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4 Mental Skills Used by Every Successful Business Leader

Entrepreneurship is a mental marathon.

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Since before the turn of the millennium, mental strategies used in elite sport have been transferred to the business world to increase performance. Elite athletes know all too well they need to manage their own mental state and emotions before becoming distracted by anyone else’s.

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The same too applies for business leaders to become successful. They know the principles will bring a return on investment when they consistently apply them.

Motivation, focus, goal clarity, resilience and stress management are all mental demands placed on anyone who strives to be the best in their field. Here are four core mental skills of champions the world over that you must master if being a successful business leader sits high on your bucket list.

1. Reach for the stars when you're aiming for the moon.

Imagine you’re tasked with pulverizing a solid wooden board held up in front of you that is two centimeters thick. You can only strike the board once using the heel of the palm of your hand. If you’re not familiar with karate techniques, you might be surprised to learn your best focus point to strike at is not the center of the board. To split the board effortlessly you aim for your arm to finish full-stretch when you strike, well past the board. By doing so, the board is split when you’re only at half-stretch. The greatest surge of energy is still pulsing through your arm and you’ve not yet hit your target.

If you were set a revenue goal of $250,000, would you schedule activity that might only just bring you and your team that amount? Or would you set your team’s sights on reaching $300,000? Set your main goals at a point beyond the ones you are told, matter. The one you’re given becomes a sub-goal you’ll reach along the way to blowing the original goal out of the water.

Related: 50 Inspirational Quotes to Help You Achieve Your Goals

2. Imagery and visualization skills will accelerate your progress.

You’re behind the eight-ball if you have not yet experienced the profound impact imagery and visualization can have on business performance. There’s a lot more to it than simply closing your eyes and picturing success.

Effective visualization and imagery need to be planned, sequenced and honed. The reticular activating system (RAS) in your brain stem filters information which supports and guides you to achieve what you focus on. You, therefore, want to be careful about what dominates your mind’s eye. Here are three key steps to kick-start you on the right track:

Create and practice movie sequences: Recall dreams that felt real. They’re not merely snapshots. Your aim is to orchestrate visualization and imagery of the results and achievements you want. Eyes closed, you want to create animation. Sequence the snapshots to roll like a movie scene the same way you experience vivid dreaming.

Incorporate all your senses: Make your visualizations as real as possible. Ignite your visualizations with smell, taste, touch and sound details. When you do, you activate and better train the neurocircuitry that will pivot your thinking, behavior and attention in the direction of the business goals you chase.

Practice regularly, preferably daily: Dr. Srini Pillay, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, explains there are profound benefits to undertaking deliberate sessions of positive constructive day-dreaming. The  working memory processes in your brain can solve problems better and generate ideas you cannot normally access in pressured situations.

Related: The Extraordinary Power of Visualizing Success

3. Practice self-observation and introspective reflection for greater resilience.

As business leaders, we endure many more highly stress-inducing encounters than our subordinates. Exercising strategies that continually strengthen our ability to emotionally and rebound is a must. Here are three:

Pause regularly: There is proof in the "performance pudding" of slowing down to speed up. Pausing your thought process increases your attention span and reduces feelings of anxiety. You’re throwing a healthy cognitive spanner in the works to stop critical dialogue from spiraling and at least keep negative emotions at a simmer.

Become better at timing this pause and becoming an observer of your reactions: Consider the common circumstances of when you mentally and emotionally unravel. When spurs your feeling frustrated, angry or overwhelmed? Genuinely confess your patterns.

As soon as you notice those reactions igniting, pause and become an observer of the internal dialogue you’re having. What words are you using? Are you having any physical reactions? Butterflies in the stomach? Tingling in the fingers? Chest tightness? Refrain from making judgments or conclusions. Your mission in these moments is to simply be your own observer and gather data.

When you step into self-observation, you instantly engage your left brain’s analytical skills. From this mere switch, the intensity of your right-brained activity -- emotional expression -- will drop. Your mind’s capacity has more freedom to think clearly and rationally.

As you become a master of self-observation, you will find those stress triggers will no longer affect you as severely. They will no longer control you as you have developed the power to manage them.

Related: 12 Self-Awareness Exercises That Fuel Success

4. Practice optimism through reframing while also acknowledging the negatives.

Business leaders by definition, usually exercise a way of thinking the team they lead does not. Our job is to tread where others fear to in pursuit of progress, growth and business success. Even mitigated risks can turn into grave failures creating emotional and mental turmoil that fractures us and our teams. Guilt, denial and shame are common byproducts in the business leaders’ school of hard knocks.

The instant you permit yourself to acknowledge a mistake or failure as being such you draw a close to any prolonged turmoil you’ve been experiencing. From the point of confessing: “It is my fault, I stuffed up and the impact has been disastrous” the only way you can go from here, is up.

Practice optimism to then take yourself and your team forward by debriefing answers to the following questions:

  • What are the lessons gained from this?
  • What changes can be made to avoid the same outcome occurring?
  • What perspectives, ideas and possibilities have arisen out of this undesirable outcome?

Successful leaders always hunt for answers to these questions. Your search for these answers restores your (and your team’s) growth mindset. Ideas and possibilities will start to turn the wheels of productivity again. Regained momentum will have you and your team looking forward again in no time.

Choose to master these four mental skills and you’ll make being a successful business leader an inevitability rather than a chance encounter.

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