What athletes can teach us about overcoming adversity
I played professional hockey as a young man – it was a dream come true for a Canadian boy like me. But while I imagined I’d have a long and successful career, a knee injury at the age of 21 brought it to a premature end.
Now what was I going to do? Hockey was my life and identity. My Dad had a simple piece of advice for me: “put one foot in front of the other and move forward.” So I went back to school and wound up earning multiple degrees, including a Master’s in Positive Psychology. I became a lawyer and ultimately pursued an enriching career in corporate health management.
I love the fact that my story is actually quite common in sports. Elite athletes often recover from disabling injuries, defeat, or adversity to pursue excellence once again. Because they understand that adversity is a step in the journey towards success they’re able to reflect, recover and reignite.
At Morneau Shepell we’ve explored these issues on the biggest stage possible as the official mental health partner to Canada’s 2016 Olympic team who have just returned from a very successful Games in Rio.
We’ve worked to develop programs for athletes and coaches to help them prepare mentally not only for competition but for life after the Games – when the training schedules and the crowds are gone.
We believe that everyone can benefit from the mindset Olympians use to overcome adversity. More than ability, talent or training, it’s a person’s level of resilience that will determine who succeeds and who fails. And that’s true whether you’re battling illness, going for Olympic Gold, or competing in today’s workplace.
As I see it there are five key principles for strengthening your resiliency:
- A growth mindset - Don’t think success or failure. Think growth. Successful Olympians have a growth mindset. They accept that mistakes, setbacks and failures will happen ... but don’t allow themselves to be defined by them. Just as a bad day does not make a bad life, a setback or failure is just a data point in the pursuit of your goals. Have a growth mindset!
- The ability to visualize - The mind must believe it can do something before you will be capable of actually doing it. Focus on creating a positive vision of you accomplishing your goal. Olympians are able to visualize successful execution of their sport, including feeling the emotions that go with it. See it, believe, achieve it!
- The right attitude - Attitude is at the heart of resiliency and essential to the success of an athlete, both on and off the playing field. Most Olympians know that attitude is a choice, but for many other people it’s a matter of circumstance – a positive or negative attitude is the result of good or bad fortune. Take responsibility for maintaining a positive mindset and attitude. Don’t let circumstances determine your mood and ultimate success.
- A step-by-step-approach - The ability to design processes to realize your vision is what separates exceptional people from mere dreamers. But don’t over-think this: just list the five most important things needed to advance your vision, put a number beside each, and start working on number one today!
- True grit - Talent and skill often give way to passion and perseverance. Understand that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it! Expect your journey to be challenging, difficult and unyielding. Before you start, make a commitment that you are going to see this through. This commitment will ensure that adversity is accepted as the growth step it is meant to be in your journey.