Manage Stress Like an Olympian

Have you ever thought about how to manage stress like an Olympian?  It would be a good skill to have throughout the work day? Or, during a highly competitive game.

manage stress like an olympian

The NY Times has a wonderful article up about biathlete Clare Egan and how she manages to balances the physical output and incredible calm required to succeed at her sport. It’s an incredibly demanding sport physically–you are racing others on skis–and demanding mentally–you have to stop and calmly shoot a target.

It’s hard!

It reminds  me of this time I was at a party right after the 2011 World Cup finals. One of the guests was incredulous that any soccer player would miss a penalty kick even in the World Cup Finals.

After all she made her penalty kicks all the time.

On the other hand, she probably doesn’t compete for 120 minutes against a great team and then have to calm herself down to execute the skill. In front of 60,000 live fans and millions watching on tv at home.

In the biggest event in her sport.

But still “how could you miss?”

The article does a great job of addressing the intensity of the moment and the incredible physical and mental skill required.

The incredible preparation.

The biathlete trains for this rigorous dichotomy all the time.

Here are Clare Egan’s 5 Keys to manage stress like an Olympian:
Be prepared

Egan checks out the course the day before any race so she understands it well.  In particular she looks for markers on the race that indicate it is time to switch from racing to shooting.

I bet you do the same yourself  at times. Like before giving a big speech I always try to check out the room and the  lighting. I want to know what it will feel  like to speak so that I can get through jitters at the beginning quicker.

Work on your breathing

“Mindful breathing” can help transition from a high intensity experience to the more focused skill of shooting. It can also help all of us in a stressful moment when we need to be able to respond.

In a New York Times article on the benefits of breathing author Belisa Vranich explains,

“Breathing is massively practical,” says Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book “Breathe,” to be published in December. “It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.”

Be mindful

Like Ellen Langer the Harvard professor who specializes in mindfulness, Egan equates mindfulness with paying attention to what is going on around you.

Train yourself to notice things. Simply take note of changes or variables.

She then takes it a step further.

Use mindfulness to accept the distractions and then shut them out.

Mindfulness practices have taught her to accept the distractions.
“For shooting, you need to remove any kind of emotion from what you’re doing,” she says. “There’s my target, here’s my trigger, this is my process, now I’m going to make the shot.”
Focus on the task not the results

Process, process,process. This is what you can control, not the outcome.

She uses “cue words” that help her focus on the process. Like “follow through” or “breathe.”

“You have to eliminate all of that noise in your mind,” Egan says. “I have to use some kind of process-oriented word about how to shoot well.”
“Even if you’ve only done mini-golf, you can understand the concept of following through,” she says.
Compete against yourself nobody else

I love this. Just compete to be your best.

You will always find people better and worse than you if you get into the comparison game.

That can be motivating, but also demotivating at times.  It can distract you,and subtly turn your focus to the result, which in turn reduces focus on your process.

“I think such a big part of this is focusing on what you are doing. You have to let go of how everyone else is doing, and focus on your own work.”
“If you can do that,” she adds, “you’re going to have a performance you can be proud of, whether it’s giving a presentation at work or a piano recital or biathlon.”


Be a great coach

Related Adopting An Olympian’s Mindset from Positive Coaching Alliance