Sports psychology teaches us that a positive attitude and self-belief are the keys to success

Britain has always enjoyed mixed fortunes at the Olympic Games, with some memorable medal-winning performances, interspersed with some disappointing results.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Kelly Holmes won two gold medals - in the 800m and 1500m. Although she was physically drained from the 800m, her earlier victory boosted her confidence. She believed in herself and knew she could win the double.

What separates good athletes from great athletes is not their physical condition but their positive attitude. They train their minds regularly to accept that they will perform at their peak as often as possible.

And this applies to us all, irrespective of the role we perform. When you approach a task with doubt, misgivings and ambiguity, that is exactly what you get. When you approach a task with confidence, determination and self-belief, you will succeed.

It is not just about winning, however; it is also the mental resilience to bounce back after a setback. Basketball star Michael Jordan captured the essence of it well when he said: 'I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again - and that’s why I succeed.'

Some of the principles of sports psychology can be employed by each of us in our daily lives. Here are two you can safely try at home or at work.

Mental imagery

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a specific environment, performing a specific task very well and successfully. It should be as graphic as possible: what you see, hear, feel and do. Mental imagery does not focus on the outcome but on the actions required to achieve the outcome. It is part of the preparation plan and helps to set the stage for a good performance.

You can boost your self-confidence by applying mental imagery before you perform a task or activity. Play it out in your mind first, see and feel the experience as perfectly and precisely as possible, and move through the actions as you would like them to happen.


In sports psychology, pattern-breaking routines are used to prevent athletes from falling into a negative mental attitude. When people are disappointed with their performance, they tend to focus on the mistakes they made. They dwell on the past and not on the future where the opportunity for change lies.

The pattern-breaking technique gets the athlete to identify a role model, someone who performs the task or activity consistently well. They visualise the role model in action; what they do and how they do it. The athlete is then asked to remember a word or phrase they associate with the role model's performance. As part of their preparation and during their performance, the athlete repeats the word or phrase. This helps them stay focused and promotes confidence in their performance.

Managers take note, the two key psychological ingredients to consistently perform at our best are a calm, focused mind and a winning attitude. Maintaining a positive mental attitude is crucial to accomplishment in any field. Without belief in eventual success, we may give up when faced with difficulties or adverse circumstances.