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Sports Psychology Tips for Business Professionals

February 26, 1999
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Sports psychology tips for business professionals
Michael McDermott, consultant for Personnel Decisions International (PDI) and a sports psychologist, offers five tips today’s business professionals can glean from pro athletes to improve their performance.

Scrimmage for 10 minutes each day.
McDermott advises athletes to set daily practice goals and spend 10 minutes of each practice simulating a competitive situation, trying to attain a goal. That means setting a goal the athlete initially can’t sustain more than 10 minutes, and disciplining himself to reach the goal every practice, performing as if actually in competition.

Likewise, McDermott advises executives to do more than routinely run through their daily responsibilities. Spend 10 minutes each day working on a goal that will boost performance. This may include developing new knowledge, planning and preparing, benchmarking processes or improving communications. Whatever the goal, it’s best achieved when practiced routinely in short, concentrated efforts.

Control your self-talk.
Sports psychology tells us the body follows the mind. And it’s self-talk -- the constant stream of messages we send ourselves -- that directs our expectations and actions. Golfers know that thinking about the water in front of the tee is the surest way to get the ball wet.

Positive self-talk messages program us to take successful action. The golfer who avoids the water hazard is the one who picks a target on the far side of the pond and tells herself she can easily hit that spot.

Likewise, for business professionals, positive thoughts and self-talk result in success, while thoughts spent on negative outcomes or shortcomings often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies -- from unmet plans to destructive interpersonal conflicts, to failure to stay ahead of the competition.

Don’t say "don’t."
Our minds cannot process the word "don’t" when it comes to activities. So, in football, the words "don’t throw an interception" translate into "throw an interception." Likewise the words "don’t be limited to one action plan" translate into "limit to one action plan."

Visualize success.
McDermott asks athletes and executives to envision ultimate success. While many find it difficult to imagine complete victory, McDermott says envisioning success is necessary to define and achieve it. Continually striving for improvement without a picture of the end in mind leads to burnout, frustration and despair.

Failing to visualize ultimate success may result in executives limiting their view to short-term budget or market goals.

Rehearse for success.
Once the vision is set, McDermott asks the athlete to run through a successful performance in his mind, simulating the body movements required. In his mind’s eye, the athlete runs the perfect race, and trains or rehearses his muscles for that performance.

Executives can rehearse for many difficult situations they’ll face. Knowing and feeling the desired outcome of a meeting or interaction prepares business professionals for the actual event.

SOURCE: Personnel Decisions International (PDI), Minneapolis, January 22, 1999.

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