The one thing I tell my professional athletes over and over

By: Jim Murphy

If there’s one thing I tell my clients most, it has to be this: 

The foundation for extraordinary performance is your mindset for what you’re pursuing and why you’re pursuing it. 

Your mindset is your overall attitude and way of thinking that comes from how you perceive yourself and the world. These perceptions create certain attitudes and ways of thinking that become habitual. It orients your heart around what you believe is important and possible in your life. Your mindset sets the tone for everything you do. The mindset of Inner Excellence is this:

I compete to raise the level of excellence in my life, to learn and grow, in order to raise it in others.

We don’t pursue peak performance for the trophy or adoration, but to discover something within us and experience something we’ve never experienced before. We compete for the competition itself, to fully experience the moment and feel fully alive. We do this to help others—including our opponents—do the same thing, so we can all learn and grow and raise the level of excellence in our lives. We crave adversity and challenges as a means of seeing the truth about who we are in that moment and therefore who we can become.

We don’t climb mountains to get to the top—we climb to see who we can become in trying to get there. The peak gives us a goal and focus for our behaviors, but the reason for climbing or competing is far more empowering than an expansive view and social media posts.  

Consider the journal entry of Olympic speed skater Clara Hughes after winning a gold medal:

In my heart it is clear to me why I go to the line time and again. I can assure you it’s not a medal hanging around my neck I’m after. Medals are things I send to my mom in Winnipeg, which she in turn shares with friends and family. They are not what provide the deep sense of accomplishment, which fills my sense of self, in turn teaching me how to live. 

Hughes skates so she can learn how to live. The most powerful way to live is to raise the level of excellence in your life, to learn and grow, in order to raise it in others. 

Redefine success

You need to redefine success, to something that is deeply important to you, otherwise the world will define it for you. And the world will always define it as something that’s not in your control. 

I’ve tried to help you with this. If you want to perform extraordinarily and live the best possible life, then you’re going to need to focus your efforts on learning and growing—getting better every day. 

The question, however, is learn and grow in what? The default is to just get better at the physical skills of your sport or job, but, while very important, that has a low ceiling. If you want to reach your true potential, you’re going to have let develop your inner world, your beliefs about what’s possible, your ability to focus in the moment, and your freedom to play like you did as a kid. 

This all starts with your mindset.

Note: If you want to read more about mindset, some of this article was taken from the introduction to Inner Excellence: Train Your Mind for Extraordinary Performance and the Best Possible Life.

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