Watching the Olympics has certainly been motivating for me, so much so that all those golds that Phelps has been winning inspired me to write this week’s Love Essentially!
When it Comes To Your Relationship, Think Like An Olympic Champion by Jackie Pilossoph for Chicago Tribune Media Group
“I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it.”
That is a quote by Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, who as of Wednesday night holds 25 Olympic medals, 21 of which are gold.
Phelps is just one of the countless Olympic athletes inspiring us from Rio, not just with amazing talent, but because of something that is equally if not more important in winning than skill alone: mental strength.
What does this all have to do with Love Essentially, a column about love and relationships? A lot!
I sat down with Christie Southern, mental strength performance coach and the founder of her Winnetka-based sports performance consulting company, HeadCoach, to talk about some of the mental obstacles athletes face, and how to overcome them, build confidence and perform better. While Southern, who holds certifications in mental strength performance and mental game coaching is not a relationship expert, we both agreed that mental performance coaching can be directly applied to romantic relationships.
“When I work with an athlete, the key mental coaching areas we work on depend on the things that are holding him or her back,” said Southern, who has spent 30 years training athletes, and who as a teenager was a nationally ranked figure skater. “What do they need to overcome that will help them gain the most confidence and set them up to perform their best?”
Here are seven obstacles Southern said can hold athletes back, along with my advice on applying them to romantic relationships:
1. Fear of failure
Southern explained that athletes often have anxiety, worrying about losing or not performing their best. I think this translates to romantic relationships in that couples often worry about disappointing each other, not being good enough, or not living up to the other’s expectations. The best way to overcome this? Talk openly and constructively to your spouse about how you feel, so they can give you honest feedback, or tell you how much they appreciate you.
2. Dwelling on mistakes
Everyone messes up at times, even Olympians. Southern explained that an obstacle athletes sometimes face is being unable to put mistakes behind them and move on. One mistake can affect an athlete’s performance for a whole game if he or she lets it. The same goes for relationships. Everyone messes up at times. He forgot your anniversary. You didn’t like the way she treated you yesterday. The key to a happy relationship is being able to apologize, being able to forgive, and both partners being able to move on from it.
3. Jealousy/comparing yourself to others
Athletes often become intimidated by their competitors and feel inferior, having a negative affect on self-confidence and therefore performance. In relationships, stop comparing yourselves to other couples. You have no idea what a seemingly blissful couple’s life is like. Focus on appreciating what you have and making it even better.
4. Negative self-talk
According to Southern, scientists who study the brain now have evidence that what you say to yourself has a direct impact on performance. For example, if a golfer says to themselves, “I can’t miss this shot,” the brain hears that, translates it to the negative, and they miss the shot. So stay positive. Say, “I will make this shot.” In relationships: “I am going to treat my wife with more respect from now on.” Or “I will tell my husband how much I appreciate him when he gets home.”
5. Aiming for perfection
Southern says reaching for perfection is a confidence killer. Having achievable, manageable goals grows confidence. Unreasonably high expectations in your relationship can only cause disappointment. Be realistic in what you expect from your partner and your relationship.
6. The inability to be a team
Southern quoted beach volleyball gold medalist, Kerri Walsh Jennings referring her former Olympic partner, Misty May. “I firmly believe that when you have a foundation of respect, love of what you’re doing, and a shared vision, so much is possible.” A foundation of respect and a shared vision – two key components of a happy romantic relationship.
7. Forgetting why you are here
“In the end, it’s all about fun, enjoyment and being in the moment,” said Southern. “Don’t worry about the outcome, but rather enjoy the process. You started the sport because you love to do it, so the more you can focus on just having fun, the less pressure you will feel, and the better you will perform.” For relationships, that means focusing not on the future or where the relationship is going, but rather enjoying the good that is here now.
Winning seems like everything in the Olympics… (Click here to read the rest of the article, published two days ago in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press.)
Like this article? Check out my column, “The Perfect Kiss-Which One of These Defines Yours?”