Find your winning mentality
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What does a winning mentality look like to you?
Perhaps you see a triumphant sprinter bursting across the finish line, a flinty climber atop Everest or a business titan clinching the latest million-pound deal.
Or maybe you envisage someone from a rough background who overcomes mental health issues to hold down a job and build a life for themselves.
Alternatively, you might think of a teacher who cares for an ailing parent (and their own children) while struggling with a disability who’s just secured a promotion.
Whatever it looks like, the question has no right answer.
The mentality of a winner will mean different things to all but there is one common trait: an indomitable attitude that prevails over everything that stands in their way.
It’s a mindset shaped by strong self-belief, grit, resolution and an aptitude to shake off the disappointments you face – one that can propel you further than you ever thought possible.
It’s an asset to help you achieve success in whatever form you seek it.
But how do you create a mentality to win, or nurture the one you already have so that it becomes stronger? Our guide shows you how you could develop a winning mentality.
Pick as precise a goal as possible – and plan for it too
A winning mentality tends to be born out of intense personal motivation.
This can relate to just about anything on the human scale – from sheer survival to sporting success, personal happiness to professional peaks, and almost anything in between.
It isn’t just about being the first, or winning: it’s about finding your purpose and how you go about fulfilling it that creates the mentality.
Having a clear goal – and staying resolutely focused on it - is key to this and in many cases, a plan will be vital to help you get there.
The more precise, the easier it should be to concentrate as much of your energy and time towards it.
However, do prepare for the plan to be repeatedly blown off course. The path to success is rarely a smooth one but you can better ride out setbacks if you’ve drawn up a blueprint to guide you. One framework for doing so is known as SMART goals, which stands for:
- Specific – set precise objectives to help keep your focus
- Measurable – have targets that can be measured so you can monitor your progress
- Achievable – establish realistic goals that aren’t impossible for you to attain
- Relevant – ensure that the targets you are working towards fit your longer-term objectives
- Time-based – give yourself deadlines for motivation and planning purposes3
It’s often practised inside many larger companies but can apply to any size of business, and work well for most kinds of personal targets too.
The principle behind it is to help you clarify, organise and stick to your goals, as well as give you a roadmap to work from.
For example, say you need to boost business for your hair styling salon by attracting more customers online.
In this case, your SMART approach would see the ‘specific’ as a targeted 20 per cent increase in your online search engine traffic over six months.
The ‘measurable’ could be improving the quality of content on your website to the extent that you secure a dozen premium links from external websites.
Its ‘achievable’ status is clear provided all employees pitch in to help, and the ‘relevance’ qualifies on account of web expansion being a key business goal.
Finally, the two-month deadline will provide your vital ‘time-bound’ element to be able to assess progress (or otherwise).
Wise up on what you don’t know
You probably have a good idea where your natural talents and abilities lie but do you know what you’re not so good at?
Resting on the laurels of your existing skills can act against a winning mentality by luring you into taking it easy.
Chess champion Josh Waitzkin, whose success inspired the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, says the greatest thing was not his multiple wins but losing his first national chess championship. Why? Because it helped him avoid the trap of believing he didn’t need to train.
Recognising what you’re not so good at can be just as crucial to success.
Once you know where you’ve a weakness or have a huge knowledge gap, you can work to address it and bolster your skillsets so they’re the best they can be.
It might feel uncomfortable but it’ll be worth writing down a list of ‘lack of’ skills you have. Be as honest as you can to get as genuine a set of pointers as possible.
If you can nurture this sense of learning and read up on subjects new to you, you’ll reap great rewards.
Many of the world’s most successful leaders and entrepreneurs including Bill Gates and Jack Ma adhere to the importance of continuous learning as part of a winning mentality.
Michael Simmons, co-founder of global entrepreneurial education company Empact, devised the five-hour rule.
This suggests you spend at least an hour each working day dedicated to reading and learning. It doesn’t matter what it is – fiction, current affairs, a blog, specialist magazines, training papers, controversial opinion pieces etc – as long as it stimulates and challenges you.
Start with just 15 minutes if an hour is a big ask, and build up slowly. Or try to develop a habit of always carrying a book or magazine to fill in downtime while you wait, rather than while away time scrolling through social media on your smartphone.
Develop your decision-making
Being decisive can be crucial to cultivating a winning mentality. It’s long been considered a key attribute of high performers, and can be the razor-thin difference between success and failure.
The logic is straightforward: if you routinely struggle to make a decision, you’re likely to be less productive, miss more opportunities - and ultimately be less successful.
But, critically, how can you be sure the decisions you’re swiftly making are the right ones?
Although decision-making is a never-ending skill honed over years of experience, there are steps you can take to try and boost your chances of taking good ones.
There are plenty of practical strategies which apply computer logic to help you, including the 37% rule and ‘explore/exploit’ trade off.
Based on an algorithm, the 37% rule suggests that if you need to make a decision from a range of options, the best time to pick is when you’ve assessed 37% of them.
Why? At this point, the theory goes, you’ll have seen enough to make an informed judgment and won’t have spent more time than necessary weighing up options. In other words, you’ll be well placed to make the right decision.
At work, for example, it could be applied to picking job candidates or selecting suppliers; in a personal capacity, you could use it when house hunting.
Compare this to the ‘explore/exploit’ strategy for decision-making.
Here you choose between a tried and tested option that you’re already familiar with (‘exploit’) or one that’s new to you and poses more challenges (‘explore’).
Which you go for will depend on variables including the level of risk taken, the cost of consequences and size of possible reward.
An example at work might be a decision whether to rehire former employees who you know will do a specific job well, or instead employ ambitious graduates hungry to learn who could bring a host of fresh ideas to the role.
Treat every setback as a step closer to success
Mis-steps are an inevitable part of life. However, a winning mentality can use them as a powerful ingredient in the making of success.
It’s how you deal with your missed targets and failures that can help shape your biggest wins.
The essence to any setback is to take whatever lessons you can from it, so that you’re less likely to fail in the same way again.
A winning mentality will choose to avoid pointing the finger of blame at others and, by accepting responsibility, take control of what went wrong in order to be able to do it better next time.
Of course, this is more easily said than done – resilience can take time to build up, particularly when the going is constantly tough.
To help, business and personal achievement coach Erik Bayersdorfer suggests four key tips for business owners when faced with a setback, which apply to other situations too:
- Find someone who knows how to listen to you
- Communicate what happened, ensure that the person listening understands your point of view, and keep talking about it until you feel better
- Write down what you learned from the experience as guidelines to help create your future success
- Don’t get stuck in the past – learning and moving forward is key to success
Bouncing back from each failure isn’t easy but each time you do and manage to move on, your mentality will develop a greater fortitude.
One way to assess how you’re getting on is to measure your so-called ‘grit’, a concept put together and developed by psychologist Angela Duckworth.
The Grit Scale is her measure of how passionate and persevering you see yourself to be – characteristics that Duckworth claims are typical hallmarks of high- achievers.
As part of your overall approach to finding a winning mentality, try the test and use your score as a marker to seek improvements.
You can find more on how to treat failure as a lesson for success on the How to Fail With Elizabeth Day podcast. It highlights personal stories from interviewees who reveal how their own failures helped give them a critical steer to succeed.
Embrace a strong work ethic that works for you
A winning mentality can take many forms but one singular thread throughout all of them is a commitment to push yourself to the best of your ability – the element of exceptionalism.
This desire to constantly improve, learn and develop through practice, training, experience or tests is essential to keep on growing on the road to success – whatever your chosen field.
And where competition is particularly fierce, you can often find plenty of high-profile individuals who use what many would call an extreme approach to try and gain an edge.
For some it is to rise as early as possible - Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 3.45am, for example – or spend twice as many hours at work as regular employees.
Tesla chief Elon Musk reckons you need to work more than 80 hours a week to change the world.
Others change their behaviour to find a premium performance: Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has included ice baths, saunas, fasting and meditation as part of his routine to stay sharp.
The sports world is also full of similar tales.
Former Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson once said that he trained twice on Christmas Day because he knew his rivals wouldn’t be training at all.
It’s a mindset that tries to set itself apart into something exceptional and is typically found in an approach to elite sport.
In a bid to get the most you can out of training, you don’t ask ‘How long should I be training for every day?’ but instead ‘How long can I train every day?’
In other words, what limits can I test myself against?
Coaches regularly tell their charges that they need to use every single day to improve on yesterday’s performance, to grow out of their comfort zone and push through barriers to become better and win.
Yet the success of any work ethic will rely entirely on how you approach it.
Push yourself too hard without due care and you risk running into physical and mental health issues.
Instead, for many, huge gains towards a winning mentality can be made in slow, incremental steps – for example, in the workplace, you can do this by working smarter, refining your purpose, resolving motivation and nurturing a network to help you get ahead.
So if you’re keen to see how far you can push yourself, avoid trying to literally match the above extreme examples.
Instead, adopt the work ethic mindset behind such exertions and apply it to your endeavours.
For example, at its simplest level, imagine you’ve to prepare for an exam. Instead of your usual approach, focus on devoting as much of your time as possible to getting ready for the test.
You could opt to free up an extra hour both in the morning and evening to revise more thoroughly; take additional courses to bolster your research; listen to recordings of relevant classes on headphones during exercise; and take in a topical podcast during a commute.
Or if you were the owner of a new store set to open, a similar mindset to secure an advantage might see you introduce earlier opening hours – and later closing - than rivals, establish a broader geographical delivery area, and a promise to match any rival promotional deals.
Celebrate every success, whatever its size
Celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones to help pursue a winning mentality. Recognising each success can maintain momentum, with each achievement boosting motivation and self-confidence to push on to bigger wins.
It’s a calibre of mentality often seen in sport when a team celebrates an individual goal, wicket, try or basket – this moment of exhilaration and triumph is often more extensive than the overall win itself.
This power of marginal gains was the philosophy behind the British cycling team’s Olympic successes, where coach Dave Brailsford aimed to foster a culture of continuous improvement and do everything 1% better
The idea is that those small gains add up to a significant improvement.
So get used to giving each of your achievements the recognition it deserves, and it could help propel you to stay focused, hungry and keep moving forward.
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