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3 Lessons You Can Learn About Business from the World's Greatest Snowboarder

Snowboarding and running a business may not sound all that similar, but these three strategies from snowboarder Shaun White will help you run your business better.
3 Lessons You Can Learn About Business from the World's Greatest Snowboarder
Image credit: Tim Clayton - Corbis | Getty Images
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6 min read
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The following excerpt is from Scott Duffy’s book Breakthrough. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound

World-famous athlete Shaun White is widely known for his amazing skateboarding and snowboarding skills. He’s won three Olympic gold medals and more gold medals than anyone else in the X Games, not to mention 10 ESPY Awards from ESPN. Shaun’s mindset and approach to his sports don’t just put him at the top of his game; they also provide some strong fundamental approaches for entrepreneurs at all levels. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Visualization

Visualization is huge when it comes to doing the types of tricks Shaun does. “Obviously, setting goals is one thing, but actually attaining them and the steps you need to take is another,” he says. “I really think about everything. I think about the music that’s going to be playing, I think about what I’ll be wearing, what the sky’s going to look like. In fact, when going for the Olympic gold, I didn’t just think about winning. I played the whole thing through.”

For me, the real breakthrough here is harnessing the power of the way Shaun visualizes. Instead of seeing himself accomplishing his goal in the future, he visualized having already achieved it. He conditioned his mind to think he’d already won because he’d gone beyond the race and looked at it in so many ways. For example, Shaun’s dream since he was a kid was to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. So he visualized having won the gold medal and being on the cover as a result. He saw it, heard it, felt what it would be like to do the cover photo shoot. In fact, he even had his own custom clothes made for the shoot, including a pair of crazy pants! “I stepped into it and made it a reality,” explains Shaun. The dream finally came true in 2006 (and again in 2010).

Since that meeting, I’ve found this to be a very common practice among top performers. These visualization techniques can also help entrepreneurs see what they’re looking to accomplish in advance. Don’t just visualize reaching your goal—keep going and visualize what comes next.  

Chunk it down

Have you ever set goals that were so big you intimidated yourself? Lofty goals like winning Olympic medals can certainly be reached, but sometimes setting some smaller goals can keep you more mentally and emotionally balanced.

“I tend to set very high goals for myself and then some lower goals, something that’s achievable that’s more fun, more playful,” explains Shaun. When he was a teenager, his goal was to win a big competitive series. But that goal seemed daunting at the time. Many of the individual events in the series gave away cars to the winners, so instead of focusing on winning the series, he focused on winning each individual event, which meant he would win a car.

“One year my goal was to see how many cars I could win,” he says. “I was around 16 years old, so driving was on my mind. Man, I won about seven cars. It was ridiculous. I started donating some of them because I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do with them?’ I’d rather just give this to somebody.”

Winning the series seemed overwhelming, so instead, Shaun focused on each individual event. As a result, he won so many individual events, he won the corresponding cars and, eventually, the whole series. “It was a way for me to downplay the magnitude of the situation,” Shaun explains, “and really make it into a more attainable goal. To be kind to yourself in that way I find helps me a lot.”  

On failure

As anyone in business should know, failure is part of the equation. Certainly this is very true in sports, where recovery time has to be quick. If you dwell on failure, you’ll lose the competition or the game. Shaun sees failure as something you need to experience to go on to bigger things. “If you’re starting a business and you’re failing, well, good,” he says. “I’m glad you got it out of the way so you can succeed later on. I fell on my run during practice right before the Olympics. It was my last practice run, and I fell.

“I was so happy that I fell. I was like, ‘Thank God I got that out of the way.’ I don’t fall often, and that was a big one. There’s a lot on the line, and I fell right before the event. I didn’t let it freak me out. I just went, ‘Thank goodness that happened to me so that I can now go out and do what I need to do.’” By keeping his focus on what mattered, he could go on and win the gold medal. My real “aha” moment in learning more about Shaun was the way he not only embraced failure but was grateful for it. He repacked it in his mind, made a few adjustments, and used it as a tool to help him move forward. It’s the same thing in business and in life. You learn through your mistakes.

Successful entrepreneurs, like athletes, learn from what they do wrong. Shaun always stresses the importance of going for the long run. “Don’t go for these short-term wins. Know what you want to do and set forth that motion to get to that point. Don’t let little things sway you. Be thankful for the mistakes because now you know in the future what to do,” he adds.

In the end, Shaun’s messages work in any business venture. Visualizing puts the images in front of you so you can see the process and the results. Chunking down gives you smaller goals to help you stay focused on the steps it takes to achieve your larger goals while also minimizing the stress that often comes with reaching for the big payoff. And failure is part of the journey; you should expect, embrace, and learn from it.

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