the long game. You need discipline and self-motivation to keep taking those steps, to overcome set-backs and to keep envisaging those goals. You need the resilience to pick yourself up. You need to learn the habits of success.
5. Time your run
In sport and business, you have to have a sense of timing. If you are training for the Olympics, it’s no good reaching your peak a month before the Games, or using all your energy at the wrong end of the race. This applies to business too. You have to know when to act, when to tread water, when to go full throttle and when to wait and see. As they say in theatre, “It’s all about the timing”.
6. Mental strength is more important than natural talent
Learn to be smart. To act intelligently and wisely means knowing how to manage a lot of variables, including the ones above. Natural talent is a great thing to have, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as tenacity, planning and good strategising. Olympic champions don’t just know what they have, they know how to use it.
Not everyone can be an Olympic champion, but we can all learn from the athletes who are. Success in business is the same as success in sport, and every single one of us should always expect of ourselves a personal best.