How to have a winning mindset

Former England cricketer turned sports psychologist Jeremy Snape gives his six lockdown leadership lessons

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

Being a professional athlete requires agility, fast thinking and the ability to overcome self-doubt – much like running a business during the coronavirus pandemic. 

With experience in both fields, former England cricketer Jeremy Snape should know. After 20 years on the pitch, in 2005 Jeremy surrendered the Leicestershire four-day captaincy to complete a masters degree in sports psychology. Today, he’s the founder and managing director of consultancy Sporting Edge, sharing the success strategies of leaders in business, sport and education.

As we step into what is likely to be, let’s face it, a winter of discontent, Jeremy reflects on the importance of having a ‘winning mindset’, which he sees in successful leaders and athletes alike.

“I always found that my mindset was the biggest difference between my best and worst days”, he says, adding that this led to the creation of his business podcast, Inside the Mind of Champions.

Here are his lessons on getting your mindset into shape during lockdown 3.0. 

Look after yourself first

“It sounds selfish, really, but I think it’s a bit like when we go on a plane and they say ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first, before you look after the kids.’ You’ve got to make sure that you are healthy, and have the energy and the focus, in order to be able to navigate this uncertainty. If we’re constantly blasting all of our psychological and emotional energy in a stressed environment, but never recovering to the same level, then we’re going to burn out.

“When you get put under incredible challenge at work you need to have incredible recovery strategies to balance that out. It’s part of the performance cycle; as high as the work rate goes during the day, the same sort of wave needs to drop off, and go deep, in the evening.”

Start one-nil up on the day

“The night before, leave your running kit or your walking gear out by the bedroom door, and put your alarm clock in your shoes, so you’ve actually already made the decision that you’re going to go for a jog or walk in the morning.

“By the time you get back from that (delete as appropriate) walk/yoga/reading/jog/bike ride, you feel so much better – and it might still only be 7:30am! You feel like you are one-nil up on the day; before the day started to drain your energy, you’ve built yourself up and done something great.” 

Focus on what you can control

“It’s a sort of cliché in sport psychology, but try to control the controllable. If you imagine three rings, the outside ring is things that are outside of your influence, like the government strategy for furlough, or the economy. We tend to catastrophise and emotionalise all of these things.

“The middle band is things that you can influence, but can’t control, like your team’s priorities. Really, where you should be focusing is the bullseye of the three rings, where you can control your energy levels, recovery strategies, priorities in the day, who you choose to spend my time with. These elements in this central bubble should be where we dial up our focus and commitment.”

Invest in your confidence

“When we start looking up at a big mountain in front of us, we forget how far we’ve come. What we’ve got to stay connected to is our strengths and past successes. 

“Looking in the mirror with affirmations, saying ‘You’re going to be great today’ is fine, but it’s not really my style. Instead, what you can do is look back over the last 12 months and ask yourself ‘Where have I shown real character? Where have I shown high-quality work, What are my individual strengths?’

“That’s not positive or wishful thinking. That’s evidence that you’ve already accumulated in this bank account of confidence. You need to keep looking back at those successes and strengths, writing them down, and staying close to them when you get put up against a new challenge.”

Make the most of every day

“An athlete might dream that they want to be an Olympic champion but it only happens if they do everything in their power to deliver gold medal days. 

“If you imagine a pyramid, at the top is wanting to be the 100m world champion. Underneath that is a performance goal and then a daily activity plan. On a daily basis it is getting up, doing stretches, drinking protein powder, doing 20 sets of exercises and doing those all to the max. Then recovering, and doing some more exercise again in the afternoon. That’s a gold medal day.

“You don’t know whether you’re going to win the Olympics – you don’t even know when the Olympics is at the moment – but what you can do is guarantee that you’ve made the absolute best use of today.” 

Put the tunes on

“Before some of the games I played for England there was certain music I would play. Music can be really good in terms of calming your mood down, lifting your mood up, or getting you more fired up.

“When athletes are on their way to a match, when they’re most nervous, I create a little highlight reel of all their best goals or their best performances. I put that to their favourite music and add in some keywords about focus, aggression, discipline or whatever it might be. 

“We only tend to see Jeff Bezos, and people like that, winning in the moment – but, actually, we can all have these small daily wins.”

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