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The midterms aren’t the only endurance challenge happening in 2018. We’ve seen the spectacle of athletes competing in the Olympics and the Paralympics in South Korea. And this summer, we’ll see players take the field for the World Cup in Russia.
It might not seem obvious, but elite athletes and grueling campaigns have much in common. Specifically, they both require a long-term goal and rigorous practice and training to be successful. Another key component is health – mental and physical.
To stay sane and to be successful, we need balance, concentration and endurance. To that end, we each – as political players and civic believers – can learn a lot from the game-readying playbooks of these dedicated professionals.
Here are four practices that build mindset and tactical skill to help you warm up, speed up and strengthen up for the midterms.
Are you prone to fight-flee-freeze or fire up when under pressure? Self-assess and create a series of micro-actions you can take, in the moment, to neutralize your nervous system or regain a sense of calm, clear-headedness and concentration. If you feel yourself revving up, balance in 16 seconds. Close your eyes, and inhale for six counts. Hold your breath for four, and then exhale for six counts. If you are feeling lethargic, listen to an upbeat song to add a jolt of energy.
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 a large contribution, hitting “click” as a GIF goes viral, nabbing an influential endorsement or slaying it at a debate. See 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.
Elite athletes practice kinesthetic visualization exercises where they see themselves landing that triple axel, swooshing in unison as the bobsled makes the turn, and kicking the ball past the goalie into the net. Imagery exercises activate the same brain patterns as the physical practice. Note: Engaging both mental and physical is more effective than either alone. Visualizing success can also boost motivation and confidence – key when under pressure. For an added boost of both, visualize yourself at the victory party under the red, white and blue balloons.
Get in “the zone.”
Create a pre-performance ritual to undertake before significant events. Routine is key. This can be as simple as wearing the same color socks every time you dial for dollars, power-posing for two minutes before press conferences or taking that 16-second breath. Whatever it is, fully commit. Routine and repetition is key.
These rituals help quiet the mind and remain focused on the task, events and people at hand. Twenty-three-time gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps eats the same breakfast and listens to music on race day. Olympic Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin uses positive affirmations. Her helmet sports the acronym A.B.F.T.T.B, standing for “Always Faster Than The Boys.” Ritualistic behavior acts as a primer for the approaching event and is an effective strategy for overcoming those internal interferences.
Dust it off.
Missed a landing? Throw your hands up in the air. Yell out an expletive, if that’s your style. Put your hand over your heart and say, “It’s okay.” Pinpoint one thing you are learning from the experience – then, shake it off and get back in the game.
Resiliency is the ability to get up, dust ourselves off and keep trying. In sports, during a competition, there’s no time to ruminate. When we get caught in the inner game of self-critique, our ability to see, hear and sense around us are dramatically impaired.
What distinguishes high-performers is not that they are stress-free – it’s what they make of it. Reframe that fight-flight-freeze response into an excited response by refocusing your attention on helping your team and fulfilling your goal. This helps increase serotonin and adrenaline in the brain, activating the rewards system. This refocuses attention from the “me” to the “we” and, importantly, the win.
We train hard. We engage our team. We are all in – for the win. Take these micro-strategies to reset, upping your game, and you’ll see and feel the difference.
Frieda K. Edgette (@FKEdgette) is a credentialed International Coach Federation leadership coach, neuropolitics professor, extreme sports dabbler and pioneer for political well-being. She’s facilitated more than 150 civic-change initiatives on five continents, and helped more than 1,000 leaders stay sane and lead at their best through unpredictable environments.