Olympic runner Barbara Parker prepares her body for races with a regimen of running, strength training, diet, and rest. She also trains her mind with visualization techniques. “I always picture myself, thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve just got a medal’ and doing a lap of honour. I think every athlete visualizes themselves winning. If you don’t, you’re never going to put yourself in the race in the first place.” We can put ourselves into the race, whether the “race” is a meeting with a client, a presentation to senior leaders, or a speech in front of a large audience, when we visualize ourselves having success. Our thinking patterns influence our outcomes.
The word “dialogue,” comes from the Latin dia (through) and logue (meaning). As David Bohm writes, “It is the meanings that we share that form the very basis for understanding one another at all.” Bohm, a renowned theoretical physicist, suggested that dialogue is a “stream of meaning” that flows through and between us. Conversation is between at least two people. Even if you’re in conversation with yourself, there are still two of you: the self that wants to go one way, and the self that wants to go the other. You are having a dialogue about an inner struggle. With ourselves or with others, we have the opportunity for “constructive discontent.”
“Remember, the thoughts that you think and the statements you make regarding yourself determine your mental attitude. If you have a worthwhile objective, find the one reason why you can achieve it rather than hundreds of reasons why you can’t.” – Napoleon Hill
When you look at the top sports stories, you find several tabloid-quality tales: athlete after athlete testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, bonuses paid for hurting opposing players, fighting, cheating, lying. The win is what matters, no matter the cost.
We focus, and our attention is purposely focused by the media, on the negative, the salacious, the ill-gotten victories. This is why we instantly recognize Lance Armstrong’s name but have never heard of a Spanish runner named Iván Fernández Anaya. It’s unfortunate because he has a lot to teach not only athletes, but every “competitor.”
“Our achievements of today are but the sum total of our thoughts of yesterday. You are today where the thoughts of yesterday have brought you and you will be tomorrow where the thoughts of today take you.”
– Blaise Pascal, French philosopher, mathematician and physicist (mid-1600s)
Dr. Paul Dennis, renowned Canadian sports psychologist says, “The use of visualization and imagery does not guarantee success, but it guarantees the chance to be successful. If an athlete is struggling mentally, if they’ve lost confidence and are not feeling good about themselves, then they have no chance.” When athletes visualize their performance, they do not imagine themselves missing shots or trailing the leader. They are picturing themselves running faster or aiming truer. Focusing on our strengths and successes does not guarantee success, as Dr. Dennis reminds us, but it creates a future of success into which we can live.
Focusing on the positive or on one’s successes is not about being hopeful or wishful. There is an awful lot of practice that goes along with it; you must invest in and hone your craft. If you are honing your craft, working on your skills and knowledge, and practicing those shots, instead of standing in a place of “I can’t; I’ll miss; I won’t show up well,” we can stand in a place of “I can. I will.” With more secure footing, you will have a greater chance of being successful.