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Keep Your Head in the Game

What does sports psychology have to do with running a successful business?

Monique Verduyn

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The mind is a powerful tool

Create a mental picture of yourself achieving greatness, hold onto it, and chances are you will. We can optimise our performance in life and at work by setting goals, remaining focused and visualising where we want to be and how to get there. However, much of what people think can be negative and harmful, causing an enormous waste of energy and preventing us from being our best.

Judith Beck, director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in the US, says it’s been proven that “thoughts influence moods.“ Over time, the power of negative thinking can lead a person to believe that they always fail. What Beck calls realistic thinking, is equally powerful. It involves recognising and correcting negative automatic thoughts. If that’s not enough to convince you, according to a 2009 Stanford Research Institute study, success is 88% attitude. US author and business coach Jim Rohn says, “When you start thinking and saying what you really want then your mind automatically shifts and pulls you in that direction. And sometimes it can be that simple, just a little twist in vocabulary that illustrates your attitude and philosophy.” That’s where sports psychology comes in.

What is sports psychology?

As a discipline, sports psychology studies the psychological factors that affect participation and performance in sports, and seeks to apply these to enhance individual and team performance by managing emotions and minimising the negative psychological effects of poor performance.

“Sports psychology encourages people to think about what they want to do and not what they want to avoid,” says clinical psychologist and performance specialist Kirsten van Heerden. “The focus is on movement towards rather than away from something. I talk about performance psychology. It’s about helping people to perform their best under any circumstances, and to perform consistently well.”

She says the mental skills and psychological factors needed to become an Olympic athlete are the same as what’s required in any rigorous performance environment. “Whether you are giving a business presentation, dealing with the stresses of being a boss, writing an exam, speaking in public, or attempting to close a deal, without the required skills, you will most likely not be able to reach your potential.”

Where sport and business meet

The intersection of sports psychology and business happens with mental skills training that includes concentration and focus, goal setting, handling pressure and stress management, controlling anxiety and being able to relax, visualisation, self talk and cognitive control.

“It’s not just about winning,” cautions Van Heerden. “It’s about acquiring the mental skills that will enable you to always perform at your peak. Psychologists have identified these skills as the mental links to excellence, regardless of whether they are applied in business, sports, the arts, or any other environment that requires the individual to be focused.”

Performance under pressure and the ability to deliver are critical, and can be hampered by negative self talk, or the inability to concentrate, for example. On the day of that big presentation, you have to control your nerves and your thoughts to deliver the message properly. Applying principles of sports psychology can help you achieve that.Setting goals

Van Heerden says that goal setting is such a hackneyed phrase that many people find the idea quite tedious, but it’s a foundational mental skill. Without mapping your route, and monitoring and evaluating your progress, development and advancement become impossible.

“Daily, weekly, short-term and long-term goals are essential,” she says. “And once those are set, it’s best to work backwards, and to begin with a daily routine. Studies have shown that what distinguishes Olympic athletes from others is that they set process goals and decide ‘what do I want to accomplish today?’ Successful business people often do exactly that. The result is that each day has an outcome.” She stresses that smart goals are specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and time oriented. Avoid statements like, “I want to be a better business person”; rather focus on definable measurable outcomes like, “I want to complete a short course in financial management.”

Being in flow

It’s also important to establish a balance between your dreams and what you can achieve realistically. When we set goals that are too difficult, we become anxious and often incapable of achieving them; by the same token, set an objective that is really easy, and chances are you won’t be motivated to get it done. “It’s what we call being in flow,” she explains. “It’s the optimal state that lies on the boundary between boredom and anxiety.”

The concept of flow, applied in a variety of fields, is also referred to as being in the moment, on the ball, or in the zone. It was conceived by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and describes a mental state in which the person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channelled, but positive, energised, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

“When you are in flow, time stands still,” says Van Heerden. “There’s a very relaxed kind of concentration that happens. It’s like being at a dinner party and suddenly realising that it’s 2.00am. All other distractions have receded into the background because you are having a great time. It’s that kind of focused concentration on the task at hand that results in optimal experience and a sense of pure enjoyment.”

In their book In The Zone With South Africa’s Sports Heroes, authors Michael Cooper and Tim Goodenough interviewed champion swimmer Natalie du Toit. The first time she remembered being in the zone, she was 14 and had to win her race to qualify. She not only won, but also cut two seconds off the Africa record. She recalled feeling little pressure and having a nothing-to-lose attitude during the race itself. To this day, Du Toit believes that she alone is responsible for her performance and pulls herself out of negative thinking quickly when she performs poorly.

What do you see before you?

Many elite athletes use visualisation techniques as part of their training and preparation for competitions. There are stories of athletes who’ve used these techniques to cultivate not only a competitive edge, but also to create renewed mental awareness, a heightened sense of wellbeing and confidence. All of these have been shown to contribute to success. Van Heerden recounts the story of Argentinean football legend Maradona, who would sit in the change room with a towel over his head for at least five minutes before each game. Someone asked him why and he said that he used the time to think about all the best goals he had scored so that he could remember how he did it. “What’s important is that it’s not just about visualising the outcome. That can be highly stress inducing. It’s better to visualise the process of getting there. Picture the place where you love to be, where you are calm and relaxed. The trick is to create a real image in your head which can only be done when you involve all the senses. If you are on the beach, you need to smell the sea, hear the waves crashing on the shore and feel the sand between your toes. It’s a skill also referred to as ‘feelisation’, which involves all the senses in a more intense experience than visualisation alone.”

Relaxation plays a vital role in this process. People have busy brains that need time out every now and then. To develop this skill, Van Heerden recommends practising complete physical relaxation by focusing on each part of the body individually. Combining visualisation and relaxation techniques can lead to the creation of coping imagery. “When you are prepping for an important meeting, for example, you can get ready for it by being there and visualising yourself as confident and articulate. Deliver a perfect presentation in your head, so that when you actually give it, it feels as though you have done it before.”

Reframing your thoughts

Van Heerden advocates the application of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), an approach that aims to teach a person new skills, behaviours and cognitions through a goal-oriented, systematic procedure. CBT is effective in addressing the way people see themselves. Sessions with clients are often practical with specific technique-driven, brief, direct, and time-limited treatments. It tends to focus on the ‘here and now’, and on alleviating symptoms like anxiety and negativity.

“It’s difficult for people to control their thoughts and how they interpret situations,” says Van Heerden. “We all have filters through which we view the world. Through CBT, we can recognise what those are and develop ways to think about things differently. It’s an approach that acknowledges that not everything in life is fantastic, even though the self-help gurus may preach that. Emotional hype is very different to the true control that enables you to reframe your thoughts. Practical exercises are extremely useful. Think about when you were a child and you played that game where you spot all the red cars on the road – because your thinking is so focused and you are paying attention only to red cars, you suddenly see them everywhere. Of course, the white cars are still on the road, but they have receded into the background. That is how we approach negative things – they are still there, but we just choose to focus on something else. It’s about being able to identify what you can control and what you can’t. Focus only on the controllables, because there is nothing you can do about things like the economy, the traffic, or the weather.”

Cognitive control is much like a physical skill that has to be learnt, and Van Heerden recommends taking a practical approach. “Business people simply do not have the time to spend years in therapy,” she says. “What I like about CBT is that you learn skills and are then given the opportunity to practice them. The process requires an average of eight sessions with a client, over a period of two months, after which they go out into the world and apply them. People appreciate that approach because it means that they do not become dependent on you. They can simply tell you what their fears and anxieties are and we can work together to overcome them. It’s a collaborative effort.”

10 Elements of Flow

Hungarian psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as part of the experience of flow:

  • Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  • Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  • A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  • Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  • Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behaviour can be adjusted as needed).
  • Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  • A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  • A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of real hunger or fatigue without realising it).
  • Action awareness merging. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Self Development

Why Your Professional Persona Matters

You don’t have to become a different person to succeed in business.

Timothy Sykes

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For superheroes, getting into professional mode is as easy as slapping on some spandex, a mask and a cape. For the everyday entrepreneur, however, the proper work mindset is less about attire and more about adopting a professional persona.

Your professional persona is your personal branding in the workplace. It refers to the way that you conduct yourself publicly in a business setting, and the image you project to coworkers and colleagues. Far from contrived or inauthentic, it’s simply the polished-up way that you present yourself professionally.

How do I develop a professional persona?

It’s actually extremely easy to develop a professional persona. All you have to decide is who you want to be in the workplace, and then take efforts with your attitude, dress, and conduct to become that version of yourself. Action follows intention, and over time, you’ll find that adopting your professional persona feels as natural as putting on your coat before leaving the house.

Now that you understand what a professional persona is, let’s talk about why you should work on cultivating one and what you stand to gain.

Create a self fulfilling prophecy

Success is typically hard-earned and slow in the making. However, if you take the time to develop a professional persona, it can help bring success sooner. If you conduct yourself casually and informally in the workplace, you’re less likely to be taken seriously and might spend far longer in the career trenches.

But if you make a concerted effort to conduct yourself with the professionalism of a manager or CEO, you’ll make yourself a more desirable candidate for advancement. Since you’ve already demonstrated the appropriate attitude for higher level positions, you’re more likely to be thought of when opportunities arise.

Related: 25 Bad Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior

Focus on what’s important

When you establish a professional persona, you put yourself in the right state of mind for work. This can help you attain your career goals.

Say, for instance, that one of your big career goals is to become a leading authority in your field so that you can become the next TED Talk celebrity. With this specific goal in mind, you can tailor your professional persona so that it can help advance you toward this goal. For instance, you might begin speaking at local networking events or starting a topical podcast. Doing things like this will help you establish a professional persona of being an expert in your niche.

Make yourself indispensable

One of the best ways to create job security is to make yourself indispensable in your position. A professional persona can help by letting you establish recognisable and dependable hallmarks in your working style.

For instance, perhaps part of your persona is that you are the person who always meets his or her deadlines on time. In time, this will become part of your professional identity and will be part of how people see you in your office or field. When others know and trust that they can depend on you, you’ll make yourself indispensable. Over time, this can have a powerful and positive effect on your career.

Be taken more seriously

A casual attitude is fine when you’re hanging out with friends. But in a professional setting, it may be holding you back. When you present yourself with a more polished professional persona in work settings, you’ll be taken more seriously. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at work, of course. But it does mean that you should conduct yourself with an air of professionalism and should never engage in bad habits like gossip or use language that might come back to haunt you later.

Remember: You get what you give. When you act respectfully in the workplace, you’re more likely to be treated with the same respect.

You’ll get more followers

More and more, entrepreneurs are using social media to attain a higher professional status or to attract more business.

When you take the time to develop a professional persona, you adopt a personal style, a way of articulating, and potentially even an aesthetic. These things add up to more clear and compelling personal/professional branding. This can help you maintain a consistency on social media platforms that makes your posts recognisable. Over time, this can lead to additional followers, which can mean more opportunities for selling, career advancement, and more.

Develop a thicker skin

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t take things personally in the professional sphere. But anyone who has ever experienced rejection or criticism in their career knows that this is much easier said than done.

Your professional persona can help give you some personal armour. When you have a professional persona, it can be easier to separate your personal life from your work to a greater degree. No, this doesn’t mean that you won’t feel any pain when things go wrong, but it will allow you to compartmentalise in a positive way, so that an issue at work doesn’t impact your personal life quite as much.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Company Posts

6 Steps To Cultivate A Success Mindset

What does a winning mindset mean to you? It’s what has separated the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Usain Bolt and Floyd Mayweather from fellow professional athletes. Adopting a similar approach could help you achieve massive success in 2019 and beyond.

ACCA

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A winning mindset is the trait that allows you to persist even when defeat looks like the most probable outcome. People with a winning mindset are much clearer about the process to attain their goals. They are not afraid of failure as long as they believe that they’re doing the right thing. That’s the difference between winners and losers.

1. Persist and understand that you must put in the work before you see results

The most successful people embody the principle of a winning mindset, because very few people in the world, be it in sports or business, can succeed without having to overcome obstacles. It’s seldom that talent is all one needs to succeed in any endeavour, otherwise most people would be successful.

A good way to understand this principle is to observe professional athletes before and during tournaments. Anybody competing in professional sports, such as the Olympics, has the talent but not all professional athletes are winners. A number of their memorable victories were achieved when they came from behind, when it looked like they were losing.

2. Press the reset button for the new year

The new year is notorious for long lists of resolutions that are not honoured and ultimately remain wishes. That said, the dawn of a new year tends to bring with it positive energy and a commitment to do things differently.

Entrepreneurs need to approach the New Year with a simple goal to do better than the prior year in whatever endeavour they are undertaking. It is important to build on current success or failure, and then commit to go one up. That way, the goal won’t seem unattainable.

Related: Many SMEs Start With Great Plans But Fail To Take The Big Leap

3. Take small incremental steps

The first step is to be clear about the goal and to write it down where you can see it every day. The second thing is to map the process of how you will get there, broken into small steps. From there onwards, focus on the process and not the goal as this allows one to achieve small but important victories. This needs to be backed up by an appropriate support system, associating with like-minded people.

4. Don’t stop upskilling yourself

Success in business is about creating shared value and solving real-world challenges that customers grapple with. Skills are therefore necessary to achieve success, so upskilling oneself is never a bad investment. It’s good to know something about everything, but ultimately one needs to know everything about something.

Some skills will be brought in through hiring staff, others through outsourcing and in some cases through strategic alliances.

5. Remember that no goal is static

One of the most important things to always remember is the goal, and that the goal is dynamic; it will have to be adjusted along the way. Business leaders can therefore celebrate the small victories fully aware that there is more work to be done. Achieving temporary success is easy, especially with all the tenders around, but building a sustainable business and staying on top requires persistence and hard work.

Related: Organisational Design Disruptions Do Not Occur In A Vacuum: Future Business Models

6. Your top tool is in your head

It’s all in the mind, backed by passion and a strong desire to succeed. If anything, business leaders need to train themselves to be uncomfortable with the status quo, not to get too comfortable with the present.


Why Not Consider The Acca Qualification For 2019?

ACCA professionals are more than accountants. They think holistically, consider challenges in the context of business and have strong strategic and leadership skills. Visit www.accaglobal.com for more information.

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Self Development

Taking Care Of Mental Health Is Powerful, Not Weak

Charlamagne Tha God talks success, anxiety and mental health.

Lewis Howes

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It’s time to open up. No matter what you’re dealing with, you’re not alone.

There is nothing shameful about having anxiety. Think about this acronym for FEAR – you either Fear Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The more you confront the things in your past you don’t want to do with, the more you’ll be able to move forward. So, are you going to run from your fear, or face it?

On today’s episode of The School of Greatness, I talk about anxiety and PTSD with a man who has become an unofficial mental health advocate: Charlamagne Tha God.

New York Times bestselling author Charlamagne Tha God is best known for being co-host of the nationally syndicated hip-hop iHeartRadio program “The Breakfast Club.” He is also a social media influencer; an executive producer with his own production company, CThaGod World; and co-host of the popular podcast Brilliant Idiots.

Charlamagne says that refining his life’s mission and examining his past helped him take control of his anxiety.

Don’t allow anxiety or depression to cause you to keep suffering. Learn about Charlamagne Tha God’s mental health struggles and what he did to restart his life on Episode 721.

Related: The Business Of Anxiety In Business: Giving Heroes Permission To Feel Vulnerable

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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