4 Life Secrets of Top-Performing Athletes

Photo by Shoaib Altaf
Photo by Shoaib Altaf
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The Challenge: We want to live an awesome, happy and fulfilled life, but we often don’t know how!
The Science: Decades of sports psychology has found the answers from 4 amazing habits of top performing athletes.
The Solution: Follow these 4 tips to significantly improve your life!

Ask an athlete or a coach what they want and they’ll say something like, “win a championship.” Ask someone in the real world and the typical response will be something along the lines of, “be successful in my field.”

Where does happiness factor in? While all of us want to be happy, we rarely make it a priority. Sometimes we even sacrifice happiness to achieve our goals.

Whether you are an athlete, coach, student or young professional, these four secrets will help you become a champion without having to sacrifice happiness in the process.

Secret #1: Think Positive, Be Positive.

Sports psychology studies suggest that replacing negative self-dialogue with positive statements can be effective in improving athletic performance. Positive thinking isn’t just beneficial for achieving goals, it’s also healthy.

By envisioning and focusing on a positive future, you can enhance your mood and well-being and decrease the frequency at which you visit the doctor, according to King (2001).

Secret #2: Be A Healthy Imperfectionist.

Stoeber and Otto (2006) believe there is a healthy type of perfectionist, which is someone who strives for perfection without perfectionistic concerns (I.e., self-criticism, self-doubt, fear of making mistakes and failing to live up to personal and outside expectations). The problem, which is highlighted by Greenspon (2000), is the majority of those who strive for perfection do so because of perfectionistic concerns.

In a study of elite athletes by Lemyre, et al. (2008), perfectionism was associated with burnout, which was described as “a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion brought on by persistent devotion to challenging goals.”

Perfectionism can even cause pathological worry and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, according to Handley, et al. (2014).

While there are certainly different levels of perfectionism, it’s hard to find a healthy level. Whether you are an athlete or a student, imperfection is inevitable at some point. Doesn’t it seem unhealthy to ignore this fact and strive for something that doesn’t exist?

Secret #3: Compare Yourself To Yourself.

Kohn (1986) refers to multiple studies which found that competition can negatively affect creativity, open-mindedness, individuality and decrease self-esteem. Kohn would likely argue against participation in sports, cutthroat business practices and highly competitive academia. While participating in these activities may have negative effects, they are a part of a society that would be difficult to avoid altogether without suffering a whole set of separate consequences. The real issue seems to be how we define our success within competitive fields.

Despite winning the most national championships by a coach in college basketball history (10), the late John Wooden didn’t let these accolades define his success. Instead he came up with his own definition of success, which he shared during a 2009 TED Talk: “Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”

According to King (2013), happy people are able to accept their own and others’ limitations, which allows for less regret.

When you are put in a competitive environment, think about how you define your success. Does it mean you have to be better than someone else? Or do you strive to be the best you can be?

Secret #4: Stop Trying So Hard.

Mack (2001) says, “The harder you try to get in the zone the further away you get.” The “zone,” or peak moment of athletic performance, is described to be “when you weren’t concerned about the opponent or the outcome and were simply living in the moment and performing at your best.”

This sports-specific description of being in the “zone” is very similar to mindfulness, which King (2013) describes as “moment-to-moment awareness without judgment.”

You have the secrets to envision a positive future, learn from your mistakes and define your own success. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy the journey. Happiness lies in the moment, not the past or future.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of the Scarlet Letter, sums it all up preciously, saying, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

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Justin Mertes-Mistretta

Justin Mertes-Mistretta

I am an enthusiastic basketball coach, eager-to-learn student, proud son, grandson and brother, loyal friend and loving boyfriend. However, I am not defined by any one of these. I try to live in the moment as best I can. My goal in life is to make each day as happy as possible for those I'm closest to.
Justin Mertes-Mistretta

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