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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Positive Leadership: Olympian Thinking

What—and how—you think determines your ability to reach your personal potential and the untapped potential of your organisation. 

Marilyn King is a two-time Olympian in the grueling five-event Pentathlon (Munich, 1972 & Montreal, 1976). An automobile accident in 1979 rendered her unable to train physically for her third Olympic Team. Using only mental training techniques she placed second at the US Olympic trials for the 1980 Moscow Games. 


Positive Leadership: Lessons from an Olympic Athlete

Marilyn King was an American Pentathlete who competed at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Whilst she was preparing for the Moscow Olympics of 1980 she injured her back which put her in bed for four months. Marilyn was absolutely focused on being ready and prepared for the Olympics, despite the adversity of the back injury. So, she took the situation in which she found herself and instead of accepting it with a 'poor me' victim mentality, turned this around and looked for the opportunity in the adversity.

The Power of Visualization

Marilyn spent her bedridden time watching films of World Champion pentathletes, visualizing and feeling herself going through her event, using the technique we call mental rehearsal to run through her performance, over and over again. Although in 1970's they didn't have access to the type of advanced brain scanning technology that is available today, if we could have seen what was happening inside Marilyn’s head, we would have seen her literally exercising the parts of the brain responsible for her performance. She was keeping the neural wiring fresh and connected around her performance, using the images and feelings of excellence.

Although her preparation had been hampered by injury, (she had no opportunity to have a proper physical run through, all she had managed to do, was to walk the course, visualizing herself performing optimally) she placed second at the Olympic trial with no physical preparation.

Through visualizing, Marilyn used the pictures and feelings of performance to literally wire her performance into her brain. Installed in her subconscious mind it ran on automatic pilot, without her having to consciously think about it. (Recent research has shown that mental rehearsal and visualization actually cause physical changes in the brain.) 

From this experience, Marilyn became convinced as to the power of using the mind to enhance and control performance. She began to research visualization and mental rehearsal and found that it impacts every cell in the body. In her research she would bring together other Olympians to discuss what they thought were common to them, as Olympic achievers.

Marilyn herself didn't believe that she was exceptionally talented physically - above average was her description - so what was the difference?

The Olympic athletes identified four main areas: Mental, Physical, Emotional or (Spirit) and Other. (For many sports the 'Other' is strategy and tactics.)

The 'Mental' section was by far the biggest for the athletes. Her research showed that mental rehearsal and visualization did not in themselves bring about exceptional achievement. To achieve this result, she believes they need to be aligned with Vision, Passion and Action.

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize. Marilyn's research with other Olympians identified this, you need a Crystal Clear Goal .... Kept uppermost in your mind. Trust.... that the brain will go to work and the steps to achieve your goal will appear. Passion..... Tap into your passion for your sport; keep coming back to your passion to recharge your focus, regardless of adversity. Know what you want and stay determined to get it. Repetition is the Mother of Learning. 

Physical was the smallest list for the athletes. What did stand out though was the physical act of doing something every day to actualise their goal.

Support was essential... whether it was from parents or from significant others. To surround yourself with people who would support and believe in you whilst you focused on your goal.

Passion is the energy source that drives the goal. Our passion is connected to our values. We all have the capacity to decide what is important to us and focus on it.

Aligning our Mind, Body and Spirit allows us to perform optimally on a regular basis.