The Olympic Guide to a Successful Life: 8 Timeless Words of Wisdom

“If my dreams can happen to me, your dreams can happen to you. Champions are not made on the track or field; champions are made by the things you accomplish and the way you use your abilities in everyday life situations.”
Bob Beamon

The Summer Olympics are here and in full gear. This time I have probably watched it more than ever and enjoyed a lot of great entertainment in the athletics, triathlon, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling and sailing competitions.

For me it is not just exciting, educating and suspenseful to watch the competitions. It’s also very inspiring to see how much work people have put in, the fantastic things they achieve during the Olympics and the joy that people get out of it all no matter if they watch or compete.

So today I would like to share some of the most inspiring thoughts I have found from current and past Olympic champions.

1. Don’t make things harder, bigger or more complicated than they can be.

“All I’ve done is run fast. I don’t see why people should make much fuss about that.”
Fanny Blankers-Koen, sprint, long jump, high jump and more

One thing I try to keep in mind is to not make a too big a deal out of things.

Many movies or life-stories of successful people tell us stories of the underdog that struggles and struggles until he or she finds the success that he or she was dreaming of. Things often take time. Perhaps longer than one would hope for. And keeping yourself in underdog position can be motivating to keep soldiering on.

It can also be a way to make things a lot harder for yourself than they need to be. Every bit of progress and action becomes a big struggle. Approaching things like you’re in some kind of battle may look cool on the movie screens. It may not be the most pleasant way to go about things.

Your attitude towards things does to a large degree determine how you experience them. And how or if you take action. Now, things can be difficult. But making things harder than they need to be, to identify with an image of someone who makes progress inch by painstaking inch can make you feel important since your struggle is so epic. It’s a bit unnecessary though.

If things are hard or difficult then it is most likely you who are creating much of that in your own head. So be good to yourself. Let that kind of thinking go and replace it with a lighter and a less serious attitude. You’ll thank yourself later.

2. Climb out of the sea of negative voices.

“When anyone tells me I can’t do anything, I’m just not listening any more.”
Florence Griffith Joyner, sprinter

It’s easy to let other people’s negative opinions slip into your mind. But remember, they are just opinions. Not fact. Even though the opinion may come from someone your look up to and respect. When faced with this problem ask yourself a few questions:

Have they actually tried this or do they know something about this? Or are they just sharing their own pessimism?

Or trying to keep everything as it always has been as change and the unknown can be scary?

You may often realize that people are just voicing there own problems and identity. Rather than giving your accurate and experienced advice.

Listen to what others have to say. If what they’re saying makes sense, take it into account. But hold your own opinion in the highest regard. Make own decisions instead bouncing around like a pinball while reacting to what others tell you.

3. Don’t let hero worship get in your way and hold you back.

“It took me time to realize that the men who won Olympic gold medals in the decathlon are just men, just like me.”
Dan O’Brien, decathlete

Sure, you may not be able to swim like Michael Phelps. But to put people you admire up on pedestals is to make things unnecessarily hard on yourself. Because everyone is human, no matter what that have accomplished. If you don’t think that you can do anything similar then it will be very hard for you to do so.

You won’t feel worthy to do so. You’ll feel that this or that person is so very different from you. And so you’ll hinder or self-sabotage to keep yourself in line with your own expectations and self-image. Understanding that everyone is human can open you up to your own potential.

And realizing that everyone fails and make mistakes can remove other mental blocks in your mind too. When you feel like everyone is human you feel more connected to people. Holding people to unreasonable standards will only create more unnecessary conflicts in your world and negativity within you.

4. Be careful with inflating your ego or identifying too strongly with your success.

“I’m the same kind of guy before all this happened.”
Michael Phelps, swimmer

If you let the success go to your head then it can, for one, make you an arrogant jerk. It can also make you more emotionally reactive as you inflate your ego and strongly identify with your achievements.

This will feel awesome at first. But soon you may start to doubt that you are still as good as your last achievement and as awesome as everyone said you were. And so you become more reactive to criticism or having a bad day. This affects the steadiness of your focus, thoughts and emotions. And so your inner life becomes more of a rollercoaster. All of this can not only affect your relationships with other people but also your performance.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a high level of confidence in yourself and your abilities. It just means that you should be careful with getting completely wrapped up in your past achievements and letting you ego inflate to a harmful size.

5. Put your work into a longer perspective.

“What I can tell them is the way you become an Olympic champion is to start working now. I tell them why it’s always worth it to put the time and effort into something you want to be good at.”
Rafer Johnson, decathlete

How do you become really, really good at something? The biggest part is the amount of work you put in. Sure, you can work smart too and save energy and effort. But the people that really fulfill their potential seem to put in years and years of hard work that most people just aren’t willing to put in. Why?

Well, I’d say:

Because of the support from other people.
Because they know that they need the challenge and can’t stay in their comfort zone and just take it easy.
But mostly I think it’s because of the love of what they do.

So focus on doing what you love – or like a whole lot – to get really good at something.

6. Take a risk.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
Muhammad Ali, boxer

To get what you really want you will pretty much always have to take risks. Of course, that can be scary.

So how can you overcome this, take a leap and take the risk? I don’t have some simple and easy solution. But I do have a couple of tips.

  • Really, really want it. When you really want it simply becomes easier to push through the inner resistance you feel. You are so motivated to achieve whatever it is you want that the risk may be scary but smaller than your desire.
  • Ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? It is common to build big, negative fantasies in your heads of what may happen if you do something. Huge scary monsters. But probably 90 percent of what you fear never comes into reality. If you remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more of that worry from your thoughts.

Every time you take the leap and take a risk – even if things might not go your way that time – you can build confidence in yourself. By getting more experiences where you took action instead of sitting on your hands it will over time becomes easier to start moving in the direction you desire and take a chance.

7. Focus only on what you are doing right now.

“I’m trying to do the best I can. I’m not concerned with tomorrow, but with what goes on today.”
Mark Spitz

When you are actually doing the best that you can out on the court, in the pool, behind the computer or wherever you do what you do in then detach from the outcome. Just focus on what’s in front of you. Not on what you missed in the past. Not on the all possible future outcomes of your performance right now.

Then things will become easier. You’ll create less inner anxiety and pressure for yourself. And you will perform better because you are just focusing on what’s right in front of you and you are not weighing yourself down with a lot of self-created negativity and doubts.

8. Don’t let the initial impression get you down.

“Don’t be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning. That’s only the initial impression. The important thing is not to retreat; you have to master yourself.”
Olga Korbut, gymnast

Since society often tells us to look for quick fixes or instant gratification it’s easy to make the mistake of giving up too soon. After you have tried something maybe just once or twice. Or after you have failed or put in a pretty bad or mediocre performance perhaps 1-5 times. That’s a pretty “normal” thing to do.

But what could have happened if you just kept going after that? And for each time you did it you learned more and more about what works?

I think people often make a mistake of giving up too early. Your mind probably has a reasonable time-frame for success. This might not correspond to a realistic time-frame though.

It’s useful to take a break from common and often advertised perspectives and let more realistic perspectives seep into your mind. Learn from people who have gone where you want to go. Talk to them. Read what they have to say in books or online. This will not give you a complete plan but a clearer view of what is needed to achieve what you want.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I really love this article. Thank you so much for sharing YOUR gifts. Also loved the Fanny Blankers-Koen quote, the best Dutch athlete of all time. :)

  • What an exuberant article! Wow! I truly enjoyed reading this post Henrik! The way you have put together the organization of every lesson, I think everybody should read this article and everybody would be inspired.
    Thank you for putting yet another powerful post on this blog. I am sharing this with my network, right now!

  • Great tips here Henrik!

    I think number 4 is especially important, and not just in times of success. When we starting tying our ego or our personal identity to the results (positive or negative) of our performance we open ourselves up to a lot of problems. We start thinking we can control more of the world than we really can which leads to more stress and less happiness.

    For example (and to carry on the Olympic theme) if an athlete was to swim/run/sail their best race and achieve a PB they should be happy because they know they have put their very best effort in. If someone else happens to do even better that is simply out of their control and the result (being beaten by a better performance) does not detract from the first athlete’s effort. Only one person can win the gold medal but that does not prevent more than one person from turning in a great performance and being proud of their effort.

    Zac Sky

  • Cacia

    Love this article Henrik! Thank you for finding inspiration in everyday things and sharing them. I ignore most e-mails coming in but yours I always look forward to reading :)

  • Wow, excellent, inspirational article. Thank you so much. I’ll be sharing it with my network as well.

  • Thank you all for your wonderful comments and thoughts! :) Have a great weekend!

  • I’ll try to keep these all in mind. I struggle really badly with comparing myself to other people and I just need to *STOP IT* and keep trying! Your blog is a great help :)

  • ss

    excellent advice ! keep it up!

  • Love this article, Henrik!

    Great quotes and great commentary on your part. I’m not much of a TV watcher. I would much rather do something than watch others get paid to pretend to do something. But the Olympics is always such an exception. I think I make up for the national TV average in those short couple a weeks. But it is just so inspiring. Excellence is such a heart-pounding thrill. So thanks for putting this article together.

    I think the one that hits home the most for me is Michael Phelps comment about still being a regular guy. I think the principle can be applied in both directions too.

    Not only can we let success go to our heads, thereby limiting our future growth, but by assuming these people are something superhuman, we stop ourselves from thinking we can attain great goals ourselves. We then risk thinking they have something special we don’t have, and so we settle for much less than our potentials would have otherwise allowed.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • When I feel down, I usually go here to unwind, and this post did that! Thanks so much!

    Of all the quotes, this one touched my heart like butter on my toast:
    “It took me time to realize that the men who won Olympic gold medals in the decathlon are just men, just like me.”
    Dan O’Brien, decathlete

  • Awesome Post. Loved the way you have quoted these motivational quotes and elaborated them. I am loving your posts!!
    keep motivating.