Could you win Gold as a corporate Olympian? View original

I can spend hours daydreaming about being an Olympian, remembering what it was like to throw a javelin (teachers running for cover), perfect a Fosbury Flop (set at a record 3m), knock every single hurdle down and break your friend's foot with your best shotput.

Is there such a thing as the Corporate Athlete?

I’m not one to shed a tear unnecessarily but I always find myself filing up when I watch the athletes fighting it out for the medals, pushing themselves beyond their limit, giving their all, years of dedication and training engaging peak performance perfectly, measured in a single moment of time.  Harshly disappointing or a life changing moment of joy putting you on the front page of the papers with the usual superlatives, unless you are Tom Daley’s diving partner (what was his name?).

I can spend hours daydreaming about being an Olympian, remembering hat it was like to throw a javelin (teachers running for cover), perfect a Fosbury Flop (set at a record 3m), knock every single hurdle down and break your friends foot with my best shotput.  It was evident at an early age, daydreaming about being an Olympian was as real as it would be for me, unless you could get a medal for changing the fate of business projects?  Now that is something I could excel at but it’s not the same is it?  Us corporate animals aren’t athletes. 

I changed my view on that since I went to a great lecture by Juan Coto on Resilience: The Key to Peak Performance. Juan has not only worked corporately at a high level, he is also a tennis player and has coached elite athletes in the mental aspects of sport, including Johanna Konta.

Is there such a thing as the Corporate Athlete?

What Juan did in his lecture was compare what happens in the world of sport with what happens in the corporate world and it was mesmerising.

Of course the pace of change is increasing and we know that physiologically and neurologically the brain doesn’t like change. It takes a lot of energy because our brains hold a lot of deep head assumptions, i.e. Emotions, thoughts, images, memories, beliefs, values and identity and they are all whirring away on the inside, while we try and maintain external delivery of results and behaviour that everyone wants to see. It’s exhausting.

Resilience is our ability to manage the thoughts and emotions while maintaining peak performance in a very demanding environment. That demanding environment of constant change will inevitably include a significant number of setbacks.

That’s why in sports, it’s widely acknowledged that mental strength is more important than physical.

This was the bit in Juan’s presentation that has made me change what I do; the comparison of performance and preparation between an athlete and an executive:

Training: Athlete:90% Executive:????

Performance: Athlete: 10% Executive:8-12 hours a day

Recovery: Athlete: Long periods. Executive: Minimum

Lifestyle: Athlete: Eating, sleeping, focus. Executive: ????

Career span: Athlete: 5-10 years. Executive: 30-40 years

Off-season: Athlete: 2-5 months. Executive: 3-4 weeks

Support: Athlete: Coaching team. Executive: Coach?


Language is also important.  Have you had those conversations using crazy “badge of honour” language which seems to be acceptable in the corporate world?

“How are you?”  (An average daily question), normally answered with “exhausted”, “sleep deprived”, “burning the candle at both ends” as if it’s the right thing to say.  Hardly the language of a Gold medal winning Olympian! Yet we know that peak performance comes from being:

  • Energised
  • Committed
  • Focused
  • Confident
  • Carefree

There has never been so much information about how we should get enough sleep, eat regularly and healthily, don’t miss breakfast, cut down on sugar as an energy fix, drink plenty of water, exercise and take regular breaks from work.

So, why don’t we do it?

It seems the brain only has so much willpower, it loves habit and usually there is no immediate consequence of us not doing something. What is really going to happen if you don’t go for a walk today and reach for that beer and TV remote?

Of course the immediate consequence isn’t the issue; it’s the power of compounding.

The problem is we generally think about the immediate consequence, when really we should be thinking about the difference this is going to make over a period of time.

We don’t see ourselves as athletes, yet the time, dedication and training is just as intense and for some of us, the competition just as fierce.

We can start by training our brains to be more resilient, something that athletes do as a matter of course and we in the corporate world usually read about while we are snacking at our desks.

It’s not easy or we would all be doing it but after listening to Juan, I did come out thinking it was something that I really needed to invest in. Here are the simple tips:

  • Get some perspective and a purpose which is long term and factors in the compounding effect i.e. think beyond the immediate consequence and think about how you want to grow, versus getting something done and what journey you will take, rather than an outcome you want to deliver.
  • Create your own charter, a picture, a map, a list, whatever drives you, to show what your priorities are and what your thing is (your it, your why)
  • Be clear about what values you have to make decisions and treat other people, don’t hide from this.
  • Work on this with honesty, it’s for you, no point lying as no-one else cares, resilience training is just for you.
  • Be your own coach or get a coach to help. You need to ensure that your expectations are realistic, you are focusing on strengths, you are confident and are using internal control and you are hopeful about what is going to happen. So important that you can visualise this, self-image is very important in making it happen.
  • Don’t listen to the negative voices in your head that will reoccur, Juan calls these “the internal terrorist” they will be looking for perfection, will be self-critical and you will lose control.
  • Fight those terrorists by challenging the evidence for yourself, relax, visualise what you set out to do, tell yourself it is going to be great and let the positive vibe take over.

The more you do this consciously the easier and less processed it feels. In my experience it gives you a real sense of internal power that is very liberating.

The battles in your head are yours forever; take some time to understand them, train yourself to be more resilient and don’t put it off till tomorrow when you could be training to be the office Olympian going for Gold today!

Congratulations to all the Olympians who have inspired us all. 

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