What our Olympic Athletes can teach us about Resilience

Many elite athletes allude to the importance of Resilience in their achievements, noting the path to success is rarely straight forward and simple.

Think about Lindsey Vonn — one of the best female skiers ever. However, Vonn won only three Olympic medals — one gold and two bronze — in 14 events during four Winter Olympics. Vonn has had to deal with lots of falls and failures, but she has still kept trying.

There are several ways that Olympic champions develop Resiliency that can help us, too. The following three techniques from TRACOM’s Developing a Resilient Mindset course highlight several Resiliency skills Olympians have utilized that can be applied to anyone facing a negative or challenging situation.

1. Line up your support system

Snowboarder Chloe Kim earned a gold medal in the women’s halfpipe finals in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at the 2018 Winter Olympics. As she sealed her dominating record in the halfpipe event, watching from below —with a large, laminated “Go Chloe” sign — was her biggest fan: her father. Just before Kim’s gold medal-winning runs, Jong Jin texted his daughter an encouraging message: “Today is the day imugi turns to dragon.”

After a bad day at the office, you may not have an outpouring of tweets from fellow fans as many Olympians do, but it is crucial that you line up your own support system. It’s easy in the days and weeks following a negative circumstance to dwell on it. Reach out to your personal support system not only for words of encouragement, but also some needed perspective on where the negativity fits in with the rest of your life.

2. Hang up your inner critic

Bode Miller, the most-decorated U.S. Olympic Alpine Skier in history, said that in 2005, he went into the World Cup with doubts.

“At the time, I felt [the U.S. Ski team] were being poorly managed going into the Olympic season, but instead of getting frustrated, I made up a scenario about a leadership story in my mind,” said Miller. Miller described a system, where before every race, he would build a scenario in his mind, whether fictional, non-fictional, or based off memories — that he would then refine and relive until he reached an inspired state of mind.

“Whether I was rescuing someone from a burning building, or remember the feeling I had the first time my dad carried me into the waves as a child on a family vacation in Florida; I lived what I was imaging,” said Miller. “I had hundreds of different scenarios in my mind that I would replay depending on the different needs I had for varying races…if you put yourself in the best mindset to accomplish what you need to accomplish, you will do it.”

Most pressure is internal. How you allow your “inner critic” to treat you following a negative circumstance is crucial to how you’ll bounce back. Find a way to reframe the negative messages by meditating or practicing guided self-reflection. Elite athletes use positive visualization to get on track and you can, too.

3. Look back to bounce forward 

Instead of participating as an athlete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, Miller decided he would serve as a commentator. Miller debuted at the Winter Olympics in 1998 at age 20, earned two silver medals in 2002, a medal of every color in 2010, a bronze in 2014 and competed in over 400 World Cup race starts.

“Today I have four kids and multiple businesses — if anything, my discipline, intensity and focus have improved,” said Miller. “My body is nowhere where it was before, but my mind is clear. I raced so much and so often, that I tasted the painful aspect of taking all those risks, and letting that part of my life go is pretty cool too.”

Rather than focusing on what you haven’t accomplished and the mistakes you’ve made, focus on what got you to where you are now. Dwelling on all the things that have set you back will launch you into the land of fear and frustration. Instead, help shift your energy by dwelling on all the successes that have led you to where you are today.

It’s important for individuals at all levels to work at building their Resilient mindset. Resiliency training can help leaders manage negative situations when they arise. TRACOM’s Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency program teaches people how to adjust how they perceive challenges. While our natural tendencies might be to fear or reject challenges, we can rewire our brains to be more open and accepting, and possibly even excited for new challenges.

  • To learn more about Resiliency click here.
  • Click here to read how Hope Solo led the US Women’s Soccer team to victory with a Resilient mindset.
  • Click here to learn more about the Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency Model.