What It Takes to Be a Winner in Sports and Life

Olympics 2016 is over and 306 happy gold medal winners have achieved their dream by climbing to the peak of human physical achievements. At the same time, over 10,000 athletes went home empty handed. Nearly 90% of Olympic athletes have suffered through a painful, dream-crushing loss—the same way most people experience failures in their lives.

The difference between those who win and those who lose is not necessarily in their readiness to do the task, but mostly in their mind.

I, too, was prepared to do well in the Beijing Games of 2008 in the javelin throw discipline. I trained daily for 15 years, was persistent and motivated. Even though I easily threw the javelin over 60 m (197 feet) during the warm-ups, my best throw arrived at only 55 m (180 feet) during the real competition. My warm up mark would have easily made me a finalist in the Olympic Games. 

My biggest challenge was not physical or technical. It was all in my mind. I just kept thinking that my competitors were much better prepared, and no matter how much I trained, they surely trained more. Only after the competition was over, I found out that some of these girls were competing while being seriously injured, throwing the javelin with half-broken backs and torn ligaments. I realized how stuck I was in my mind. I lost the Games, but I won the biggest lessons of my life.

I hope these 10 tips will help you build a winning life.

1. Realize that we are the ones who stop ourselves from winning.

Every person in the world has an amazing chance to succeed in whatever they choose to do. There are countless examples through history of ordinary people accomplishing unthinkable things. The only difference between those who accomplish and those who don’t, are their thoughts. To win in Olympics you need to have a strong mind because your mind controls you. “What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game,” said Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller. Therefore, the main fight that every Olympian has to undergo, is with themselves.

2. There is very small chance to succeed in anything—and it’s a good thing!

Both the Olympics and life are cruel—very few win, and many more have their dreams crushed. The competition is fierce, and only 1% of the participants win gold medals at Olympics. Only 10% of the startups will succeed. Only 8% of human population can be called millionaires. However, the more challenging it is, the more we learn, and the more we improve our life quality as humans. The key is to learn the right lessons from each failure!

3. There is limitless capacity in improving.

What chance is there for another record to be broken at the Olympics? Why should you start yet another blog, write a book, open a new bakery or business? Why does the world need another design for a bike, or a dress? Millions of good products exist already. However, we have the capability to do it better, to make it better! The beauty of the human brain is that it has limitless capacity to store long-term memory and learning. So everything we know can be challenged and improved! For example, Usain Bolt broke the 100 and 200-meter records with the time that scientists had said was not humanly possible. Every year records are broken, new cures are found, new discoveries are made. We just need to set our brains into the learning mode and let us perform.

 4. Don’t give up easily.

Most people get really upset and frustrated at a challenge and quit. We seem to have an ingrained belief that we have to be perfect, never fail, and always succeed. I ask my clients to do tasks that would really challenge them to grow, such as train themselves to have no expectations—of themselves or others—for three days. Or to do difficult physical exercises to learn balance and strength. The goal is to figure out how we learn and what stops us from moving forward, and then fixing it.

5.The key to outsmarting the brain: letting go.

Every time I give a new task, I tell people to repeat it at least 100 times without thinking, just going through the motion, without interruptions of the “protective brain.” Your brain thinks it’s protecting you from the pain of failure, but it works like an overprotective mother. We have to learn to let go. Learn to ignore the paralyzing thoughts, such as: “it’s too difficult,” “I cannot do it,” “I don’t want to fail,” “what will others think if I don’t succeed,” “maybe I am just not good at this…” Just let the thoughts pass by without focusing and fixating on them. Take deep breaths and exhale. Clear your mind from annoying thoughts and don’t stop till you complete the set task.

6. Learn to trust yourself.

You have to learn to trust yourself and to trust the learning process. We are operating a body with an intricate mechanism and amazing capabilities. Your thoughts are the biggest blocks preventing you from tapping into to your full potential. Just with our will, we can get stronger, faster, wiser, more creative, more skilled… It is already all in you. You have to let yourself function to your full capacity!

7. Give yourself time.

Don’t start with harmful judgments and unrealistic expectations of perfection at the first attempt. No one does anything perfectly from the start. If you can do it from the first try, the challenge is too low for you. According to Josh Kaufman, it takes around 20 hours to learn a new skill. Give your body and brain time to adapt to a new lesson.

8. Have faith, but no expectations.

There is a huge difference between having faith and having expectations. Expectations limit our possibilities, they restrain us from seeing and accepting better options. Also, expectations are the reason why we start judging ourselves. Judging builds the wall in our mind which prohibits learning and improving. However, having faith means trusting in yourself and in life, whatever it brings—and this is what you have to develop and focus on in order to succeed.

9. Even if you failed at something, you are not a failure.

One action, behavior, or result does not define you. According to Albert Ellis, we need to check our mindset against harmful beliefs that lead us to self-deprecation. Failure means we did not put enough effort into learning and improving a certain skill. However, we have all the capacity to learn that skill if we put in the needed effort. When we fail, it is an indication that we need to work more on it. We take failure too personally. It is simply a part of the process of improving. We have to retrain ourselves to see it as a checkpoint, not the final destination.

10. Success is not a given.

You can reach it only if you keep learning from your failures. The main point is to do better than you have ever done, then to do it better than it has ever been done, so that you finally break new records, make new discoveries. That’s the way to make your mark in the world. This is a journey to real discovery and freedom.

Whatever you do, you should judge the outcome by how much you learned, and not by the completed task.

My dream is for more people to start enjoying their amazing capabilities. Take a free test to find out whether your mind is set for achieving success!

Inga StasiulionyteInga Stasiulionyte is an Olympian athlete and javelin thrower, who was coached by the best coaches in Europe and the U.S. for over 20 years and competed at the Beijing Olympic Games. Besides developing her career in sports, Inga simultaneously pursued a career in business, working with executives as a life coach. Inga’s dream is to provide access to everyone to the knowledge, tools, and training she received in sports that helped her win.

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