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With inflation and interest rates on the rise, announcements of mass company-wide layoffs and ongoing uncertainty around supply chain issues, many small business owners wonder how to navigate the turmoil, stay mentally strong for their teams and continue to scale amidst the volatility.
For one, it can be lonely as an entrepreneur. A 2015 study by researcher Dr. Michael Freeman found that 72% of entrepreneurs have a mental health history; a 2018 study by Cigna of 20,000 individuals found that “56% reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around them are not necessarily with them.” Couple that with a global pandemic and social distancing amidst growing widespread social tensions, entrepreneurs need to dig deep to ensure they maintain peak performance and high-end leadership for the people they serve.
Coming from my background, raised by a single mom and the first person in my family to graduate from college (with a degree in kinesiology), I didn’t have extensive business training or connections to fall back on when I launched my company. In fact, I never realized it was even an option for me. Sports provided structure, commitment, experiences and connections that helped facilitate building a business from the ground up.
As a lifelong athlete and coach who currently coaches pregnant and postpartum professional athletes, Olympians and even a UFC fighter, I realized there are distinct characteristics to how athletes think and approach problem solving, which I call “athlete brain.”
High-level athletes and coaches know how to leverage their mindset, resilience, output and team to work for and with them toward the desired outcome. This mindset continually benefits my business growth and ensures we maintain strong team culture, vision and distinction. Consider these five ways mentally strong elite athletes leverage their competitiveness that will benefit your business during these times.
1. Compete with yourself
Aim to be the best at what you do, and don’t compare or focus on anyone else. I’ve taken my competitiveness and desire to become a better, more versatile athlete into creating an impactful, team-based business and global movement. When you’re an athlete, you can apply being highly motivated to your business success.
Understand that your business has so much potential, and aim to maximize this unique potential separate from anyone or anything else. Self-awareness and understanding your unique talents, skills and role within the business will help you trailblaze on an individual level, which will carry over to how your overall business operates. Your individual growth influences business growth.
2. Be process-driven
It may sound counterintuitive, but don’t just aim for a specific result. In business, it is easy to become hyper-focused on maximizing the ROI, having a successful launch and hitting your markers or KPIs. Instead, zoom out and analyze the entirety of the process.
What went well? What could be improved? Is this sustainable? If it’s not sustainable, it will not work; you may hit your KPIs, but your team will get burned out. Similar to an athletic team, to have a successful business, all players need to perform at a sustained optimum, not just one good player grinding to the goal. Success is not just outcome-dependent — the process also determines true success.
3. Integrate the identity
In work and family, integrate your business so that it becomes such a part of who you are that it isn’t about work-life balance. For me, it’s less about balance and more about juggling and finding an improved rhythm over time. When you juggle vs. balance, business becomes a natural extension of who you are and what you enjoy in conjunction with everything else that is important to you.
Similar to being a professional athlete, it is a core part of your identity because of how you’ve shaped yourself over time. If I’m on an airplane en route to vacation with my family, I can draft content or an email. “Athlete brain” in business is about our work complementing our lifestyle and enjoyment, not just consuming our life to the point of it becoming a burden.
4. Play the long game
Just like being an athlete, in business, you have to play for the short-term wins with the long-term vision in mind. Being in it to win it isn’t about flash in the pan. It’s about metric-driven success, creating long-term team culture both within the business and community, and cultivating sustainable, industry-changing potential that your business can make, across any field.
5. Stay adaptable
Like in sports and like playing on a team, sometimes you have to be adaptive to change the game plan, change your role or modify the way you do things. We’ve all been tested the last couple of years with how we do things, which challenged many business owners. It also brought out the best in a lot of people, too. High-performing business owners can think like an athlete by cultivating the skill of adaptability moving forward. Sometimes you have to have a totally different game plan at halftime, reassess and know that failure and setbacks act as feedback.
The habits and lifestyle of an athlete are transferable to how we can lead as business owners. By applying these five principles, entrepreneurs can learn to compete with themselves, eliminating the distractions that often distract from their work. They can focus on process-driven metrics — not just set outcomes — and learn to integrate their work into their lifestyle. By playing the long game in business, we can avoid burnout and excess pressure to find success because we learn to be adaptable through the process. You don’t have to be a high-level athlete to run your business like one. These skills are transferable to how we manage ourselves, our business and our lifestyle.