3 Mental Secrets to Performing Like an Olympian [Podcast + Transcript]

On The 1-3-20 Podcast, our host Daniel Pink chooses one business book that really impressed him, asks its author three key questions, and delivers you valuable insights in twenty minutes or less.

In the very first episode, he interviewed author of "Psyched Up: How The Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed" by Daniel McGinn.

Podcast Transcript:

1) “What’s the big idea?”

Most professional athletes and Olympians go through rituals before they perform. To get in the zone and perform at their best level, they need to prepare themselves emotionally and psychologically.

The big idea in the book? You don’t need to be a pro athlete to increase your performance both personally and professionally with rituals.

Studies show when you use an object that has previously been used by a famous or high-performing person, you’re more successful.

The item doesn’t have any innate effects, but using it boosts your confidence. As a result, the task or activity seems easier.

Before writing "Psyched Up," I sent a computer keyboard to Malcolm Gladwell and asked him to use it as his primary work keyboard for three months. After he sent it back, I used it to write my book.

2) “Why should we care?”

Let’s say you’re in the waiting room for an interview with three other candidates. Those three people have used their performance rituals, and you have not. They have an immediate competitive advantage over you for that interview.

Rituals can help you tune your emotions and get you into a high-achievement mindset.

This practice spans disciplines and industries. At the Juilliard School, students take a semester-long course that teaches them what to do before an audition to reduce anxiety. Something as simple and easy as a 10-second breathing exercise can dramatically improve your sense of calm. Everyone should use this life hack.

  • Music can prepare us: Next time you’re at a game, watch the athletes as they come off the bus into the stadium. Chances are, they’re listening to their special playlist of songs that motivate them. More than 100 studies show people who listen to pump-up music perform better.
  • Pep talks are scientific: Pep talks are a great way to get other people motivated. Research reveals what makes a good pep talk: The right mix of direction, strategic advice, and emotion-backed motivation. The optimal balance depends on your audience. When talking to a group of veteran Navy Seals about to go out into the field, you’d want to focus on strategy over emotion. Twenty-something cadets, on the other hand, would require a speech that calms their nerves and gives them a sense of purpose.
  • Rivalry works: Some people thrive off of competition. If you’re one of them, find an opponent (or challenge yourself to improve on your past records). It’s proven that cycling when someone is in the lane next to you makes you work harder and cycle more quickly. 

3) “What should we do?”

I recommend looking at the range of techniques I talk about in the book and picking the ones that work for you. Calibrate the right mix of techniques and come up with a plan for what you’re going to do before you make that important sales call, pitch your boss an idea, or ask for a promotion.

For example, I know a salesperson who was elected king of prom. Before he made important sales calls, he put his prom king crown on to remind him how well he can connect with people.

Want even more? Listen to the episode to hear my perfect recipe for getting psyched up.

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