I’ve always been a big fan of the Olympics and Paralympics – summer or winter – the spectacular ceremonies, the inspiring stories and, of course, the edge of your seat action, writes James Sweetman. I spent many hours glued to the TV watching the best athletes in the world strive to reach the pinnacle of their sports. Here are seven personal development lessons and insights we can glean from an Olympics.

1.) Having an inspiring goal 

Every Olympic medal winner emphasises how they’ve been working towards their success for at least four years, and for many, getting to the Olympics is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition.

Even those of us with a results-focused mindset will generally not look beyond a 12-month timeframe. Taking a longer-term view, an interesting question to ask is: what would be a stretch goal to aim for in 2026? In terms of your life or business, what is your equivalent of ‘getting to the Olympics,’ or ‘winning a gold medal'?

2.) Discipline and dedication 

Determination, dedication, resilience and commitment are some of the personal characteristics that come to mind when I think of Olympic athletes. The same qualities propel each of us towards our goals and dreams.

In life, just as in sport, the most successful people are the hardest working. You don’t see the work they put in, only the evidence of it. Olympic athletes are rewarded in public for what they do in private.

As the motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy said ‘the price of success is paid for in full and in advance’

As Michelangelo said, ‘if people knew how hard I worked they wouldn’t marvel at my genius’. Top swimmers get up at 5am every morning to train. Those who achieve success in their lives also train hard and make sacrifices. Irrespective of what life throws at them, committed athletes keep going. As the motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy said ‘the price of success is paid for in full and in advance’.

It is also worthwhile remembering that the word ‘discipline’ comes from the same root as the word ‘disciple,’ meaning ‘to follow’. When you are disciplined you are disciplined in the pursuit of a noble cause or dream. What are you disciplined about? How could you demonstrate greater discipline? What would just a little more resilience and commitment get for you?

3.) Getting into the ‘zone’ 

In all walks of life success and achievement is a mental game. Top athletes and teams utilise the services of sports psychologists to harness the power of the mind, or at minimum, to ensure they don’t self sabotage. When the mind is calm, the body relaxes, we remain alert and agile. We might use the phrase ‘in the zone’, or ‘in flow’ to describe this sweet spot of mental and physical synergy.

Mental focus is about having less thoughts, dropping the distractions that serve no purpose. Contingency thinking is replaced by an empowered inner dialogue. ‘How can I seize this opportunity?’ ‘How can I deliver on my potential?’ You are focused on the present moment and what is within your control.

Olympians know that all the physical preparation in the world means nothing if your thoughts don’t align with your desired results. A useful question to reflect on is: what do I need to change about my habitual thought patterns to achieve what I want to achieve?

4.) Your support team 

Success is rarely achieved in isolation. When Olympic athletes are interviewed they always acknowledge how the support of their families, friends and coaches were essential to their success. In our own lives whatever we wish to achieve, it’s going to involve others. This means having new conversations.

We should always ensure that we acknowledge the support and encouragement, and maybe even sacrifices, that those close to us make to enable us to achieve our goals. Support, of course, is a two-way street, so how could I be more supportive of those close to me, to encourage them in their own endeavours?

5.) Digging deep to find our courage  

At the Olympics, courage is displayed in packed stadiums and heralded by cheers. In our lives, courage is not found in such public arenas; we find our courage when we are alone with our thoughts and struggling with uncertainty. It is in those moments, when without fanfare or applause, we make a courageous decision, we draw a line in the sand and say ‘no more’, or we quietly, yet determinedly, decide to ‘give it a go’.

One of the simplest ways of accessing our reserves of courage is to recall times in the past when we exercised courage, when we overcame a challenge, when we acted in spite of feeling nervous or worried. It is a cliché but, if we are looking to feel differently, we have to approach situations differently. What will enable us to take this new action or to approach an old situation in a new way? You’ve guessed it – courage.

6.) Visualisation 

We all visualise. All worry is visualisation where we imagine the worst possible outcome. Olympic athletes visualise, but they visualise their desired result, crossing the finishing line first.

They also preplan how they intend to perform and how they will respond in specific scenarios. All behavioural habits are preceded by thinking habits and positive visualisation creates and embeds new thinking habits.

We also know that the unconscious mind cannot process negatives (try not thinking of a yellow door!). We can emulate Olympians by ensuring our visualisations focus on what we want, not what we want to avoid.

7.) Success is learning from the journey 

Of course, the Olympics and Paralympics are not just about winning, only a small fraction of athletes go home with a medal. Every competitor endeavours to achieve a personal best, which is a reminder to us to focus on our own unique accomplishments, our own standards.

For every gold medallist there are thousands of others who train just as hard and sacrifice just as much. It is about competing, trying your best and, of course, getting into the game in the first place. 

Author: James Sweetman is a motivational speaker and executive coach focusing on leadership, presentation skills and personal development. He is also the author of five books. More information is available at www.jamessweetman.com