Inspiration is a word that often springs to mind on Wednesday morning. As I sit down and proverbially put pen to paper to write the blog, I hope for inspiration. Sometimes an idea will have come to me over the course of the week and the outline of the blog will form in my mind in the subsequent days. More often than not I will sit and my mind will mirror the blankness of the page. On those days I will scurry around my ‘go-to’ publications, the Economist, The Week or Harvard Business Review for ideas, but today I was able to draw on something a little bit different and certainly outside of my realm of expertise.
Today’s inspiration came from a lone cyclist competing in the road time trial at the Olympics. As the television camera panned onto the cyclist, with his head down and pedalling powerfully but methodically along the road, one of the commentators for the race asked his colleague ‘so what is going through his mind now?’ Clairvoyant-like, the other commentator explained that he would be thinking through the tactics he needs to deploy, the time splits he needs to focus on and how to maintain his energy levels. I marvelled at the focus of the athlete. I did muse that if I were in the position of that cyclist, I would more likely be thinking why I didn’t take up motor sports rather than the agony-inducing bicycling. On a more serious level though, I imagine that when you reach Olympic levels in whatever discipline, your mental focus and commitment becomes a significantly important determinant of success or failure. A key element of that mental focus is inspiration, in whatever form it materialises, driving you forward.
The games have also made me think about the mental process the athletes go through, both in their preparation and at the time of the competition. Although not in relation to the Olympics, this morning I listened to Conor Benn discuss his forthcoming boxing match. His father, the ex-boxer Nigel Benn commented on how much more dedicated his son was in terms of preparation and commitment to training; a discipline, including mental preparedness, that really elevates his chances of success. Promoting the focus on mental readiness today we heard of Simone Biles, the US Gymnast who has decided to exit the Olympics because of the need to focus on her mental health. She acknowledged that physically she is able to achieve success, but mentally she has lost that trust in her ability.
Drawing a parallel with the mental readiness of a top-level athlete with how we perform in the work environment may seem a little stretched, but nonetheless it is an ever-important feature in our lives and one that is quite rightly being focused on with greater attention. Most importantly, however, I think we should learn from the lessons of Simone Biles and recognise the significance of being in a good place mentally in whatever we do and, if not, we should not be afraid to take time out to reset. Put better through the words of Biles: “We’re not just athletes. We’re people at the end of the day and sometimes you just have to step back.”