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Mastering Pressure as a Professional…The Olympic Way

Mastering Pressure as a Professional...The Olympic Way

There are an extraordinary number of lessons to be learned about the human psyche from this year’s Olympic Games. The first—and probably most important—is that even the world’s best have their limits. There was an excellent article in last week’s NYTimes acknowledging Simone for her courage to walk away. A path is first shown to her by Michael Phelps just before RIO 2016. But I want to talk about the lesson those moments have for all of us on a personal level.

When you yell at your kids, you know (too late) it’s not really them. When you misread a business situation or negotiation, you know (too late) you lost your inner control. When you judge (or pre-judge) a date or loved one, you know (too late) “it’s not them.” In our Mastery Under Pressure program, you master the tools and techniques to put aside those inner doubts, old demons, and unproductive thoughts that are getting in your way on a day-to-day level.  But no matter how good you get at self-control, we’re all human—and the ultimate mastery is to know when you’ve reached your limits.


Too Smart for His Own Good

One of our associates raced cars in his teens and 20s, and one day he just stopped. When he was asked why, he said, “I was too smart for my own good. While most of the time I could focus on the event, every once in a while I would think about what I was doing and what could happen. If you want to master anything, you can’t be thinking about what failure would mean.”


True Mastery Means Knowing Your Own Limits 

Everyone—from the CEO in the corner office to the tennis champion on the center court—comes up against their limits. So how do you know? First, you recognize those limits are coming from inside, not any external circumstances. Think about just a few of the ways we encounter obstacles or distractions. Mastery Under Pressure is about putting aside our inner doubts and handling the situation. But there are signs we give ourselves that should be a signal that we’re approaching (or exceeding) our limits:

  • lack of sleep
  • relationships suffering
  • kids being angry at you for not being there
  • colleagues being disappointed
  • physical ailments
  • addictions to food, drugs, alcohol
  • your mind doesn’t shut off
  • you’re not making good decisions
  • you lack confidence in the decisions you are making

Almost all of those are ways we and the world around us try to tell ourselves that we’re either reaching our limits or we’ve headed down the wrong path. That’s the moment when the ultimate expression of mastery has to come forward: You have to know when to stop. That’s the Olympic way.


Making Healthy Olympic-Like Choices

Again, I salute those athletes who’ve stepped up and stepped away, saying, “No mas!” Forty years ago, the boxer Roberto Duran uttered those words to the referee as he quit in the middle of his world championship bout with Sugar Ray Leonard. 40 years ago, the few voices that acknowledged what he did were drowned out by the scorn our culture and our society heaped upon Duran. We’ve come a long way. And we have further to go. It’s worth noting that every Olympic athlete who’s walked away (so far) has been competing as an individual athlete, not as a member of a team. There are probably a few of those who would like to stop but don’t want to let their teammates down. We hope the day will come when they will have the courage to do so…and all of us will acknowledge them, not judge them. 

Until then, I invite all of you to keep making Your Best, Better!


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Tina Greenbaum
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