British athletics has undergone a remarkable transformation. Its success can teach you a valuable lesson in developing a mindset that’s relentless about winning.

Some of us are beaten by the setbacks and challenges that life inevitably scatters across our path. If we lack resilience and the ability to bounce back, we are likely to simply give up. For others, the fear of failure or lack of confidence can cause us to retreat into our comfort zone and avoid risk. This means we don’t even try in the first place. Or it may be that our day job leaves us with too little time or energy to pursue our dreams. In short, we just never get started and reconcile ourselves to disappointment. This can mean that we miss out on pursuing activities that might be enjoyable and fulfilling. In work, this can lead to demotivation and disengagement.

Of course, external factors certainly play a part. A lucky break can send you on your way while a reversal can knock you on your backside. There is only so much you can do to influence these factors. What you can influence, however, is your mental reaction to them. Most of what lies within our control is to do with our mindset. And our mindset in turn drives our beliefs and our behaviors. If you build a resilient mindset you can confront the fear of failure, venture outside your comfort zone and learn to persist in the face of adversity.

No matter how positive our mindset, no matter how great our motivation, success is ultimately driven by what we do. This is particularly the case when things get tough, such as when we encounter setbacks or reach a plateau. So what behaviors do we exhibit when we try to achieve our goals? Do we start with good intentions but then get distracted by other things such as TV or social media? Do we take to heart unhelpful criticism from others and simply give up? Success in achieving our goals is determined by the interplay between our beliefs and our behaviors.

Importance of mindset

When we see others succeeding, it’s easy to explain that away as a function of talent or simply luck. How do we know that mindset plays a part? For an example, let’s take something recent and familiar – Britain’s performance in the 2016 Olympics at Rio. In 1996, Britain’s team of athletes returned from the Olympic Games in Atlanta with one solitary gold medal in rowing.

This was a low point in British international sporting achievement and was the subject of a good deal of national self-flagellation in the media. Fast-forward to 2016 and Team GB built on the success of London 2012 with an even greater haul of medals. In case people attributed the success of London 2012 to the fact that Britain was hosting the games, Britain’s performance at Rio in 2016 made it the first host nation to actually increase its tally of medals. The scale of this achievement is astonishing.

In 20 years Britain went from one solitary gold and being 32nd in the medals table to 27 golds and second in the table to the US. To what is this success attributable? In the narrative that has taken hold, the answer to that question usually revolves around the actions of former British Prime Minister, Sir John Major, funding from the National Lottery and the hundreds of millions of pounds invested in elite sport in the UK. But, as is often the case with narrative, this explanation is too simple. The money has, of course, made an enormous impact, particularly in enabling talented athletes to dedicate themselves full-time to training. But this increase in investment as an explanation for Olympic success is too simplistic. After all, examples abound in sport, particularly in football, of vast amounts of money being spent with no demonstrable success.

The real reason

In addition to the influx of money, there was a change of mindset in UK sport. The discipline and science-based approach perfected in those sports, such as rowing (where Britain had achieved Olympic success), were applied elsewhere. This meant that those sports deemed to have serious chances of winning medals, benefited from a professional approach that was unprecedented. As well as coaching in skills and techniques, athletes were benefiting from the application of science and the latest thinking in nutrition. UK Sport performance director Simon Timson called this approach, ‘Success by design’. What if a similar transformation were available today for the rest of us? Is there a leap in capability comparable to that experienced by British Olympians from the dark days of the late twentieth century? Can we take a ‘success by design’ approach to our own ambitions in work and life? The good news is that you can bring about an equally dramatic change in your own mindset. If you decide to take control of your own personal development, you can plan and achieve a similar transformation to the one pulled off by British sport.

Extract taken from Head Start: Build a resilient mindset so you can achieve your goals by Ian Price, published by Pearson, priced £10.99


EXPERT: Ian Price is a performance psychologist specializing in developing mental toughness skills in others and is the author of the new book, Head Start