Ready, Set, Goal: Win-It Strategies from Top Athletes
Strategies for Success
When I was in my thirties and playing the dating game, I often thought about benching myself; the cycle of buildup and disappointment was wearing me out. One night, though, at practice with my local women's ice hockey team, we worked, again and again, on our wrist shots, because our coach said we'd been overthinking them. Doing reps would train us just to let the puck fly. Indeed, the more shots I took, the less I hesitated and the more natural they felt.
As I whacked the puck against the boards, I thought, "If only scoring the right guy were so easy." Then it hit me: This drill could apply to dating. I just needed to stay at it -- repeat, repeat, repeat. No matter how monotonous or frustrating, putting myself out there would keep my flirting skills sharp and me in the zone. Several weeks later a friend invited me to a cocktail party. My inner coach said, "Don't think. Just go and get another rep in." And, yep, that was the night I met my husband. Goal!
Relationships are only one arena in which the same skills you use in sports can bring success. What works on the court, track, or field can help in other areas, personal or professional, that require toughness, diligence, and grace under pressure, says Rebecca Bode, PhD, a sports psychologist in Novelty, Ohio. Take your life to the next level with these playbook secrets.Strategize
No athlete goes into practice, let alone competition, without a plan. A marathoner doesn't simply tell herself to run faster. She sets a goal of, say, running eight-minute miles and plots out a training schedule to run at that pace, first for a 10K, then a half-marathon, and finally the full 26.2 miles. "Breaking down a large goal into smaller, doable steps is the key to an athlete's success," says JoAnn Dahlkoetter, PhD, a sports psychologist and author of Your Performing Edge. "It helps you focus, mark your progress, and stay motivated."
Life lesson: Whether you're aiming for a promotion or to buy a house, a detailed to-do list with regular deadlines will help get you there. For example, if your dream is to own a home, set a one-year time frame to find one, says Gene Keyser, an associate real estate broker with the Corcoran Group in New York City. Within that year, schedule one week to apply for mortgage prequalification (this will help you know your budget), then take the next week to create separate lists of must-haves (for example, two bathrooms) and would-likes (a fireplace). After that, plan to visit at least three houses every weekend until you find the one you love. "Make your first steps so easy that you can't fail," says Steven J. Danish, PhD, professor of psychology, preventive medicine, and community health at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. "This will give you the momentum and sense of achievement you need to keep going."Picture Victory
For many top athletes, "visualization is the key to getting your head into the game," Bode says. A diver, for example, rehearses in her mind -- both at the pool and away from it -- every moment of her dive, from her toes leaving the board to her body slicing into the water. "Mentally going through the motions accustoms our body and mind to how something is done," Bode explains.
Life lesson: Think of a habit you'd like to change: Do you procrastinate? Are you a chronic oversleeper? Find a comfy spot where you can sit for five minutes every day. Next, imagine the action -- waking up at 6 a.m. -- in detail. Hear the alarm go off, see yourself throwing aside the covers, feel the floor under your feet. "The more senses involved, the more the image will be etched in your brain," says Bode.Breathe Through It
Athletes control their breathing to center themselves and fend off nerves, anger, or other distractions that can undermine their game. That's what basketball players do before a free throw and golfers before a critical putt. "When you consciously inhale and exhale slowly, your focus automatically turns inward and your mind and body relax," explains Jack J. Lesyk, PhD, director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology, in Beachwood.
Life lesson: You can use this technique to stay calm during a heated debate at work or before giving a toast at your friend's wedding. With your eyes closed, breathe in through your nose for a count of five, hold for a count of two and exhale through your mouth for a count of seven. Pause for two seconds, then repeat until you feel serene. To get to the point at which just one or two breaths are enough, practice for one minute five times a day and for five minutes once a day. "The former teaches you how to withdraw from your environment, center yourself, and return with clarity," Lesyk explains. "The latter teaches the right tempo. If you're breathing too fast or too slow, those five minutes will seem long. When you get it just right, they pass quickly."
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