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The Champion Mindset: How Can You Develop Mental Toughness?

Think about any great champion. Do you think about the Champion Mindset? What is the first thought that crosses your mind?

Probably this - ‘They are so talented!’ ‘They are so lucky!’

Am I right?

Well, it’s true that they are indeed talented and very lucky. But, talent and luck are not enough. The real question we have to ask is - ‘How did the champion get there?!’

In this article, we will discuss the “Champion mindset” that will allow you to tackle and overcome any and every obstacle in life. To elaborate further, we will study some examples of great sportsmen and also learn from some of my personal experiences.

What is the Champion’s Mindset?

When it comes to sports, most of us think that the most skilled athlete always wins. For instance, the “fastest” runner will always be the winner.

So, do we really need to care about psychology? Does it even matter?

Let me answer this question by sharing my personal story -

When I was a teenager, I used to play chess competitively. I was very serious about it. Though it doesn’t involve any physical exertion, it is still a sport – a mental sport!

Once I won the Under 16 National Championship, I qualified for World Championship in Greece. At the World Championship, I won 4-5 rounds straightway. I started on a great note and therefore had high hopes of becoming the world champion.

I could already imagine the trophy in my hand. It felt unrealistic.

However, soon enough, I started questioning myself and doubting my abilities – sure enough, my performance started to significantly drop. I started losing rounds. By the end of the tournament, my performance had dipped.
Instead of becoming the world champion, I finished in the 12th position.

Why? Was it that I was not skilled enough?

Well. I am sure that I was equipped with enough skills to become the winner. It is my psychology that got the better of me.

Later, when I graduated as a psychologist, I realized a person’s psychology can be an obstacle for many people.
Skill is not the only thing that is required. Sometimes a guy with poor skills, but a better mindset can also win.
Have you noticed – many people spend equal amounts of time doing something? But only one of them becomes a winner. Why is it so?

The answer is Our Mentality!

Visualize your victory

Here is another example that demonstrates how mentality can make or break you –

In the 2016 World Chess Championship, there was a chess match between reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen and contender Sergey Karjakin. The match scores were such that a tiebreaker (consisting of mini matches) was required to decide the champion.

Before the tiebreaker round started, a journalist asked Karjakin – “How do feel about the match so far?” To which Karjakin replied, “I am proud of my equal score against the world champion.”

As a psychologist, I could predict (from this reply) the result of the match right away - I knew Karjakin was going to lose!

Why? Because champions don’t think this way.

Having an equal score against the world champion was a good result. But champions don’t want to have an equal score with somebody. They don’t want to share the pedestal with anybody. They dream to win.

Thus, Karjakin lost in the tiebreaker. He had prepared himself beforehand about this as he thought the result he had got so far was decent. He was prepared for future loss.

So far, through different examples, we understood how your psychology can stop you from being successful?

Now let’s have a look at some productive examples. These examples will tell you what successful people did to succeed massively.

You must have heard about Michael Phelps. He is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals in swimming.

He shared the story about how he trained. Every day he used to take the time out of his training to visualize the future competition. He used to visualize everything how he swims, how he finishes first and finally how he stands on the pedestal.

How is this helpful? He used to prepare his mind that he is the winner.

In psychology, this exercise is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. It says that when you anticipate something with confidence and start acting accordingly, you achieve the result accordingly.

When you get the desired result, it assures your belief. As you follow your result, it reconfirms your belief. Thus, your belief gets stronger. This whole process is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you imagine your future and act that way, you will definitely get the anticipated result.

No, it doesn’t mean that you have to predict the future. It's just that you can set yourself on the right track by thinking time ahead. This is how you can achieve your results logically as expected.

Having the attitude of a champion

Here's an example of the boxing champion. Kostya Tszyu is a former boxing champion. Before every boxing match, he used to write down the scenario for the upcoming fight.

Though, it might seem illogical because how can you predict what your opponent is going to do? But psychologically, this exercise makes a lot of sense.

Through this exercise, he used to set himself for a win. He used to prepare his mind to fight the match and emerge as a winner. So, when he would go to the match with this state of mind, his confident would be boosted. This would increase the chances of his anticipated outcome.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the famous bodybuilding champion and the movie star, phrased it very well. He said,
“There’s really an attitude to winning. You have to see yourself winning before you win.”

When you want to achieve something in life, think about it. Imagine that you have already achieved it. Usually, when it comes to your goals, you tend to think that you want it but don’t have it. This mindset is a little pessimistic.

Instead, you can think,

‘How you will feel when you already accomplish your goal?’

‘How your life will change after that?’

Thinking this way will put you on the right track. You will start behaving that way.

For example, if you want to be rich, start acting like you are already rich. Gradually other people will be perceiving you in that way. Eventually, it will be easier for you to achieve your goal.
Now let’s get to the last example.

Rhythmic Gymnastics is the perfect combination of acrobatics and dance, linking expressive dance steps with skillful manipulations.

Alina Kabaeva is a retired rhythmic gymnast, she won 2 Olympic medals and 14 World Championship medals. She shared her story which is quite motivating. She started training in childhood.


When she used to go to the training hall. She used to stand on the pedestal and say to herself, ‘I’m the Olympic champion.’ In this way, she used to train her mind.

You might think that all sportsmen dream about becoming an Olympic champion. But that’s not the case. Instead, people don’t want to lose. That’s why they play safe. They don’t want to be ashamed. Often, they want to make a decent result.

Unlike champions who go all out to win.

That’s what Kabaeva did because she wanted to win. There might be many more competitors who worked as hard as her but she won because of her mentality.

From all the above examples, we understood that you need to see yourself winning before you actually win. You can imagine this about anything like sport or career or lifestyle.

Eliminate the word “TRY”

Master Yoda from the movie Star Wars said something really interesting about victory,

" “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Have you heard somebody saying, ‘I'm going to give a try with this.’ or ‘I'm going to try this.’? Quite frequently, right?
When you say the word ‘try’, it means that you are not sure if you will follow it till the end. You are uncertain if you actually want to do it or not.

This approach makes it hard to be successful.

When you want to achieve something, do it sincerely. Give your heart and soul.

When you set yourself this way, you force yourself forward with your full capacity. This maximizes your chances of winning. So, eliminate the word ‘try’ from your mind. Either you go for it fully or don’t do it at all.

This is an encouraging story from ancient Greece. The residents of an island wanted to conquer their neighboring island. Thus, one day they took their boats and battled for this island which they wanted to conquer. They lost the battle so they went back to their island in their boats.

But they didn’t lose hope. After a while, they decided to attack this island, again. But this time when they reached on the neighboring island, they burned their boats.

Thus, there was no escape. It was a ‘do or die’ situation. That day they successfully conquered the island.

Similarly, if you cut down your way back and go on to do something with full-fledged, you will surely utilize all your energy. When you don't have any backup plans, all your mental energy would be concentrated on your goal.
With such a mindset you can conquer every obstacle in your way to success.

So far, we understood how the mindset differentiates the champions from the rest. Here are 2 things you need to be able to do if you want to be a champion.

1. Visualize your victory

You have to see yourself winning before you win.

2. Eliminate the word ‘TRY’

Either you do it completely or you don’t. If you want to do something, give your 100%.

All you need to be decisive and persistent to reach any goal that you have in life. If you practice thinking about yourself in a more productive way, so can you.

PS: Hope this article was helpful to you. Let us know if you have any other tips to think like a champion. Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

Igor Smirnov

Igor Smirnov

Psychologist, blogger, chess Grandmaster, Internet entrepreneur. Follow Igor on Facebook


I’m Igor Smirnov. To YOUR success.

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