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Self Development

Keep Your Head in the Game

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

Monique Verduyn




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+.

Self Development

25 Bad Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior

If the harshest thing you have to say about someone is partly true, say the other part.

John Rampton



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Did you know that in every language, there are more negative words than positive ones? It seems we need lots of words to describe our negative feelings, but we’re content with a handful of positive ones.

For instance, researchers have found that most cultures have words for seven basic emotions: Joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and guilt.

That’s one positive emotion, and six negative

It’s no wonder so many of us have a hard time keeping our negative comments in check. Over the past six months I’ve been working on the verbal language that I’ve been using that I don’t even realize hurts others and in some cases makes them feel inferior. I even noticed that I’ve used a couple on my personal and business website. This is a “no-no” that I needed to fix.

This post will list 25 negative words you should avoid…so that you stop hurting, belittling and intimidating those around you!

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Self Development

How To Control What You Can And Influence What You Can’t In Your Life

Every day you need to get up and face numerous challenges. Here’s how you can keep your head in the game — even when all you want to do is quit.

Erik Kruger




On Monday you wake up ready to take on the world. You’re focused, determined and business is doing well. Tuesday feels like you’re invincible and things could not be going any better. Wednesday, your world collapses. You doubt your ability to deliver to your clients. You wonder whether you should still pursue the same business. You think that quitting at this stage is easier than dealing with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. And you are dramatically reminded that entrepreneurship is hard.

Mix in human nature and it becomes borderline insanity to try and build a business. And yet, the reward is worth it. I therefore want to share three strategies that might help you cope with this tough but deeply rewarding pursuit.

Influence and control

Most of the things in business and life are out of our control. You cannot control how other people react to your service or product. You cannot control how your employees will show up. You cannot control how the market will react and how that will affect your business.

Related: How You Can Do Big Things

This makes it very important to control what you can and then influence the rest to the best of your ability.

So, what can you control? You can control your actions, reactions and perceptions of the challenges you face. Meaning essentially, that you can control yourself and your efforts.

Do this with excellence and you will automatically influence the people around you and the situations you find yourself in.

Override your moods

If we only did the hard work when we felt like it, we would hardly get anything done. Our moods fluctuate like the tides of the ocean. Not because we are temperamental but because the external world has a profound impact on us.

When you wake up to news that the economy is in recession, it has the potential to plant seeds of doubt in your mind. When you receive an email from a disgruntled customer complaining about your service, it has the potential to ruin your day.

The fact is that you can receive a hundred testimonials singing your praise, but you will obsess and become despondent over that one negative comment.

This means that we have to move beyond our emotions. Sure, they are important in the decision-making process and for fostering meaningful relationships. But you cannot allow them to dictate when you will do work.

In other words, work hard, irrespective of your moods, especially on the days when you don’t feel like it.

Create a calibration practice

One of the best ways to deal with this rollercoaster effect is to create a daily calibration practice. I am a big fan of any action taken on a daily basis. Not only because of the accumulation effect that occurs over time, but also because it keeps you focused.

So, what does a daily calibration practice look like?

It differs for everyone. It could range from meditation to a vision board to journaling to listening to a specific playlist of songs. My suggestion is that you give journaling a go.

Because it’s sometimes difficult to start a new calibration practice, I have included my journaling template for you.

It’s called ‘J1G’ (pronounced as jig). I use Evernote or a notebook from HumanWrites for journaling purposes.

J: Journal

For the first few minutes, simply allow your hand to run across the paper. The idea is for you to dump as many of your thoughts onto the paper as possible.

Some questions you can answer in this section are:

  • What am I currently excited about?
  • What am I currently worried about?
  • Where am I currently winning?
  • What can I learn from what happened yesterday?

1: The one thing that you want to get done today

In this time, I usually have a look at my to-do list and decide which one action I want to get done today. Write it down and then expand on why it is the most important action. How will it move you or your business forward?

Related: Better Thinking For A Better World

G: Gratitude

In the last section, you simply write down three things that you are grateful for. Trust me, this is an important daily practice, but even more so on the days when you feel as if life is beating you down.

When you focus on the things that you are grateful for, you crowd out fear and shift your state of mind to a more positive and productive one.

The punch line

If you can stick to the three ideas I outlined above, I guarantee you will develop more resilience and perseverance. You are an entrepreneur because you chose to be one. Do not allow life to impose its will on you. I have no doubt that you will be better off because of all the challenges you face. Not in spite of them.

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Self Development

Practice This Important Skill To Get Your Way Every Day

Listening is a powerful tool to deepen trust and understanding.

Julie Christopher




“Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” – Richard Branson

Did you know that an anagram for the word listen is silent? As an entrepreneur, have you ever found yourself frustrated trying to speak to someone who would not be silent and simply listen?

Whether you were immersed in a conversation with a client, at a company meeting or stuck in the negotiation of a business deal, it can be annoying when someone interrupts the flow of things, stealing away from your experience.

Related: Are You Listening Enough?

It can be especially difficult when you have an urgent need to communicate something important or accomplish an objective and you need to get your way.

However, did it also occur to you that perhaps you’d been the first to interrupt, thus neglecting to listen? Oftentimes, though largely unintentional, we force our opinions upon others, simply due to a lack of awareness.

The act of listening seems like it should be natural. However, in the business world, it’s one that needs to consciously be developed to manifest greater success. The act of listening varies from situation to situation, but it can be used as a powerful weapon to overcome adversity and ignorance.

So, ask yourself: Are you merely hearing, or are you actively listening? If your honest answer isn’t a favourable one, consider these five steps as reliable ways to not only connect on a deeper level with people through listening but to get your way as well:

1. Repeat or rephrase to demonstrate understanding

First, listen intently to what was just said. Then, either repeat or rephrase it so you know you’ve understood. Even better, your listener will know you did what mattered most – took the time to actually listen. This forces you to stop thinking about a response. Later on, if your audience makes a strong claim about what was said, you’re able to reference what you did to ensure mutual understanding.

Related: (Video) Shut Up and Listen!

Of course, when dealing with difficult individuals, there’s not much that can be done. As is the case with every rule, there’s an exception, and for this one, this is it. To avoid this kind of situation, should a critical conversation be on the horizon, consider taking notes. When it comes to listening, it’s one of the most sincere forms of flattery.

Also, be sure to pay close attention to listen to what is not being said, too. Like subtle body movements and other nonverbal cues that will alert you to critical information that will help you to get your way. Pay attention to them. They will help you to get a better feel for where a discussion is headed and how you can be more persuasive.

In his international bestseller What Every BODY Is Saying, former FBI counterintelligence officer Joe Navarro states, “Just as careful listening is crucial to understanding our verbal pronouncements, so careful observation is vital to comprehending our body language.”

bill-clinton2. Make your listener feel important

This isn’t easy, but if you can completely focus your attention and energy when listening, people will like you more. As stated above, the people you engage with want not only to be recognised but to be understood. When you don’t actively listen, it’s all but impossible for a favourable impression to be made.

Make your listener feel like they’re the only person in the room. Give them your undivided attention. Resist the urge to look around or check your phone. In today’s day and age, with so many competing distractions, this kind of focus is rare. You’ll be remembered and respected as someone who does things differently.

Former President Bill Clinton was famous for his ability to do this. No matter how long the engagement, treating people properly can curry favor for a future need. It’s no secret that people typically will help those they like, right? Needless to say, it’s much easier to get your way when you’re liked, and this is a great way to increase the likelihood of that happening.

3. Resist the urge to always be talking

In any business-related conversation, you’d prefer to be in the “driver’s seat,” right? Believe it or not, during a negotiation, the person who speaks the least tends to be perceived as the one in control. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs believe the opposite – if they’re busy talking, they’re in control.

The truth of the matter, however, is that he or she who’s loudest frequently comes off as aggressive, egotistical or even desperate.

By listening, you learn. As you learn, you gain knowledge and wisdom. As you grow wiser, you’ll gain influence and become more charismatic. If you develop your listening skills and become an exceptional listener, you’ll be amazed at how attentive people will be when you finally do speak your mind.

Related: Are You Prepared To Listen To Your Board Of Directors?

Now that you have their attention, you can share everything you’ve learned from your conversation and you’ll know exactly what to say to get your way.

4. Be present in the moment and listen to your intuition

Imagine for a brief moment that you’re in a conference room at a large networking event. The majority of your peers can’t wait to “vomit’ all over you with mind-numbing information about what they do, how they offer it and why you stand to benefit.

Sound familiar? It’s a familiar scene for relationship-driven entrepreneurs.

Yet, what’s funny about all this is that it really takes only one introduction to the right person for your business to take a quantum leap forward. So, rather than trying to meet everyone, focus on how you feel around those in attendance before introducing yourself.

Related: Why You Should Be Listening To Informal Entrepreneurs

Are you ready to learn the secret of being a great listener? Simply pause for a moment and take a deep breath.

When you breathe deeply and in a controlled manner, you’re forced to focus on the present moment. This allows you to sharpen your self-awareness as you observe your surroundings with clearer and broader vision.

In this deeper, more intuitive-driven stage of listening, you’re free to release tension and doubt, helping prepare you for difficult questions, rejections or even objections. When not placed under pressure, you’re able to listen with your entire self: the body, the mind and the heart.

Bringing consciousness to your breathing develops intuition. With intuition on your side, you’re prepared to listen and (and learn) through the lens of your highest logic. The result? Others feel content and confident. Even better, you’re in a position to truly connect, as opposed to correct. All this from taking a much-needed breath or two before talking.

robert-cialdini5. Invest in building “relationship equity.”

Have you heard of the term “relationship equity”? It’s become very popular recently. Truth be told, there’s a reason for it – every time you demonstrate the ability to listen, you deposit “relationship credit” into your audience’s account.

Then, when it’s your turn to speak, the chances of the favour being returned with deliberate listening are increased. If not, gently remind the other person of the fact that you gave her the stage to speak her mind first and you’d simply like the same respect and courtesy now.

By listening first, you’ll influence others to reciprocate and return the favour. Reciprocity is a powerful subconscious tool to creating influence according to behavioural scientist, Robert Cialdini, in his latest bestselling book, Pre-Suasion – A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. As an entrepreneur, you can use reciprocity to your advantage through listening.

People not only need to be heard, but they deserve it, too

Both inside and outside of the working world, at the core of each one of us, lies a need to be understood and accepted. Active listening is a simple method that supports emotional intelligence. It not only makes others feel special but also demonstrates your ability to focus.

With this new focus, we can now effectively shift our attitudes from those of want and neediness to those of gratitude and even compassion. Actively listening summons feelings of security and stability in others. This is important, as it is actually an evolved form of recognition.

Even in business, listening is one of the best gifts that can be given. Listening magnifies your perceived value and validates your power of authority as a leader and an expert in your field. Intentional listening unlocks greater self-awareness, which is a state of consciousness that leads to joy and fulfillment.

In this state, you have a much better chance to influence conversations and get your way by listening, as long as you have the best intentions in your heart and that it is for the highest good.

This article was originally posted here on

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