Jonathan Whaley, Manager at Michael Page Marketing, discusses how the motivational techniques used by ultra-endurance athletes can be turned to the world of work and help you to achieve professional goals.
As a keen runner and cyclist I am always preparing for an event of some sort and therefore in constant need of mental inspiration. With the London Marathon looming ever larger, I have found solace in reading about individuals who are fitter, faster, more extreme and generally crazier than me to see how they stay motivated to train on those cold dark winter nights.
I recently read a book by ultra-running legend Travis Macy who has won more events than I could possibly list here. This guy can run 100 miles in under 15 hours, traverse mountains like a flight of stairs at home and stay awake for over five days whilst navigating forests, white waters and trails in the toughest adventure races on the planet. He does all of this while raising a family and running his own business. In his book ‘The Ultra Mindset’ he focuses on eight key principles which promote success in endurance sports.
While reading the book it occurred to me that the way top athletes manage their mental state can be very easily applied to the working world. It’s all about how you prepare and then deliver to the best of your ability. Here are Macy’s eight key principles and my thoughts on how you can adapt them to your working day.
1. It’s all good mental training – Macy’s first principle is that no matter how much it hurts, repeat to yourself ‘”it’s all good mental training.” Whether it’s mile 15 of a 20 mile run, the 99th length of the pool or the steep top section of a cycle climb, repeating those words gives you the energy to plough on. Once you have finished the sense of accomplishment leaves you feeling invincible. 
View challenges as a positive thing and an opportunity to test yourself. If a task or conversation seems tough and you feel the urge to avoid it DON’T. Remember, “It’s all good mental training.”
2. Be a wannabe – Second is to not be afraid to idolise sports stars. How are they so good at what they do? They should be held up as an inspiration.
Pick an individual(s) at work who you admire. This might be for their attitude, success, organisational skills or whatever. Work out how they do it and emulate them. Ask them if you want, they will always be open to sharing.
3. Find your carrot – It’s 6am, freezing cold and raining; why leave your warm bed to go for a run? What is the long term goal? Is it a specific time in an event, a mountain you want to climb or an amount of money you are raising for charity? Focus on that and it will be a lot easier to swing those legs out of bed in the morning.
Think about what is important to you at work. Is it a promotion, more money, pleasing your client? There are so many carrots; find yours and focus on the long term. This will truly help with motivation.
4. Have an ego, until it’s time to be humble – there is nothing wrong with self-confidence and truly believing you can achieve something; it can only help when you face those tough moments. However do not be afraid to ask for help and the advice of others. They can help you to achieve and even surpass your goals.
Be confident in who you are and why you are employed by your organisation. However, if times do get tough, do not be afraid to ask for help. You are all in it together
5. Think about your thinking – The ‘what and why’ – are you focusing on the right thoughts? If you are running the 10km section  of your first triathlon with the pain and fatigue setting in do you focus on the ‘what’ (the pain) or the ‘why’ (your reason for being there)? If you focus on the ‘what’ you will certainly fail, if you focus on the ‘why’ then you will certainly succeed.
Are you focusing on the right thoughts at work? For instance, I have a really boring spreadsheet to fill out every week about prospective clients. When I focus on the ‘what’ I will never get it done and be tempted to put it off. If I focus on the ‘why’ and understand that it will make my life easier in the long run then it becomes a fulfilling task.
6. When you have no choice, anything is possible – Just get on with it! You made a commitment so stick to you training plan and get it done. Don’t procrastinate or make excuses, take responsibility and leave yourself no choice but to follow through with your plans.
Don’t give yourself the option to avoid doing something. Don’t be lazy, don’t make excuses and don’t say maybe later. Get over the initial mental hump and you will find it plain sailing from there.
7. Bad stories Vs good – What you tell yourself makes a difference; negative stories can overrun our internal dialogue. Change your perception of setbacks into positive learning experiences and all of a sudden they become a positive experience you can draw on. Did I slow down during my first marathon due to muscle fatigue, nutrition, pacing or another reason entirely? What can I learn from it to be better prepared next time?
Too often people focus on their mistakes at work and are too self-critical. If you did something that didn’t work then learn from it and focus on what you learned.
8. Never quit, unless you should – If you are doing something you care about and that is worthwhile then never give up. If you take a step back and realise that it isn’t important to you then stop doing it.
If it is important keep going, if it isn’t then just stop. Don’t waste your time on a task which does not contribute to your professional and personal goals.
It can be amazing how small changes to ones mindset can bear significant results in all walks of life. Perhaps we can all learn something from these ultra-endurance athletes.
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