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Expert opinion: Silver or gold - the mindset that will make you excel

Written by Jan de Jonge on .

Jan de JongeJan de JongeWhether in sport or in the world of work, why do some people do okay, some feel they have failed and some others – a much smaller number of people – excel and become hugely successful?

Many high-performing sports people end up being brought in by commercial companies to help them boost motivation levels and productivity, change the organisational culture and improve sales.

It’s no surprise: high-performing sports people have characteristics, behaviours, habits, and mindsets that undeniably helped them achieve their targets and success.

What mindset helps these people do well, and win? Having a certain state of mind is fundamental in reaching your full potential and finding the true limits of that potential - often referred to as a Growth Mindset.

People with such a mindset overcome adversity repeatedly – they are resilient, somehow finding the strength to accept hardship, without surrendering. Such a mindset points to a combination of welcoming challenges, embracing criticism and failure, a keenness to always learn, and being inspired by the achievements of others.

What else is needed?

Research shows that a small number of ‘winning attitudes’ emerge time and time again: ambition, optimism, and seeing – or even creating – opportunities.

We’re all different; each person who has success has a unique combination of attitudes that drive their top performance. Some people are driven by external circumstances, triggering them to push themselves to high levels of achievement, whilst not losing sight of the end goal.

They also don’t give up and intensely dislike losing. They keep their eye on the ball, they remain super-focused: achievers plan for success and failure with unfailing focus and discipline.

In sports and in any organisation that has tough targets to reach, performance is a numbers game: what specific target has been set for yourself and the team? Do you go for Gold? Are you happy to at least be participating?

Target X, but by when? How often do you succumb to temptation? How frequently do you check your ‘To-Do’ list and cross off the tasks you have accomplished? What is your goal? And, why is it?

For some, it takes a lifetime to find the answers to these questions.

Setting a Target: Participating, Silver, or Gold?

My Gold target might well be your Silver. In other words, some of our goals exist by way of comparison to other people’s accomplishments.

But even that may not be quite right for you: your Gold may be improving on your own previous Silver, regardless of how you compare to the next person.

There are no 100 percent guarantees that if you create a certain mindset, you will excel.

But here’s the thing: if you manage to shape your mindset, you increase your chances of excelling at whatever it is that you have set your eyes on, by converting that mindset into action.

Jan de Jonge is a business psychologist and managing director of People Business Psychology Ltd, helping organisations select the best candidates for specified job roles by using reliable, valid and robust methods of assessing personality, behaviour, ability, motivation, and knowledge.

Watch his interview with triathlete Jack Schofield at