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Research fellow Dr Mustafa Sarkar has spent a lot of time studying mental resilience in Olympic Champions. Many of the elite athletes he has interviewed cite the importance of resilience in their success, noting that the path to gold medals is rarely straight forward and simple. Based on his researchhe has suggested several ways that Olympic champions developed resilience.

We have highlighted 9 of them here:

1. Develop a positive personality – For the Olympians, this included being open to new experiences, being optimistic, competitive and conscientious, as well as being proactive.

2. View your decisions as active choices not sacrifices – This helps maintain a sense of control over the situation. This will also keep intrinsic motivation high.

3. Use support available to you from other people – Seek out people who can help you. This can include technical advice on what you are doing, or just social support to make you feel better when times are tough.

4. Identify your motivation for succeeding – Identify what’s important to you. This will help keep you motivated and determined, especially when you have had a setback or your goal seems far away.

5. Focus on personal development – Don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others. This can increase stress and the fear of failure. As the director Baz Luhrmann says, ‘the race is long, and in the end, only with yourself.’

6. View setbacks as opportunities for growth – Ask yourself what you have learnt and what you would do differently next time. These sorts of questions can help improve your meta cognition and growth mindset as well as resilience.

7. Strengthen your confidence from a range of sources – Drawing on a range of sources can make your confidence more robust. This can include your preparation, your previous successes or the faith that other people have in your ability.

8. Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours – Avoid the temptation of playing the blame game. Externalising all your problems may protect your self-image for a little while, but is unlikely to help you get better in the long run.

9. Concentrate on what you can control – Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t change or can only influence. This means focusing on the process, not the outcome.

Can This Apply To Everyone?

So there are the 9 ways that Olympians develop their resilience. But can we apply these lessons to other areas of life? Maybe. In a different study on the resilience of high achievers, which included successful people from sport, business, law enforcement, medicine, media, education and politics, many of these 9 tips are mentioned as being key to their resilience.


“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”
–Carl Lewis, USA gold medalist in track and field

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