At the U.S. Olympic trials on Saturday, July 2, Michael Phelps captured victories in both the butterfly races and the 200 individual medley. Phelps likely won in part due to his outstanding psychological approach, which is evident when he talks about his past successes. Even if you're not a world-class swimmer like Phelps, staying cool, calm, and collected while your competitors try to knock you down can result in a big payoff.

"I know it won't be eight medals again. If you want to compare me to that, that's your decision, not mine. I'm going out there to try to accomplish the things that I have in my mind and in my heart." --Michael Phelps

Phelps does not compare himself to anybody else to set his standards. He doesn't even look backward to what he's done in the past. Instead, he forms new, clear goals that take into account current circumstances. This lack of comparison has benefits: The bulk of the pressure Phelps feels is self-imposed, and his sense of worth stays high. He can control his stress level and focus. In business, the lack of comparison translates to:

  • Letting go of previous accomplishments to take your business in a different direction.
  • Defining success based on the specific events that happen or resources you have each quarter.
  • Looking inside yourself, rather than to others, for a purpose behind your work, thereby reducing the odds of burnout.

"Swimming is normal for me. I'm relaxed. I'm comfortable, and I know my surroundings. It's my home."

Phelps wasn't born wearing swimming trunks and goggles. Putting them on and hitting the water feels good to him now, though, because it's an activity he's experienced hundreds of times before. His words testify to the strong psychological truth that people tend to seek out and feel best with what is familiar. In the corporate environment, that means:

  • Change or inexperience can shake you up, but the more you engage in an activity for your business, the less stressful it likely will become.
  • You shouldn't give up just because you initially fail at something new.

"Things won't go perfect. It's all about how you adapt from those things and learn from mistakes."

Phelps has collected 22 Olympic medals overall, but only 18 of them are gold. By letting down the protective shield of perfectionism, he keeps himself in a healthier place, where the journey toward the finish is just as valuable as the finish itself. His emphasis on excellence says to business leaders that:

  • Every "failure" is an opportunity to do analysis that could result in positive shifts in processes, resources, or products.
  • Moving forward often means that logic has to outweigh what you feel.
  • You cannot protect yourself from everything, so have resources in place that will help you recover.

Phelps's success testifies to the power of a positive psychological mindset. Tap his mental energy, and you just might go further in your business than you've ever anticipated.

Published on: Jul 7, 2016
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