Open Colleges has been speaking with prominent sportswomen about how they tackle setting goals, rising above challenges and constantly improving their personal bests. Here, Stephanie shares some of her thoughts on how to motivate yourself to achieve your goals.
The Olympian has been awarded the Order of Australia, one of the highest honours given to recognise Australian citizens. Stephanie won three gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and even tried her hand at running a successful business in 2013, when she won season three of The Celebrity Apprentice Australia.
When Stephanie was swimming competitively and training for the Olympics, she mentions that there were some times that were difficult, mentally and emotionally, as she aimed to keep her mindset positive.
“It’s very important to have a goal that you are shooting for so when hurdles come long, which they always do, you have a plan and remind yourself of why you are doing what you’re doing,” Stephanie says. “Aside from that I believe it’s very important to have a positive, supportive team around you, and have someone to fall upon for advice, like a mentor.”
Stephanie mentions that she received professional support from her trainer, “My coach was my mentor,” she explains, “and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Many elite athletes speak of setting an “emotional mindset” for winning. “I have a very regimented routine,” she says of her method of mentally preparing for a big race.
“Some people may call it OCD,” Stephanie jokes, “but I believe that when you are prepared and have a plan – you can relax – because you know what to do.”
The power of positive thinking also came into play. “I did a lot of positive self-talk,” the swimmer says, “and I have learnt over the years to block the negative talk inside my head or be able to turn it into something positive.”
Whatever your goals are, whether it’s’ getting a better job, motivating yourself for self-paced study or aiming for an Olympic gold medal, Stephanie believes that you need to put the hard work in to truly make your mark.
“Preparation is key in anything you do,” says Stephanie, “especially at a high level.”
My coach always used to say, ‘If you don’t practise it in training then you won’t do it when you race,’ and its very true.”
“Not only true about the physical hours of training but the mental side too.”
So, when Stephanie felt like she had pushed herself as far as she could possibly go – how did she get that extra 10 per cent out of her body and mind?
“I think it was something that I was born with,” Stephanie says. “Not everyone has that skill and I feel very blessed that I can switch into a new level even when I’m completely exhausted.”
But Stephanie says that this talent to “go beyond her limits” is something she shares with other elite athletes. “I think almost every athlete that is the best in the world has that ability,” she explains, “which is why they are the best. But I practised this every day in training, and not just once, every finish into the wall, every time I was side-by-side with someone in the lane – I would always push to win.”
To be the best, no matter what your game (be it business, sport, study or family) you need to work out how to overcome challenges, Stephanie says. So what were some of the biggest challenges she faced in her professional career, and how did she overcome them?
“Most definitely overcoming my three shoulder surgeries,” Stephanie explains. “I had to change my whole routine around and train completely differently, but most of all take things slowly which I hate.”
“Thankfully I had a great team of physios, masseurs and, of course, my coach to support me through and educate me on the importance of sticking to the slow recovery.”
But it wasn’t always easy. “That being said I found it really hard emotionally to watch my team mates and competitors swimming really hard when I wasn’t allowed to,” Stephanie says, “so I found it best for me to stay away from the pool as much as possible and just focus on myself and what I could do and learn to take each day as it came and not put any expectation on what lay ahead.”
Most of us have experienced a “failure” at some point in our lives, but Stephanie says that there are ways to pick yourself up and start again, and not just applying this premise to sport, but to anything you’re looking to achieve.
“I don’t believe in failure,” says Stephanie. “I look at every outcome, positive or negative as something to learn from, and usually I learn more from my losses compared to my failures.”
“As an athlete we are trained to always revise and look back over each race and break it down into such detail to improve it for the future. I have tried to take this skill into my personal and business life too.”
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