Even if you’re cheering from your couch, you can’t help but feel totally inspired while watching the Olympics—and I mean to do more than incorporate ice-dancing-costume-level sparkle into your wardrobe. These athletes are the best in the world. They’ve devoted years of their lives to their sport and are accomplishing death-defying, mind-blowing feats (and curling) with the weight of their nation on their shoulders. And a lot of them haven’t even graduated from high school yet. When it comes to models of motivation, they’re the pinnacle.
But you don’t need to be vying for a gold medal to elevate your day-to-day dedication to Olympic levels. According to Todd Ormiston, head of the prestigious Mount Snow Academy in Vermont, where three of this year’s winter Olympians (Kelly Clark, Devin Logan, and Caroline Claire) trained and went to school, the skills honed by elite athletes can come in handy for the rest of us, too.
“Grit, perseverance, goal orientation, time management, personal and physical organization, teamwork, collaboration—all of those words are part of our everyday language working within our group of athletes here,” Ormiston said. “But you can also use every single one of those words in pretty much all areas of adult life.”
Ormiston and Jacob Ross, who trains 2014 bronze-medal-winning bobsledder Aja Evans (who placed fifth in the PyeongChang games this week), share the motivational lessons you can learn from Olympians, no matter what personal podium you’re trying to land on.
Want to go for the gold? Scroll down Ormiston’s and Ross’ expert advice.
Put your heart into it
For Olympians, especially ones who chose to pursue a more obscure winter sport, the drive to compete at such a high level probably didn’t come about by happenstance—they weren’t casually introduced to the biathlon or skeleton at their public elementary school or the local park, Ross says. (In Evans’ case, a college track coach suggested she try channeling her talents through bobsled.) And the athletes are rarely in it for the money: While household names like Shaun White land sponsorship deals and buy multi-million dollar mansions, there are few non-Olympic riches to be made for, say, a professional bobsledder.
Instead, they made a conscious effort to find and follow their passion. These competitors succeed because they’re doing what they love, and the same principle holds true off the bobsled track. “If you have a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad month and you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s really hard to recover from that and progress,” Ormiston says.
Make it a habit
Ross says he borrows a mantra from his trainee Luol Deng, a player for the Los Angeles Lakers and a two-time NBA All-Star, when it comes to thinking about the role motivation plays in success. Motivation is great, Deng likes to say, but what’s really important is discipline. “Motivation is very fickle,” Ross says. “It goes up, down. Some days you feel good, some days you don’t. But when you discipline yourself and say, ‘This is something I’ve committed to and I’m going to do,’ and you make it a habit, that’s what gets you through the ebbs and flows of your motivation.”
Save the date
Olympians spend years working toward a run or race that sometimes only lasts a few minutes. But having a concrete event to serve as your finish line can be helpful even if your goal doesn’t include international adoration.
Ross says he signs up for fitness competitions each year as a way to push himself to be the best he can be. “I know that there’s a final date when I have to perform,” he says. And research shows this type of specific goal-setting can push even those who aren’t as naturally motivated. Maybe for you it’s a 5K or a piano recital or your wedding. Whatever the occasion, you may be more likely to get your butt into gear if there’s a particular target you’re aiming to hit.
Have your team’s back—and they’ll have yours
In the Olympics, Ormiston points out, participants often compete individually and as part of a team. Because of this, they’re motivated to both outdo one another and support their teammates. “If you are truly an individual sport athlete but are on a team, you can derive positive feelings from somebody else’s success rather than hoping for their failure,” Ormiston says.
That same dynamic can help you out in work or social settings. When you and a colleague disagree, for instance, remembering that you’re working toward a common goal can keep you focused.
Keep it consistent
Maybe you tried a workout class you like, but because it’s only offered on weekday afternoons, you can only make it every once in a while. You’re going to have a lot trickier time making that a habit, Ross says, because consistency is key. Athletes he’s worked with, including Evans, have been able to achieve great success, he says, because they’ve found an activity they not only care about, but that they can do again and again. “Too many times people tend to force themselves into doing the [trendy thing] or something their friends pushed them toward,” Ross says. “It can be good to try those things, but ultimately, you will become [better at] what you consistently do, so that’s where you should really put your efforts.”
Find your fan base
Your motivation should primarily come from the inside, but when you hit an obstacle, having the support of people who believe in you never hurts. Ross says that when Evans tore her ACL while training after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it took a lot of guts and perseverance for her to recover physically and mentally. But the love from fans helped her over the hump. “There’s this overwhelming support that [Olympic athletes] get from people they don’t know from across the whole country,” Ross says, “and I think that’s what really pushed [Aja] through the final homestretch.” Your cheering section might not be on quite the same scale, but having someone to root for you can make all the difference.
Appreciate the roadblocks
An injury can derail an Olympian’s career in an instant. It’s how they bounce back that really matters, Ormiston says. The same thing goes for the average person who runs into a physical or mental roadblock. “An injury is a disguised blessing, especially for younger athletes, because you start to understand your body a lot better. You understand what your body needs, what the fuel is, and what rest does for you,” Ormiston says. Even if it’s not an injury that’s slowing you down, that sense of reflection you can gain from a setback is vital. It gives you time to see the bigger picture, and come back with a renewed sense of purpose and determination.
Do it for you
The glory of being named a gold medalist is some seriously motivational fuel. But Ross and Ormiston say that, for the elite athletes they work with, it’s not sustainable. The drive to succeed has to come from within, both trainers say. Researchers have also found internal, or intrinsic, motivation to be far more satisfying and therefore effective. “I always tell people that the only person who has to wake up and live your life every day is you,” says Ross. “So put expectations on yourself that you can be happy with and work toward.”
Before you can go about achieving your goals, you have to set them. Use Well+Good Council member Latham Thomas’ brilliant advice for setting the right targets. And here’s Olympian Lindsey Vonn’s off-the-slopes secret for success.
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