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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

9 Reliable Ways To Cultivate Creative Thinking

Some people are naturally creative. Everyone else can cultivate creativity.

John Rampton

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The benefits of creative thinking are enumerable. Having this skillset will enable you to tackle problems with unique perspectives, come up with special ideas and, overall, be a more effective performer.

One challenge to becoming more creative is the difficulty of quantifying creativity. It is much easier to learn and subsequently demonstrate skills in software engineering, for example. That being said, companies and people are drawn toward creative thinkers. The more that those around you listen to your opinion and the more frequently you propose unique ideas, the higher an indication of these skills. Therefore, over time, you can gauge progress based on how others respond to you and your work.

The other challenge, though, is that sometimes others will not recognise your creativity. They might shoot down an awesome idea because it sounds crazy unconventional. Understanding this and learning to navigate it will keep your confidence levels high so that you can continue to grow.

With these perspectives in mind around quantifying creativity, here are nine guaranteed ways that you can become a more creative thinker to better tackle your life and problems:

1. Read

People have chronicled years of their work or life experiences into books. Knowing more and having different perspectives will help you become more creative. You will be able to take others’ ideas, pieces of knowledge and individual experiences and apply them to your present situations. Reading is one of the best ways to pick up this knowledge and empathy.

It is easy to make excuses for not having enough time to read but if you make reading a priority, you will be able to find the time and undoubtedly become more creative.

Related: Creative Thinking 101

2. Pick up an art

creative-art-hobbyHaving some sort of artistic outlet in your life will dramatically help with creativity levels. Albert Einstein came up with many of his famous revelations while playing the violin.

In the book Originals, Adam Grant – a researcher and professor at Wharton – found that “Nobel Prize-winners are twice as likely to play a musical instrument, they’re seven times as likely to draw or paint, 12 times as likely to write fiction or poetry, and… 22 times as likely as their peers to perform as actors, dancers, or, yes, magicians.”

Whether it be an instrument, drawing, acting or anything else, finding an artistic outlet will fire different parts of your brain. Those spark serenity and a stillness that will make you a more creative person.

3. Surround yourself with a wider range of personalities

Empathy is a huge key to creativity. Most people surround themselves with others who are similar to them. While doing so is comfortable, it is not beneficial when working toward creativity.

There are others within your vicinity who have lived dramatically different lives. Meeting them, understanding their backgrounds and learning how they think will widen your perspective about the world. That will, in turn, increase the creative vigor you can take through life.

4. Spend more time in nature

nature-walkBeing outdoors also sparks creativity. Escaping from the stresses and routine of life, even for brief periods, can get your head out of a rut. Finding short times to be outside throughout your week will give you a chance to get away from all of the technology and noise in our daily lives. Plus, it is an excuse to go have fun and explore.

Related: Shift To Strategic Thinking Free Of Limits

5. Meditate

Mental stillness allows you to eliminate many of the thoughts that constantly ruminate in your head. When you are always thinking about a past or future event, for instance, it takes your mind away from tackling the current situation. Meditation is a great way to develop this stillness.

With a meditation practice you can learn to let your mind be entirely in the present situation. Doing so will allow you to exert more concentrated effort on the tasks at hand. You can pull in more knowledge from different parts of your brain. Consequently, you will be more creative in each moment.

6. Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can kill creativity. Although we feel the urge to always be on the move, when we are tired, we are not able to use as much of our brain. Plus, exhaustion makes it harder to retain information upon learning it. Therefore, with less sleep, we learn less that we can apply to situations and we cannot perform as effectively on any given task. Making sleep a priority will help your creativity, without a doubt.

7. Exercise

exerciseFeeling healthy is a great way to have more confidence throughout our days. This confidence often leads to less worrying and more mental energy being exerted at the task at hand. Plus, while actually working out, people tend to be hyper-present. This might trigger an idea or a thought you had not considered before.

8. Do more of what you love

There is a correlation between happiness and creativity. The better that our spirits are, the higher functioning we act on a daily basis. Subsequently, a great way to increase happiness levels is to do what you love. This could be hobbies, spending time with loved ones or anything else.

Additionally, when doing what we love, we tend to be in a very present state. Some have called this state ‘flow.’ As mentioned above, being in a present state pays large dividends toward creativity. Not to mention that doing what you love might spark additional ideas and help you find new interests where you can be creative.

Related: 7 Creative Strategies For Marketing Your Start-up On A Tight Budget

9. Take more risks

Taking risks will boost creativity by giving you a larger set of life events. When you have experienced more things, you will be able to apply those memories and lessons to each new situation that you are in. While you can do more in life without taking risks, fear is often an inhibitor toward trying something new. Therefore, be open to taking more chances. By going out of your comfort zone and doing what others might be unwilling to do, you will develop a deeper breadth of memories and past experiences that you can apply to new problems.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Self Development

3 Wonderfully Uncommon Reasons To Form Better Habits

As we race away into 2018, consider these very personal and fundamental bonuses to making and sticking to your resolutions.

Entrepreneur

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Eat healthier. Exercise more. Be more productive. Read faster. Be friendlier. Sleep better.

Welcome to the New Year, a time when people set resolutions to form better habits and lead better lives.

Understandably, a lot of the articles, videos and other resources about starting off the New Year focus on which habits are best and the steps you need to take to achieve them. They outline the goals, plans and actions we need to make our resolutions a reality.

If you’re looking for 10 tips on how to lose 100 pounds in 90 days, then this article isn’t for you. Instead, why not consider some of the underlying and lesser-talked about benefits of kicking bad habits and forming better ones this year.

1. Challenging your norms

Why is it that you sneak sweets and junk food so often? How come you’re always so tired in the morning? Why can’t you get your butt to the gym?

Related: 7 Motivational Habits That Drive Millionaires

If your answer for poor habits is “That’s just the way I am/the way things are” then you’re probably underestimating yourself. Stop. Think about your actions and why you’ve taken them perpetually over time. You might learn a lot.

Take personal finance advisor and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi for example. When he stopped to analyse himself and why he wasn’t going to the gym, he realised something simple that he’d never considered previously: His closet was in a different room, separate from his bedroom. Instead of getting up in the cold to put on clothes, it was easier to just stay in bed.

“Once I realised this, I folded my clothes and shoes the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I would roll over and see my gym clothes sitting on the floor. The result? My gym attendance soared by over 300%.”

Forming a new habit is your chance to examine your life — or at least one important aspect of it — and figure out why you’ve been making the decisions that lead to the habits you want or need to change.

2. Taking control

We don’t have to be the sum of randomised actions and results, based simply on moral and civil codes. It’s up to each one of us individually to take control of our actions and maximise the results.

It’s the same in business. There’s nothing you do without careful research and consideration in order to maximise productivity, profits, etc.

You’re your own boss. You control your thoughts and actions; these things aren’t up to chance. Having the ability to make significant changes to your life is empowering, so long as you seize the opportunity.

Take control. Be the entrepreneur of yourself, 100 percent.

Related: 7 Bad Workplace Habits Millennials Need To Stop Making

3. Achieving clearer self-awareness

Some people say it takes only 21 days to form a new habit. Others say that just isn’t true. However long it takes, habit formation is a personal journey; one that requires desire, motivation, dedication, perseverance and change.

Habit formation takes you out of your comfort zone, to a place of self-discovery. If you’re getting into shape, how far can you push yourself physically? If you’re trying to eat better, how much temptation can you withstand?

Figure out what was required to succeed or why it was that you failed. Either way, you can obtain a clearer sense of your personal limits and, hopefully, how to achieve your goals — and sustain them — within your constraints.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” Not only to the world, but to yourself as well.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Self Development

How To Build A Disruptive Attitude

What does it mean to navigate a disruptive world and succeed in a market – place that is changing faster than it’s ever changed before?

Nadine Todd

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What do you need to know to be a success? What resources and support do you need? How do you need to feel and think to be a success in a disrupted world?

According to Malcolm Gladwell, who spoke at the 2017 BCX Disrupt Summit, you need three key things to succeed in a disrupted world: Resources, knowledge and the right attitude.

The First step towards innovation and disruption is your mind. Your attitude.

For Gladwell, Malcolm McLean is the single biggest disruptor of the 20th century, in that he implemented containerised shipping. Without this fundamental shift in the way we ship cargo, the modern, connected world as we know it today would not exist.

Crucially, McLean did not invent containerised shipping, but no one had been able to make it work before a trucker from Ohio came along, and got irritated by how long he had to wait at the docks to offload his cargo (roughly 24 hours).

Related: How to Build Your Network Like a Super Connector

But McLean had an idea and he presented it at a conference of maritime shippers in Amsterdam. They laughed him off the stage. Normally, when we are treated with this type of derision, we get discouraged and give up. McLean didn’t do that. He possessed a fundamental trait that all entrepreneurs need: He didn’t require the approval of others to do what he believed was right. Entrepreneurs are open, creative, and see solutions to problems that others don’t; they are also — crucially — highly conscientious, which means they follow through on an idea in a detailed, disciplined way.

This is rare. You get creative people, and conscientious people, but it’s not easy to find both traits in the same person. Add to that the third trait of disagreeableness, in that they do not have to follow established norms, and you have a real game-changer.

McLean didn’t look at the problem as a shipper did. He came from an entirely new angle, and not only found a way to make containerised shipping possible, but affordable too.

Ikea is a similar example. In a nutshell, Ikea is furniture shipped flat from Poland. Ingvar Kamprad pursued outsourcing on an aggressive level, had an extraordinary amount of creativity in solving problems, and was very conscientious. Consider how difficult it would have been to build a world-class manufacturing plant in Poland in 1961. The country was a post-WW2 mess, in the grip of Soviet Russia, known for shoddy workmanship and actively hostile to free enterprise.

And then Kamprad waltzed in from Sweden and pulled off the impossible because of his single-minded grit and attention to detail. He is the epitome of conscientiousness and obsessiveness.

Now consider Steve Jobs.

By the 1970s, Xerox was the most important tech company in the world. They were the richest, most innovative and profitable company, and they invested in a state-of-the-art R&D centre and filled it with 100 of the most brilliant computer scientists from around the world, and told them to be brilliant.

And they were. As per Xerox’s request, they reinvented the office. They invented the laser printer, the world’s first word processing programme, interfaces — and the list continues.

And then a 23-year-old Steve Jobs visited the centre. At that stage, his company was making traditional kit computers out of a garage. He was blown away by what he saw at Xerox Park and all the incredible things they were doing — particularly when he was shown the mouse and interface the Xerox team had developed for personal computers. He immediately saw how icons and a mouse changed everything. This was the future of computing.

Related: 10 Innovators On What They Learned From Steve Jobs

Leading the charge

Here’s why Apple is the world’s biggest tech company four decades later, and Xerox is not: While the Xerox team understood they had changed computing forever, there was no urgency to be the first to market.

Jobs left that day, immediately told his team to stop what they were doing, because it would soon be obsolete anyway, and started working on a new product based on what Xerox had developed.

His team told him he was nuts — they’d spent millions on what they were doing. Jobs said it didn’t matter. It was obsolete. He didn’t have more resources. He didn’t have smarter guys. He didn’t even have a wiser and better vision.

But he was in a hurry. And he was able to execute on his vision.

If you can get your mindset right, you can gather the resources and knowledge that you need to be successful. Learn as much as you can. Be open to new ideas. And if something is soon going to be obsolete, walk away. Find the next big thing. Because you’re either being disrupted, or you’re the disruptor. Which would you like to be?

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