Michelle Singletary

Michelle Singletary is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post. Her column, "The Color of Money" is an award-winning column, which is now carried in more than 100 newspapers.

She...

The Battle Cry That Helps You Win

The following was originally posted on Ruben Gonzalez's blog:

The thought processes that help you get to the Olympics are the same thought processes that will help you succeed in business and in life.

Successful people in all walks of life think big, focus on the possibilities, and take consistent bold action towards their objectives.

When I decided to come out of a six year break to try to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at the age of 47, most people I talked to were sharply divided into two camps.

Some of the people tried to talk me out of it. These people said I had nothing to gain by making another Olympic team and that if I didn’t make it would not look good - not for a professional speaker in the business of inspiring others to achieve more. The International Luge Federation said I was too old and that I had been away from the sport too long. They were afraid I would get hurt.

On the other end of the spectrum was a group of people that believed all I needed to do was to have a positive mental attitude and everything would just work out. I laughed, because PMA by itself will not do anything for you. You’ll always have better results with a positive attitude than with a bad attitude, but PMA does not guarantee you’ll win. PMA will keep you going when the going gets tough, but it does not guarantee you’ll win.

When I told the PMA crowd that I thought my chances were 50/50, their jaws dropped and you could see their whole body slump with disappointment. I told them that if it was a sure thing, going for the Olympics would not be an adventure. I was after the adventure. I was after the challenge.

Last year I started training and raced in three World Cup races but my times were simply not competitive. Many people said I should give it up. I thought it would be crazy to quit. Quitting was simply not an option for me. I was too emotionally invested to quit. I figured that even if I didn’t make it, the things I would learn about myself would make the struggle worthwhile.

I believe that in life you have to keep risking failure otherwise you atrophy. You have to always put yourself out on the line. You have to push your limits. You have to live life to the fullest. That’s why I ran with the bulls (and will continue running with the bulls) in Pamplona, Spain. That’s why I went skydiving in South Africa. That’s why I’m climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I do those things because those experiences help me learn more about myself. They also give me insights into what makes successful people win in life. Risking failure makes you dig deep inside and find out what you’re really made of.

Then when life hits you with a storm, you know that you have what it takes to weather it.

When my luge times were not competitive last year, I didn’t panic. My first strategy was to do everything I could to position myself so that if some of the top guys screwed up, I would somehow qualify (when I sold copiers I tried to be #2 with as many prospects as possible so that if their #1 copier guy screwed up, I would be the guy they would call).

Earlier this year I realized that unless I did something different I would keep getting the same results. So I had to do something different.

I had a couple of bad habits that were hurting my sliding times. The proper luge position is shoulders back, head down and feet pointed. Head down and feet pointed help you aerodynamically. Shoulders down help keep the sled stable and help you with steering. But it’s hard to keep your shoulders and head down when you get into trouble in the track. As soon as you run into trouble, the knee-jerk reaction is to lift your head to see better. And as soon as you do that, your shoulders rise and you lose all stability. It’s like if you were driving a car on the freeway, someone cut in front of you and your reaction was to take your hands off the steering wheel. It just doesn’t make sense.

I had wrestled with this problem for 25 years. All my luge coaches told me I needed to relax and put my shoulders back but they didn’t tell me HOW to relax.

Knowing that I needed to do something to improve my times or else, I decided to call my good friend Don Akers. Don is an expert in Neuro Linguistic Programming, NLP, how to condition your mind through the words you say to yourself.

Don spent a couple of hours with me. At one point he asked me what went through my mind when I got to a difficult section of the track. I told him that I always thought to myself, “Here it comes.” Don got excited and said, “Here it comes?” That’s it! You’re being reactive. By saying ‘Here it comes.’ You’re mentally putting yourself at the mercy of the track. ‘Here it comes.’ Is making you defensive and you will never be at your best if you are in a defensive state of mind.

You need to say to yourself, “HERE I COME!” “Here I Come” will make you proactive. It will help you attack the track and feel more in control. “Here I Come” will shift your thinking from victim mentality to victor mentality.

It made perfect sense. I actually wrote “Here I Come!” on top of my sled where I could see it before all my luge runs. And it’s working. Slowly but surely, “Here I Come” is helping me feel more relaxed and in control on the sled. My position is getting better and so are my times. The sport of luge is starting to be fun because I feel in control. I’m no longer thinking “I hope I make it down…” Now I’m thinking, “I’m going to nail this run.” And all of this started by simply changing what I said to myself.

By not quitting when there seemed to be a very small chance of making it to the Olympics, by getting advice from an expert, and by doing things I had never done before I am getting better results and my chances of making it are starting to look very good.

How about you? What do you do when you’re in a slump? What do you do when you get discouraged? Do you throw in the towel?

Sometimes it’s OK to cut your losses and quit. Sometimes it’s smart to quit. But don’t quit right away. Think. Who’s the top performing person you know that could possibly help you get through your minefield? Call them, meet with them and take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

They may be able to come up with a game plan that will take you to the next level and let you shine.

By the way, Don Akers does not just help athletes. He also helps good salespeople become great salespeople by changing what they say to themselves.

Ruben Gonzalez is a three-time Olympian, a bestselling business author and renowned business consultant. For information on how to bring him to your next event, visit PremiereSpeakers.com/Ruben_Gonzalez.

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