What does a professional athlete have in common with an executive? More than you think when it comes to strategies and mindset. Professional athletes have to have incredible focus. It’s all about the competition and no matter what physical strength is involved, winning the game starts and ends with the mindset. Jon Stellwagen, a USA-certified triathlon coach says, “Focus on the smallest goal. Push to your limits. If it's my mind telling me to stop, I can keep going. But if it's my body,… then stop. You have to mentally stay in the game."
Prepare. Ready for the big game? An athlete prepares for months, even years, with a rigorous training schedule, healthy eating, keeping focused on the end result – the win. Before you hit the streets looking for your next big career move, consider what you need to do to prepare. Update your written materials such as resume, bio, LinkedIn profile, Leadership Addendum, Visual CV, etc. Are you confident in your interviewing skills, elevator speech (sound bites), salary negotiations? Perhaps you need to put your “play book” together and create a career action plan.
Motivation. Every athlete uses motivation in some form, whether it is the drive to reach new personal goals, or the “I’ll show you” method. Sports can teach you ways to overcome adversity. It’s easy to get sidetracked with the winning and losing aspects of the game and not staying in a positive frame of mind. What spurs you on to complete a challenge? You could create your own team to keep you motivated - a professional network of people / mentors to include a trusted peer, personal brand strategist, career coach, and resume writer. Figure out what and who that may be for you, and apply that to your job search.
Use self-talk. While an athlete is constantly being told by team members and coaches “You can do it! You can do it!”, at some point the athlete needs to believe it in order to achieve it. Joe Namath likes to say, “If you say you can't, you won't. We all have bad days. But there's always tomorrow." Sometimes that occurs through self-talk. For the executive in transition, replace negative thoughts with positive ones to shift your energy and belief that, yes, you can find the perfect next position. You can ace that interview!
Visualize. How many athletes do you think picture themselves making that touchdown in the end zone or running across the finish line? Stephen Covey said it in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” Once you have visualized yourself accepting an offer to the new job, you are almost half way to attaining it.
Celebrate small wins. Every athlete knows there are many levels to achieving one’s goals. For example: if striving to lift 300 lbs. of weights, start at a manageable weight and work up to the goal of 300 lbs., celebrating the small milestones along the way. This builds strength the athlete needs to maneuver an opponent off the wrestling mat and creates a winning mindset as well. Navigating through job search is challenging even in the best of circumstances. However, a job seeker can celebrate even the smallest of wins – getting an introduction to a decision maker – making it to that second interview – whatever that win might be for you. Consider each incremental win as a step closer to the goal.
Don’t take it personally. We don’t need to bring the athletes in on this point, we see and hear how this plays out during most games or athletic events. Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements discusses how people take words and actions of others personally when it is not theirs to take. Executives don’t always dissect all the elements of a conversation or interaction with another. So, they may make an incorrect assumption. Ask questions to avoid misunderstandings and express what you feel is important.
Don’t give up. Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right. Professional athletes, Olympic competitors and even kids involved in local sports leagues often come within seconds of defeat, only to somehow find the inspiration, discipline and singular focus on the goal to win. When you feel discouraged put your focus back into perspective, even if it is on a small goal. Remember what motivates you about this career change, give yourself a pep talk, visualize reaching your goal, and celebrate the wins along the way.