What we can learn from high performing athletes

I have been on cloud nine since Saturday night. As a long-time Toronto Raptors fan, my hometeam is headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Throughout this playoff run, I have been thinking a lot about high performing athletes, and what we can all learn from a champion’s psychology.

One moment in particular stuck out for me. Two weeks ago during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard hit a legendary game-winning shot. Sixers fans may not appreciate the video replay, but here it is. Kawhi made this shot after missing a similar one just a couple of possessions before.

In his postgame interview, Kawhi was asked by a reporter to walk through that final shot. His response: his team had run a similar play during the previous playoff series against the Orlando Magic. He remembered that moment, knew there was a little more time on the clock this time around, and was optimistic about his chances (at least optimistic for Kawhi, who is known for expressing little emotion).  

Turns out, visualization is a very powerful tool in sports psychology, used by elite athletes from LeBron James to Lindsey Vonn. It’s a way of conditioning the brain for successful outcomes by creating a mental image of what you want to happen and feel.

Without realizing it, people are programming their subconscious brain all the time with negative: they replay past mistakes or critiques and visualize all the negative scenarios that might happen. The process of visualization and guided imagery consciously controls the script running in your head…in these scenarios, you execute flawlessly, dominate the competition, reach the summit, etc.

In short, you’re programming your subconscious for success.

How can we apply visualization in the tech world?  

When I see Kawhi hit clutch shots and read stories about LeBron watching a highlight reel of himself making threes every night, I can’t help but wonder what we in the tech world can take away from these athletes. We pour so much of our self worth into work and focus on what we want to become. But too often, we don’t pause to reflect on how far we have come. How often do you hear about someone suffering from burnout, imposter syndrome or some other non-productive and harmful metal state?

Entrepreneurs are famous for their drive and hunger. These are great qualities, but not when the focus is always on your shortcomings. Reflecting on our journey and successes can be the best fuel to perform even better.

To this end, I’ve been thinking about the tech world’s equivalent of guided visualization. Recently, my father suggested that I write down my achievements, big or small, every quarter. This list can be a good reminder of one’s track record of tenacity and hard work. You can do this as an individual, as a team, as a company.

Another great recommendation comes from one of V1’s CEOs: when you are journaling, take a moment to flag the positives. Then go back to these excerpts from time to time.

Each individual achievement, like every shot that Kawhi has made until his game-winner, might not stand out on their own, but they can give us (and him) the confidence to reach for the next milestone when it matters.

What do you do to prepare yourself mentally to perform even better than you already do? I would love to learn what other suggestions our readers have.

P.S. Go Raptors!

P.P.S. If you haven’t caught this story on what makes Toronto and Canada special, I recommend learning about Raptors super-fan Nav Bhatia.

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