Stress wins gold medals


How does it make you feel? Anxious? Short of breath? Physically ill?

Or confident, exhilarated and happy?

For many people in the corporate world, stress is a bad thing and a performance inhibiter. But the reality is that positive stress fuels performance and positive stress is what wins gold medals.

Stress releases adrenaline into our body and gets out hearts pumping. It's stress that gives us that extra boost of energy we need for the big race.

Stress that helps us crystallise our thoughts and focus on the task at hand.

Elite athletes from across all fields of sport understand the value of positive stress and how they can use it to their advantage.

And guess what? While we can sometimes get stuck worrying about the daily pressures of life, elite athletes are pushing physical and psychological stress boundaries to get results, break records and win medals.

So in honour of our Olympic athletes, here are seven ways to approach stress like an Olympian:

1. Put your oxygen mask on first

Take care of number one – you. Olympians work hard for what they have and they look after #1. Eat healthily, exercise often and take time out to recharge. Build strategic recovery into your life and develop your health and fitness. No excuses. Just do it.

2. Paint a clear picture

Athletes train their minds and use visual imagery or visualisation. Visualisation trains athletes to imagine the ideal performance and this strengthens the neural network. The brain doesn't distinguish between a real activity and an imagined one. The Oarsome foursome used visualisation to help them win the gold medal in Atlanta. To apply this in the corporate world, if you're worried about hosting a team meeting, take ten-minutes to imagine how you'd like the meeting to go. What would you do/say/think/act? Picture yourself nailing it.

3. Talk to your self

Okay, so while I don't go around every day saying "Wow, you're amazing, Andy!" or "Looking good, hotshot" (well, not all the time anyway), I definitely use positive self-talk in times of need. Talking positively to yourself in situations when you're feeling stressed or anxious can help you relax, calm down and put things into perspective. So next time you're on the treadmill pushing for another kilometre, or cramming to meet a deadline, tell yourself "I can do this!".

4. Get the right balance

Athletes overcome increasing high-pressure situations by developing coping mechanisms. The more pressure you face, the more coping mechanisms you will need in order to counterbalance the effects of stress. Managing stress in a proactive manner not only helps get through periods of high stress but also helps you to exceed expectations.

For an elite athlete coping mechanisms can be anything from kicking a ball hundreds of times a day to making sure they have time out with family and friends. For you and me it can be anything from meditating on the way home on the bus to practicing a presentation before you deliver it.

5. Set goals

You knew this was coming. All athletes use planning and goal-setting to help them achieve great things. So why should you be any different? Sit down with your mentor, or somebody you respect and look up to, and make a plan for what you want to achieve. Where do you want to be next month? Next year? What are the things you would like to do? Put it down on paper and understand where you're going and why it's important to you.

6. Develop a great support team

The world's best athletes and sporting teams have the world's best support teams. Having a good support network can be the difference between make or break in times of extreme stress. Whether it's friends and family, close co-workers or even your dog, having people who will back you up and be there to take some of the pressure away is crucial. Remember, you're not in this alone. There are always people who can help. Don't be a hero. Just ask.

7. Celebrate the win

How often do you high-five yourself after closing a big sale or at the end of a high-pressure project? In the sporting world, it's not uncommon for athletes to self-congratulate at the completion of, or even during, a tough goal.

But, in the corporate world we have forgotten the art of celebration and congratulating ourselves on milestones, goals and even just plain hard work. Reward and recognise yourself and take time out to reflect on your success. Savour it. You earned it.

How do you use stress to help you perform?