If you want to see the tangible results of hard work and determination, tune into the 2016 Olympics. There you’ll find more than a few great examples of people at the top of their game.
“For most elite competitions like the Olympics and Athletics World Championships, the world governing body publishes standards in advance of the competitions,” says motivational speaker Mike Lipkin, author of Star Power: How to Be Unstoppable Through the Nine Star Social Values. “If you’re selected to compete at the event, you know you’re literally among the best in the world,” Lipkin explains, “You’ve qualified to perform at the highest level against the best of the best.”
Yet, Lipkin notes, “Life is like an elite competition. Before you can compete, you have to qualify for it. Only then can you actually win.”
Not everyone can take home a gold medal, but we can all develop the mind-set of a champion. Here are six habits you can adopt to succeed.
Swimmer Michael Phelps’s training program is intense, if it’s anything like his Under Armour commercial. But there is something he does before the starting horn goes off that gives him an edge. Phelps mentally rehearses for two hours a day in the pool, according to Bob Bowman, head coach of the U.S. Olympics swim team.
“He smells the air, tastes the water, hears the sounds, sees the clock,” Bowman told Forbes magazine in an interview in May. Phelps also uses visualization to picture himself from the perspective of a spectator in the stands.
You don’t have to be an athlete to use the power of visualization. “The most strongly held mental picture is where you’ll be… so get really good at mental rehearsal,” Bowman said in the Forbes interview. “If you can form a strong mental picture and visualize yourself doing it,” he explained, “your brain will immediately find ways to get you there.”
Past wins don’t guarantee future success, and champions are always operating under the goal of self-improvement, regardless of their achievements. Soccer player Alex Morgan says she’s approaching her bid at the U.S. Olympics as strongly as she did when she and her team won the gold medal at the World Cup.
“I feel like I’m always looking to continue improving myself,” she said in an interview with Elle magazine earlier this year. “I’m always looking to win. I’m super competitive, so going into the Olympics, I feel like that’s nothing different.”
The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is ranked number one in the world, but Morgan and her teammates aren’t resting on their laurels. “For us, being ranked number one, we want to prove why we are ranked number one,” she said in the interview. “No team has won a World Cup and Olympics back-to-back, so that kind of is motivating us even more.”
Just like the rest of us, champions face plenty of negativity in the form of criticism, mistakes, and conflict. Just a few weeks ago U.S. Olympic middle-distance runner Boris Berian was involved in a lawsuit with Nike because of a breach of contract. He thought it might prevent him from competing at trials and qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team, but Nike dropped the lawsuit a day before the competition, clearing Berian’s path.
While some people might have let the pressure derail their focus, Berian kept his eyes on the prize. “It was annoying,” Berian told NBC News. “I just focused on training, kept positive. That’s what I did. Kept all that legal stuff as far away as possible.”
Volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings has won three Olympic gold medals, and she’s going for her fourth. Training to be the best means making lots of sacrifices, such as time spent away from family and a rigorous exercise program, but Walsh Jennings is happy to work hard because she loves the game.
“I love this sport with all my heart, so the motivation comes very naturally,” she told Sports Illustrated. Walsh Jennings stated:
“With things that you love, you don’t need outside motivation. That doesn’t mean it’s easy all the time. I’m doing this for a very clear reason, and that’s because I have more and better inside me and I’m curious to see what that looks like.”
You can’t win them all, but Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas has learned that you can take a setback and use it to move forward. Douglas made history during the 2012 Olympics by becoming the first American gymnast to earn the individual all-around title. A fourth-place finish during the 2016 U.S. gymnastics championships, however, had some people question her abilities.
“I had a few mistakes but I’m moving on,” Douglas said in an interview with People magazine. “To be honest it just motivates me even more.”
U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin likes to look at failure as a learning experience. She won four gold medals during the 2012 Olympic Games in London at the age of 17, but back injuries slowed her winning streak as she started to compete in college.
“You realize that, you know, it’s not just this wonderful journey where everything is rainbows and butterflies all the time,” Franklin told NBC News. “There’s these really, really hard patches that you have to go through.”
While some might let pressure negatively impact their performance, Franklin looks at it in a different way. “There’s two ways to look at pressure and expectations,” Franklin said in the interview. “You can look at them as people really wanting you to do something and putting that pressure on yourself, you can also look at these expectations as support, as people that believe in you and want you to succeed.”