I am inspired when I hear stories about people who find themselves in positions of adversity–whether through conditions they were born into or when they were faced with an insurmountable challenge–and they find a way to overcome the obstacle. They not only survive it but make a life for themselves that is more than anyone, including themselves, thought possible. They rise to the top of their game. To me, these individuals are champions.
Concepts that apply to champions can be applied to anyone who struggles with self-limiting beliefs. If you struggle with a belief that holds you back, start with this exercise: Write down and identify three times in your life when you faced adversity. In these instances, nobody would have blamed you for giving up and accepting defeat; instead, you defied expectations to build something better for yourself. You took yourself from zero to a home run!
Here are three examples from my life:
- I grew up in a family with few resources and no college graduates from previous generations. I also lived through multiple abusive situations with an abusive father. As a child and teen, I survived. Not only did I graduate high school, but I graduated top of my class and went on to graduate with high distinctions in college and graduate school.
- Growing up, I hit tennis balls off a wall with a cheap, wooden tennis racket, determined to play the sport at the collegiate level. With only those exercises and some park lessons under my belt, I played Division I tennis, was designated an Academic All-American, and became a USTA national champion as an adult.
- I grew up with a love for teaching others to learn, but I was told by a university program chair that I would never amount to anything. I went on to complete my doctoral degree and co-found Luma Brighter Learning, an award-winning learning and instructional design company.
Going through such experiences and coming out ahead required me to look deep inside myself to find what I truly wanted to achieve and the belief that I could accomplish it. That burning desire to do something impossible can be unleashed in almost anyone. When you find it, you can nurture its growth–and you can promote this growth within employees.
Significant life experiences impact memory, feelings, and behaviors. In these situations, the body releases cortisol, which can lead to changes in thinking and cognition. By understanding this connection, anyone can be encouraged to overcome hurdles by harnessing the mind.
Here are specific ways you can form the mind of a champion. Practice these yourself, or encourage team members to implement them.
Abuse is petrifying. Serving the match point in a national championship is petrifying. Experiencing great loss and not knowing how to go on is petrifying. Everyone goes through events in life that require the difficult decision to move forward. When your mind stays behind and continues to focus on the bad, it creates a self-limiting belief.
Courage is when you choose to confront uncertainty or fear and decide to move forward with positive thinking. You pay attention to and hear the negative thoughts that enter into your mind, but having the mind of a champion means having the courage to make the consequential decision to move ahead and focus on a behavior or thought that will result in a positive feeling. This is the formative point where courage is formed.
Focus and believe in yourself
Champions make the conscious decision to take action. It is not that they need it–it is that they want it. Champion-level achievements are highly personal because these were goals that the champion intrinsically wanted to reach and they focused their energy on achieving them. A champion will thrive under pressure with extreme focus and the belief that they can make movement happen.
In his book Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David Hawkins states: “The unconscious will allow us to have only what we believe we deserve. If we have a small view of ourselves, then what we deserve is poverty. And our unconscious will see to it that we have that actuality.”
When a person is born into or goes through difficult life experiences, as I did, it is easy to believe that X is not in the cards or Y is never possible. But, why not? Everyone deserves to have the life they want. The key to developing the mind of a champion is you have to want it. In psychology, this is often referred to as the self-fulfilling prophecy: If you tell yourself something enough, you will believe it and it will come true. If you believe you deserve a life of excellence and you want it, then you can take the steps to achieve it.
In the end, you must believe you can develop the mind of a champion and not be satisfied with amateurish outcomes. You must believe you can do whatever you want to do.
Developing the mind of a champion requires hard work, practice, and grit. To develop this mindset, you must recognize and take in pressures, negative thoughts, and emotions and view these challenges in a positive light. When you can do this, you are ready to go after any skill associated with where you want to go. Tennis skills, for example, did not come to me simply because I wanted to play. I worked hard, hitting many, many tennis balls. Michelangelo worked tirelessly at his craft; he did not create sculptures without hours of study of the human body. A champion knows that accomplishment takes practice and hard work. Having the mind of a champion means repositioning negative thoughts into positive change. Practice holding a positive mindset to help you experience hope, anticipation, joy, and gratitude.
Build resilience and grace
You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.-Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
When you are at your darkest moments, it takes completely trusting your gut to know that, despite sadness or hurt, there is something inside you that will help you move forward, even if it’s only a few steps. A champion trains the self to bounce back from tragedy, adversity, stress, and pain. This resilience is developed in every champion. It’s understanding that you have the control to change the outcome and the belief that you will come out stronger and better.
The mind of a champion also allows for kindness to the self. Setbacks occur, but they are part of growth. When you can give yourself grace, you can see setbacks as opportunities for future improvement and learning. Take the time you need to refocus and reposition yourself on the path you want to take for your life.
Celebrate small wins
To work toward the mind of a champion, each day write down two or three small wins. These could be any positive experiences, like showing up early for a meeting or spending time with your dog. The wins should be defined based on those items that help you refine your focus and get you to a happy place in your life. If you focus on the small wins, you will always feel like you are winning.
Don’t let past losses or obstacles prevent you from moving forward. In psychology, this is referred to as the locus of control. This means you have total control over the events of your life. You can seek help, look to faith, or get support from family and friends, but know that, in the end, a genie in a bottle will not appear to make life happen for you. You control your mind, and you can refocus and recharge at any point. You can choose to have the mind of a champion, and you can support others in making the same choice. Choose a winning path.
Article originally published on August 22, 2023 for Inc.com.