The mantra is one we hear and use often to encourage ourselves and others to tackle whatever challenge may lie in front of us: “I’ve got this.” While it may seem cliché at times, it actually is that mental toughness that determines who ultimately rises to the occasion and who falls short, especially when it comes to athletics.
A recent study published in the Frontiers of Psychology suggests that what really distinguishes champions is how they face and overcome the hurdles in front of them.
“We’ve found there are universal psychological characteristics amongst those who are aspiring to get to the top,” Professor Dave Collins, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We have a good idea of what makes people excellent and how we can help them reach peak performance.” Collins is the chair and director of the Institute of Coaching and Performance at the University of Central Lancashire.
Collins’ team interviewed athletes from a variety of sports. They were looking for the characteristics that distinguished the best of the best, the good, and those who didn’t make the cut. They collected information about career trajectory, perceived challenges, and the participants’ reactions to those obstacles. They also explored participants’ commitment to their sports and their interactions with coaches and families.
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The results showed that elite performers expressed an internal drive and commitment to their sports that their “almost” great colleagues lacked. The elite approached training with a “never satisfied” attitude, whereas the “almosts” might avoid challenging training exercises.
Following an injury or a failure to perform, high performers were determined to get back to their sports, stronger than ever. Low achievers, on the other hand, often expressed surprise at their failures, telling how they lost enthusiasm after such incidents.
More than the challenges themselves, the differences came down to how the athletes reacted to obstacles and the champions’ positive, “learn-from-it” attitudes.
Personal fitness trainer and certified life coach Ali McWilliams of Madison, Wisconsin, tells her clients that mindset is everything — no matter what they’re doing in life.
“Mental strength is huge! You have to be ready for change. You have to want to dig deep and want to move forward. I tell women that I don’t work with just anyone. I only work with women who are ready to dig deep and give me all they’ve got. I can’t do it for them,” McWilliams told LifeZette.
Her best advice to anyone trying to make positive changes in their lives or who are challenged on their way to their goals? They should ask themselves, “Why do I really want what I say I want?”
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“When my clients start changing what they say to themselves, their whole world changes. It’s important to tell ourselves things like, ‘I am getting better at this,’ or, ‘I am not as uncoordinated as I use to be.’ There is no room for negatives. If you keep saying you are lazy, then you’ll always be lazy. But if you say you are motivated over and over and put that on a post-it note and see it, soon you start to believe it by changing the chemistry in your body,” McWilliams said.
She agreed with the authors of the study — we are the only ones holding ourselves back from anything in life. Positive thoughts create positive chemistry.
“It’s that simple, and we get to choose,” said McWilliams.