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What We Can Learn From Athletes About Achieving Goals

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Lately, all eyes have been on Eugenie Bouchard. It’s not just because of her looks; at Wimbledon, it takes more than being young, tall and blond to get noticed. What has impressed tennis experts and spectators alike is her ferocious dedication to her craft. Being the first Canadian to make it to a Grand Slam Singles final in the Open era is a big achievement. In her eyes however, it was the conciliatory prize to missing being the youngest Grand Slam winner since Maria Sharapova, who won the title in 2006 at age 19. Taking to Twitter, she posted a photo of her posing with her runner-up trophy along with the caption “Not the trophy I wanted, but thank you @Wimbledon for a wonderful 2 weeks.”

Eugenie Bouchard wants to be the best and she doesn’t hide her ambition. She’s focused, persistent, and the epitome of someone who leans in to their career. Millennial career women can all learn from this. What else can we learn from elite athletes?

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Things don’t always go according to plan. A key secret to success is learning not to fear failure. A recent study on young, elite athletes by researchers at the University of Copenhagen found that “an individual affected more by fear of failure than hope for success will produce maladaptive performance behaviors … such as self-protective withdrawal of affective and cognitive resources, [and] disruption of concentration and orientation.” If this sounds familiar, fear not. Studies show it’s possible to change fear of failure over time. The trait is often a stable characteristic learned during childhood, but long-term goal setting interventions can be used as an effective mental training technique to reduce fear of failure.

All millennial career women should focus on achieving their goals every day. Goals that focus on achievement, rather than ones that link failure with consequences, result in behavioral and psychological tendencies toward higher learning and motivation.

Reflect at the Right Time

Like goal setting, reflecting is a useful activity for helping both elite athletes and professional women reach their goals. While we haven’t heard from Eugenie Bouchard directly in this area, Holly Bleasdale, an Olympian and current British record holder in the pole vault, recently shared her insights on reflection with a researcher at Runshaw College. She views it as a long-term practice that needs to be utilized at the right time and “realized how counterproductive over-thinking and reflection could be if used in the wrong way.” For Holly, reflecting during competition season often results in over-thinking and added stress. Waiting to reflect until after the end of the season works better for her. Similarly, taking some time to reflect and construct ideas for improvement after difficult periods at work may help provide clarity for you.

Be Aggressive

Being an ambitious woman isn’t always viewed positively. There continues to be a double standard with women being called bossy (or worse) rather than driven. But Eugenie Bouchard has received so much support for her work ethic, and it’s encouraging to see. Journalists were treating her “uncompromising devotion,” “fearless belief in herself,” and “icy confidence” as key traits that resulted in her success. These weren’t necessarily positive or negative qualities; they were facts.

Let’s be real and accept these traits in us. Avoid the “I was just lucky” statements and admit the hard work. It isn’t always comfortable, but be brave and share your goals and efforts with colleagues and friends. Be like Eugenie Bouchard, Sheryl Sandberg, and the increasing number of women willing to own their ambition and inspire peers and future generations of women to stick up for themselves and chase their dreams all the way.

Photo: Thinkstock

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