When you feel like work is akin to run­ning a marathon, it may help you to learn that men­tal en­durance strate­gies used by top ath­letes can come in handy in the of­fice too. BY CH­ERYL LEONG

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Kleenex Special - Edgar Tham, sports and per­for­mance psy­chol­o­gist SH

In sports, if you don’t keep your eye on the ball, it could cost you a win. At work, if you snooze, you lose. That’s why Edgar Tham, a sports and per­for­mance psy­chol­o­gist, says sports can be a metaphor for work: “Many men­tal re­silience skills that high-per­for­mance ath­letes use are rel­e­vant in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment.”

This “5C model” of men­tal tough­ness helps not just sports­peo­ple to cope in com­pe­ti­tions, but also those who work in high-stress jobs.


When you’re fac­ing dead­lines and multi-task­ing, your mus­cles tense up un­con­sciously and you may feel edgy. To per­form bet­ter, you need to man­age your stress and anx­i­ety.

Edgar says one way to stay cool un­der pres­sure is to cen­tre your­self through med­i­ta­tion. This tech­nique, known as “pro­gres­sive re­lax­ation”, is what Olympic swim­mer Michael Phelps used as part of his pre-race rou­tine since he was 12. “Ev­ery night be­fore he went to bed, his mother would read him re­lax­ation scripts, guid­ing him to tense, then re­lax, the mus­cles in var­i­ous parts of his body. Soon, he was able to do it by him­self,” says Edgar. WHAT YOU CAN DO: A five-minute cen­tring ex­er­cise. Take a slow, deep breath, push­ing the air down to­wards your ab­domen. Hold for five sec­onds. When you ex­hale, con­sciously re­lax your mus­cles. Pause for six sec­onds. Re­peat four to five times.

Many men­tal re­silience skills

that high­per­for­mance ath­letes use are rel­e­vant in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment.


“This means re­main­ing fo­cused on what needs to be done now. Think­ing too far ahead or be­ing only re­sult­driven can dis­tract you from the task at hand,” says Edgar. To over­come this, es­tab­lish a con­sis­tent “preper­for­mance rou­tine” – a set of mindbody ex­er­cises to help you fo­cus and de­liver your best.

Edgar ex­plains: “When­ever I ask sports­peo­ple to re­visit their great­est mo­ments and tell me what they were think­ing of or feel­ing just be­fore, they al­ways say they felt re­laxed, calm and ready. And they usu­ally have a rou­tine – a phys­i­cal or men­tal ex­er­cise – to help them get in the zone.” WHAT YOU CAN DO: Think about three oc­ca­sions when you’ve writ­ten a great re­port or de­liv­ered a smooth pre­sen­ta­tion, and re­mem­ber what you were do­ing just be­fore. It may be some­thing you tell your­self (leg­endary boxer Muham­mad Ali fa­mously said he was “the great­est thing that ever lived”) or do – for ex­am­ple, tak­ing two min­utes to chat with your hus­band or kids – to get your mind wholly fo­cused on work.


When you be­lieve in your abil­ity to per­form, you’ll gain con­fi­dence. Even so, there’ll be days when you doubt your­self. Edgar says it’s nor­mal. “When you find your­self doubt­ing your com­pe­tence, think about your best per­for­mances as proof of your abil­i­ties – you would not have done well if you were not ca­pa­ble in the first place.” WHAT YOU CAN DO: Keep a pos­i­tive self im­age. If you need a re­minder, print out this quote from ten­nis star Ser­ena Wil­liams: “I be­lieve in my game, and I be­lieve in me. At the end of the day, I’m my big­gest fan.” Stick it where you’ll see it.

Cop­ing with chal­lenges

Be­ing able to cope with chal­lenges en­sures you won’t fret about things you can’t con­trol. “I smile at ob­sta­cles,” golfer Tiger Woods once said. If you can’t han­dle work­place de­mands, you’re headed for a burnout, warns Edgar. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Don’t get dis­heart­ened by missed op­por­tu­ni­ties. In­stead of wal­low­ing in per­ceived fail­ure, set small, daily goals you want to achieve, to help you build your con­fi­dence.

Edgar says that when we’re stressed, our bod­ies re­lease cor­ti­sol, which keeps us con­stantly tense. Your best rem­edy is to get enough rest and eat a bal­anced diet. Most im­por­tantly, have a bit of down­time ev­ery day – read­ing or ex­er­cis­ing – to re­cover from the day’s work.


“Many or­gan­i­sa­tions em­pha­sise team­work and ap­pre­ci­ate em­ploy­ees who work well with oth­ers, so hav­ing the emo­tional skills to man­age re­la­tion­ships is very im­por­tant,” says Edgar. As bas­ket­ball player Michael Jor­dan puts it: “Tal­ent wins games, but team­work and in­tel­li­gence wins cham­pi­onships.” When a team works well to­gether, jobs get done faster, more ideas are shared and the sup­port sys­tem be­comes stronger. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Put your­self in your col­leagues’ shoes to un­der­stand them bet­ter. Edgar says it also helps to ra­tio­nalise their ac­tions. For ex­am­ple, if your boss is be­ing harsh, don’t im­me­di­ately get de­fen­sive – per­haps he’s not feel­ing well or has just been scolded by his boss, too.

Un­der­stand­ing the dy­nam­ics of your team can help you learn how to work well with them. You should also par­tic­i­pate in team-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties – it’s a great way for ev­ery­one to let their guard down and build real friend­ships.

Michael Phelps

Muham­mad Ali

Tiger Woods

Michael Jor­dan

Ser­ena Wil­liams

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