More so than the buzz in the air around an event like the Super Bowl, the world of elite athletes and politics have a lot in common. Professional athletes and politicos both operate in environments that are highly competitive, highly volatile, simultaneously revered and demonized, and highly unpredictable.
As direct action organizing take shape from Main Street to Capitol Hill, operatives can take a lesson in performance optimization from the sports playbook. Here are three practices to help you warm up, speed up and strengthen up.
Visualization. Set a timer for 90 seconds. Close your eyes and visualize yourself meeting a super specific campaign goal: having a fruitful conversation with a potential donor resulting in X amount, hitting “click” as a GIF goes viral, nabbing an influential endorsement or slaying it at a debate. Visualize the win.
Where are you? Who are you with? What do you see? What do you hear? What is the energy in the air? Engage all your senses: the more vivid the image, the more effective the practice. Focus your attention inward only.
Why It Works: Drawing from sports psychology, elite athletes practice kinesthetic visualization exercises in which they see themselves making the winning touchdown, throwing the winning pass and staving off the offense. These mental practices can activate the same brain patterns as the physical practice. Do note: Engaging both mental and physical is more effective than either alone. Additionally, the practice acts as rehearsal, impacting cognitive processes, motor control, attention and memory. Visualizations can also boost motivation and confidence – key when under pressure.
Teamwork. Institute a power team huddle each morning. Anchor in shared mission. Define team member responsibilities and decision making powers. Commit to clear communication. Non-verbal cues are essential here. Commit to key results. Appreciate your teammates.
Why It Works: Campaigns are a team sport. Each member plays a distinct role. Strategy is executed in a highly dynamic and coordinated way. High performing teams have a crystal clear shared goal, defined roles and responsibilities and understand operating systems that track progress and empower members to do their best work. Teams that have these systems in place perform with up to 20 percent greater efficiency. The all-hands cheer increases oxytocin (the trust or feel good hormone) in our brains, increasing our commitment to one another, hope and courage.
Pivot, Pivot. Dropped the ball? Throw your hands up in the air. Yell out an explicative if your style. Shake it off and get back in the game.
Why It Works: Resiliency is the ability to get up, dust ourselves off and keep trying. In sports, there’s no time (literally) to feel sorry for oneself. The costs are too great. When we get caught in the inner game of self-critique, our ability to see, hear and sense around us are dramatically impeded. What distinguishes high-performers is not that they are stress-free – it’s what they make of it.
Reframe a fight-or-flight response to a excite response by focusing your attention back on helping your team. This helps increase serotonin and adrenalin in the brain, activating the rewards system. This refocuses attention from the “me” to the “we” and, importantly, the win.
Frieda K. Edgette is principal of Novos Consulting, a civic-minded organizational strategy and coaching consultancy.