The beauty of my job as a coach is the variety of people I meet. The plurality of experiences I am exposed to and the connections I create with people. Sometimes, I meet people whose experiences are very similar to mine, and whose personalities reflect mine.
I don’t necessarily collude with them as a coach, but I am deeply interested in their challenges.
A few years ago, I burnt out.
I was in a wonderful job, working for a passionate company whose mission I cared deeply for, but I had no boundaries.
I set myself impossible deadlines, impossible availability, and it suddenly everything became a matter of life and death.
Burnout was a powerful message to me. I exhausted my mental and physical energy. I went to my favourite place in the world to recuperate- Japan of course- and came back ready to make the same mistakes. Again.
Only when I decided to set up my own coaching practice, I realised that what was driving me and destroying me at the same time, was my athlete mindset.
So, the other day I had this conversation with my client:
‘How can I be even more, even better, than I am now?’
She asked me.
‘What’s beyond being better for you?’-I replied.
‘…no limits. A constant pursuit of more’.
I saw myself there.
I was once a competitive TaeKwonDoka, raised in a family of athletes and World champions, where doing well was not enough, as you always had to be the best.
I also saw the seeds of burn-out in that conversation. I spotted an athlete mindset.
That made me reflect: who are these people who I meet, with an athlete mindset and why do I think they are at risk of burnout?
Often at executive levels in companies, or business owners, or former competitive athletes, these are people that at some point in their lives or careers ask: What if I could do …more? How much can I push?
These are also people that run at 100km per hour towards their goals and when you ask them who they are, what they want, how they feel, what’s important to them … they are not able to put the foot on the break right in the moment and answer authentically. You need to meet where they are. Only then, you can understand the person behind the performance.
Now to the practical bit:
How do you spot an athlete mindset at work? And how can you help them (or you!) to develop without hitting the burnout wall?
For the sake of space, I have identified 5 common traits of individual with an athlete’s mindset, but there are certainly more. However, in my experience, these are pretty much always present:
– Focused. They have high level of concentration, enjoying and savouring the journey. Think about if you were to run a marathon, for example: you would focus on one step after the other, rather than thinking how much time is left to the end.
– Disciplined: they are committed to practice and learning, at a great speed and sometimes at an extreme level. With practice there is a level of sacrifice, deep curiosity and extreme commitment that nourish them.
-They have a powerful why and clear vision. Essentially, they do what they do for themselves (or sometimes against themselves) and they can clearly picture their goal which must be achieved.
-They are not always comfortable with vulnerability. Often so occupied with pursuing their high goals, they somehow don’t make time for reflection. Things happen quickly, stopping is hardly a priority.
-Finally, they struggle with balance. They crave balance, control. Sometimes in this search for balance they forget to have fun, as the search becomes extreme and exhausting. This is where the complexity of an athlete mindset begins.
Although, these traits serve them very well in life and at work as they thrive, exhaustion can break them.
Yet, the curious thing is that being tired is often the unquestioned normality. Setting up their own deadlines and impossible expectations are the norm, as well as ‘teaching’ other people that this is what they should expect from them.
If you have an athlete mind or you coach or lead one, you have to run with them and meet where they are, to help them prevent burnout.
Here my tips which I wish someone would have given me a few years ago!
- Use their own language, see what they see and understand that they are individuals before performers. ‘Run with them’, recognising their efforts and offering a compassionate and safe space where they can open up.
- Once they feel safe, a process of self-awareness begins. When this starts and they recognise the need for change, these individuals usually will make things happen. They really believe there are resources out there that can be used to achieve what they want.
- Suggest recovery time: they need a challenge as much as nourishment. They need tools to develop resilience and keep themselves in the game. Techniques to calm the mind such as meditation, visualisations, coaching, self-talk, community support etc.
- Remember to have fun: remind them the playful aspect of the vision they have set for themselves. Appreciate, recognise and celebrate.
- Offer Perspective: it’s not always a matter of life and death. What other important things are in your life that do not depend on you excelling at achieving your goal?
- Talk about self-compassion. What kind words can you use towards yourself? As Kristin Neff-author of the book Self Compassion-says: “Remember, if you want to motivate yourself love is more powerful than fear” .
Do you recognise yourself in this profile? Or someone near you?
Would love to hear your thoughts!
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