What sports psychologists can teach the ad industry
Racing at 90mph, head-first, down an artificially frozen hill with more twists and turns than Silverstone… with no steering… on a tray. It takes a special kind of person to take up the Skeleton, with a unique set of skills: split-second decision making, nerves of carbon-fibre and razor-sharp clarity of mind.
But now, Lizzy Yarnold has become the second British woman in a row to win gold at the Winter Olympics doing just that. So maybe it’s not surprising to hear that the affable ‘Yargold’, who studied sports psychology at the University of Gloucestershire, did her final year dissertation on the subject of Mental Toughness.
John Neal, a performance coach, sports psychologist and this week’s NABS ‘wellbeing’ expert introduced the concept of mental toughness to our audience of ad folk, explaining how mental strength is all about CTUP: Correct Thinking Under Pressure.
Neal is an advocate of training the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for how we perceive and see the world, so that we are not only able to better control our adrenaline responses – fight, flight and freeze – but can create new pathways in the brain that will enable us to cope better; be more consistent; and remain determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure.
And it’s not just a concept that applies to the world of sport. Business chatter is full of sports metaphors (“OK team, let’s kick-off with a ballpark figure to keep us on target!”), for good reason. Neal expands the metaphor further, to blur the lines between the two worlds: “Sport and business are both about people, process, teamwork and leadership. Sport is very good at one-to-one inspiration and motivation: business is about achieving results. It is performance based.”
Too often the pressures and stresses of work and home are so great we can barely think straight. How we then respond is often down to whether the perceived event or action is a threat or a challenge.
However by retraining our brain we can avoid reverting back to past learned behaviour that really isn’t helpful in stressful situations.
So how do you create new pathways, you ask? By challenging yourself to do something different; something that excites you; something that puts you outside of your usual comfort zone.
So sign up to a marathon or learn to do stand-up comedy, or if you’re looking for something a little more accessible and closer to the boardroom, put yourself forward to lead that pitch or have that difficult client conversation. Challenging ourselves in new and exciting ways will help build self-esteem and overall mental toughness, so that when you next find yourself in a stressful situation, you begin to see the tests ahead of you not as a threat, but as a challenge.
That will allow you, with mental toughness, to rise to the occasion and tackle goals head-first. Like falling down an icy hill, but with style!