An athlete steps up to the starting blocks in the Olympic stadium. He (or she) stands tall, takes a few deep breaths and shakes out his muscles. Thousands of people cheer while he is introduced, but his eyes never waver from the course he's about to run. When the starting gun fires, he explodes into high-performance action.
How can we apply this scenario to a business situation? The same techniques athletes use to perform under pressure allow business leaders to excel in the professional sphere. Here are five top practices that will improve both your health and performance in the workplace.
1. Adopt a power pose.
Before a competition, athletes often stand tall with their shoulders back and head up. Adopting certain postures improves performance by changing the levels of hormones in your body. Recent research by Dr. Amy Cuddy from the Harvard Business School has shown that adopting a “power pose” increases levels of testosterone, a repair and regeneration hormone, and lowers cortisol, a stress hormone.
2. Practice relaxation breathing.
Stress and tension undermine performance and contribute to the development of chronic, stress-related illnesses. Taking a few deep, relaxing breaths and exhaling slowly can dramatically change your psychological state and boost performance. So, pause and take a few deep, relaxing breaths to regain control of your own body and mind.
In sports, staying focused is critical for success. The science of physiology tells us that humans simply can’t focus on multiple things at the same time. We live in an age of distraction, where we're bombarded by emails, social media and text messages all day long. To perform at your best, then, it is critical to find time each day to focus exclusively on only the most important projects and tasks. Aim for at least one hour of such activity each day.
Athletes know how fundamental water is to their performance. A dehydrated body and brain are sluggish both on the track and in the office. Caffeine is fine in moderation -- one or two cups of coffee per day, ideally 30 minutes before a mental-energy boost is required. Other than that, go with water all the way to maintain focus and stamina. And drink plenty of it.
5. Be "1 percent better."
An athlete who delivers an incredible performance in the playoffs is showing the result of thousands of hours of practice. We can do the same thing with our food, sleep, exercise, thinking and work. Strive to be 1 percent better each day. A 1 percent change might not seem like much, but those small daily improvements amplify your life. It’s like earning compound interest for your body and mind.
We can all learn from elite performers in any discipline, even those in areas quite different from our own. Do you have any techniques that you use to perform at your absolute best? Let me know in the comments below.