By Shane M. Murphy, Ph.D. & Annemarie Infantino Murphy, Ph.D.
Gold Medal Psychological Consultants

What does it take to do your very best, even when the pressure is on? Have you ever watched Olympic athletes as they compete and wondered how they deal with the turmoil they experience?

The answer is that top athletes not only perfect their physical skills, they also train to master the psychological skills that allow them to deliver their best in competition. They know that they must learn the mental skills of competition now, in order to achieve excellence in the future. When it all comes together, athletes call it being in the Zone. Athletes recognize the Zone as a special place where their performance is exceptional and consistent. Performance is automatic and flowing. Competition is fun and exciting.

For over a decade, Shane Murphy, Ph.D has been helping people reach their own Zones, the level of mind/body harmony which allows them to achieve their goals. In 1987, Dr. Murphy became the first full-time sport psychologist at the United States Olympic Committee's Training Center in Colorado Springs. Since then, he has worked every day with America's best athletes. For several years, we have been working with clients from businesses large and small, teaching them the skills of success which I use with Olympic athletes. Our clients tell us that the skills we teach help them achieve their best under pressure, allow them to stay focused during difficult tasks, and enable them to enjoy even the most challenging assignments. Psychologically, the world of corporate competition is very similar to the world of athletic competition!

Athletes know all about the pressures of competition. Their careersare determined by how well they do against others. They can't hide from evaluation -- their performance is out in front for everyone to see. In this demanding environment they have developed the competitive skills necessary to survive and excel. These skills can be used by anyone who works in a competitive environment. Being able to do your best when the pressure's on is as important for entrepreneurs, business people, salespeople, and professionals as it is for athletes.

How well do you perform in competitive situations? Do you look forward to public presentations and formal evaluations with excitement, or do you dread the thought of them? Are you known as a "pressure performer" or do you wish you could do better when the pressure is on? Developing the skills to reach your Achievement Zone in competitive situations is the key to successfully handling pressure.

Take the following test to see how well-developed your mind/body skillsare right now.

How Good Are Your Mind/Body Skills?

Listed below are 16 statements describing different approaches to life.Think about each statement and answer true or false.

  • I spend time planning how I will reach my goals.
  • I regularly evaluate whether I have made progress in reaching my goals.
  • Before I perform a task, I imagine being successful.
  • I visualize successfully dealing with things that might go wrong on a project.
  • I keep my thoughts positive when I am performing or presenting in an important situation.
  • I talk positively to myself to get the most out of my performance.
  • I practice using relaxation techniques so I can stay calm under pressure.
  • I am able to relax if I get too nervous.
  • During important tasks, I use reminders to tell myself what I should be concentrating on.
  • I perform effortlessly in evaluative situations without consciously thinking about it.
  • I am able to refocus effectively if I get upset during a project.
  • During an important project I quickly clear emotions that interfere with my performance.
  • I can raise my energy level when necessary.
  • When I need to, I can psych myself up for important situations.
  • I have a specific method of preparing before important tasks.
  • If I encounter a setback, I can rebound and still perform effectively.

If you answered "false" to one or more of the questions in the groups indicated below, you should pay particular attention to that skill. You will probably benefit greatly from learning how to use it successfully.

Scoring Key: (Question - Mind/Body Skill)

  • Questions 1 and 2 - Action Focus
  • Questions 3 and 4 - Creative Thinking
  • Questions 5 and 6 - Productive Analysis
  • Questions 7 and 8 - Keeping Cool
  • Questions 9 and 10 - Concentration
  • Questions 11 and 12 - Emotional Power
  • Questions 13 and 14 - Energizing
  • Questions 15 and 16 - Consistency

The Eight Mind/Body Skills for Success

These are the eight skills that will help you reach your Achievement Zone:

Action Focus: This is the skill of knowing how to successfully reach your long-term goals. It requires focusing on the task you need to accomplish, rather than on the desired result. It means setting achievable goals as a stepping stone to ultimate success.

Creative Thinking: This is the skill of using your imagination to achieve your goals and solve problems.

Productive Analysis: We all have an inner voice, but if we talk to ourselves negatively we perform poorly. Productive thinking helps us stay confident. It also helps us identify weaknesses and find ways to improve.

Keeping Cool: The Keeping Cool skill allows you to deal with anxiety and prevent panic. Top athletes recognize that they will be nervous before big competitions. They practice skills such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation so they can calm down when the pressure's on.

Concentration: The ability to enjoy the present is critical for competitive success. Elite athletes learn to focus their concentration so that they pay attention only to the things which will help them succeed. As a result, their performance flows smoothly.

Emotional Power: Strong emotions are a natural part of sports and business. The best performers use their emotions constructively. They learn to deal with the inevitable negative emotions such as disappointment, frustration and sadness. It's important to be able to refocus after getting upset if you wish to be successful.

Energizing: Doing your best on a consistent basis takes lots of energy. The skill of Energizing enables you to keep going when you feel like quitting. You need Energizing if you frequently feel tired and worn out.

Consistency: Sport psychologists have found that the best athletes prepare very carefully for every performance. They often have a set routine that they follow exactly.

What does it take to reach the Achievement Zone? The eight mind/body skills we've identified are crucial for successful performance. Some of these skills are used on a daily basis by successful people. Other skills are used only when needed, for example, when dealing with distractions. But all eight skills are needed at some time to consistently reach the Achievement Zone.

"The Achievement Zone is when everything becomes clear and focused. Nothing bothers you -- you know instinctively what to do. You know that whatever happens your reaction will be the right one. Nothing rattles you."


Annemarie Infantino Murphy, Ph.D.


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