When looking for living examples of success that can inspire you to reach for the stars, many people turn to the world of elite athletes. As a group, they clearly have something going for them, but what is it? As it turns out, scientific psychological studies over the last several decades have identified a set of universal traits shared by successful athletes. Here are the four C’s of successful athletes:
What’s interesting with this first one is that it involves a mental toughness that’s not synonymous with winning. Successful elite athletes score very high on competitiveness, but do not necessarily have a strong orientation towards winning. They are more focused on the quality of their performance, measuring success by performing their personal best rather than caring about winning or losing. Tom Brady, start quarterback for the National Football League’s New England Patriots, put it this way: “Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast; but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.”
Many athletes act very cocky, but the successful elite athlete’s confidence is more than that. It’s about perceiving their ability to be closer to their maximum potential as well as the belief that they have the ability to perform with skill. It also includes being able to manage stress and anxiety better than most. Think of three-time world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali in front of the TV cameras saying, “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. You can’t beat the greatest because I am Muhammad Ali.” Sounds pretty cocky, but these kinds of mental strategies were doing three things: Raising his own expectations of success, lowering the expectations of the opponent, and here’s the surprising one – masking or reducing his own fear.
Successful elite athletes are in control of themselves, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. They’ve achieved a level of self-mastery that most of us can only dream of. That is why so many athletes do such strange things before a performance. It is often chalked up to superstition, but it’s actually engaging in ritual behavior that helps them switch over from regular thinking to the automatic performance of physical skill. And it’s emotional control that keeps elite athletes to continue risking failure to reach peak performance. As ice hockey start Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
The success that comes to elite athletes is born of commitment – first and foremost to excellence, which requires a dogged persistence to be the best. Professional basketball star Michael Jordan sums it up best: “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” It’s that kind of commitment that separates the successful athlete from the mediocre athlete.
The four C’s of successful elite athletes are not beyond your reach. They are all a part of the training regimen they undergo to transform themselves into peak performers. Learn the mental strategies that result in these four C’s and your own path to success will open up in front of you.