Survival of the Fittest: What We Can Learn From Athletes

by on September 7th, 2010 at 7:00 am

Many of us have heard a story or two about the demanding schedules of athletes who must adhere to strict diets and endless hours of training. Many of these athletes also have families, and one can only imagine the balancing act they must have learned to master to stay on top of all those obligations.

With summer officially over, successfully re-adjusting to tight schedules, traffic jams and hectic routines once again becomes paramount. We can look at attitudes highly developed in top athletes that enable them to actually thrive under pressure. Similar to the attitudes researchers have observed in survivors, athletes can teach us a thing or two about facing the challenges in life head-on and keeping a winning attitude while at it.

You are in control.

Many times, we are inclined to believe that we are victims of a situation with no control over the circumstances. Research has shown that athletes and survivors have a highly developed “locus of control”. The concept was developed by psychology professor Julian Rotter from the University of Connecticut. According to Rotter, some people view themselves as essentially in control of their experiences, whether they are good or bad.  The opposite of this attitude is to believe that others are to blame for events we are faced with, or that they happen by chance. These views aren’t by any means absolutes; most people combine both. But research has shown that athletes, as well as survivors, had a stronger “internal locus” than most that enabled them to effectively navigate life’s ups and downs.

Step by step, you reach the summit.

Another positive characteristic athletes share is the ability to break down even the most ambitious goals into manageable tasks. This is a great internal resource to have, especially nowadays, with the overwhelming demands of modern day living. Instead of letting the jumble of unfinished tasks torment your mind for days, use a planner or organizer to break down tasks and schedule accordingly. This way, when the unexpected inevitably pops up, you have a quick reference to better manage your time.

Use mantras to stay positive.

Athletes also use mantras to keep them focused and positive such as “Mind over matter”. You can go back to them time and time again to draw strength and purpose, even in the most trying of times. Most of the time, a mantra hints at deeper meanings. Yossi Ghinsberg, a hiker who was lost in the Bolivian jungle for 21 days, resorted to the mantra “man of action” to stay motivated. He explained that those words reminded him that a man of action does what he must, isn’t afraid, and doesn’t worry. He believes this mantra was crucial for his survival, since it enabled him to stay positive and focused.

Beware of denial.

It’s human nature to believe things will improve and that can be a good thing, but what psychologists call the “incredulity response” can paralyze you and prevent you from adopting an appropriate response to certain situations when needed. Learning to recognize a tendency to see things as we wish and not how they are in reality can help give us a better perspective on how to better manage the most simple or complex crisis.

Step out of your comfort zone.

Every new challenge presented to your body and mind causes a re-wiring effect in the brain, which helps us become more adaptable. Most of us adhere to a repetitive routine that can sometimes be so similar day in and day out that we perform tasks on auto-pilot without even thinking. Living in a low-risk environment dulls our talents and may keep us stuck with useless or outdated habits and views that are detrimental to our growth.

Finally, let’s face it, in order to live up to our human potential and successfully apply the attitudes listed above for a more rewarding life; we must first be in good health. Optimal health will go a long way in helping us face life’s challenges, whether they are personal, professional or academic in nature, in a positive way. Natural remedies can be used to improve energy levels, concentration, soothe anxiety, and regulate sleep patterns. They are also excellent to boost the immune system, therefore helping to keep illness at bay, because even when we’re sick, life goes on…

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