• Sat. Dec 2nd, 2023

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The key lesson business owners can learn from Olympians

From picturing the venue, to running through their routine, to seeing themselves on the podium; visualisation has emerged as a powerful aspect of every successful Olympian’s training programme. PSG Wealth Management MD, Paul Gilsenan, looks at the ways in which this powerful technique can be applied to businesses and the future plans of their owners. 

One of the reasons visualisation is such a powerful technique is that it forces the brain to concentrate on the future. Human brains are hardwired to prefer instant rewards over bigger benefits in the future, which makes it difficult to forgo ‘quick wins’ over longer, more thought out plans. Just as it can be tempting for athletes to push to the max in every session, taking a more pragmatic approach and focusing on the end goal can actually produce better long-term results. 

In behavioural psychology this is called ‘hyperbolic discounting’, which simply means that when given the choice, humans have a tendency to prefer a small perk now rather than a larger one later. Hyperbolic discounting says that this preference for immediacy is enhanced when the bigger reward is pushed further away. 

This is particularly relevant when it comes to planning out a retirement strategy. The longer people expect to wait for a pay-off for all their hard work, the more irrational and impulsive they become and, increasingly, people opt for the smaller, more rapid reward. Psychologists call this ‘temporal myopia’, an inability to fully consider the future outcomes of choices.

One powerful method that can help in overcoming these barriers to long-term goals, such as retirement or selling the business, is to use the visualisation techniques that elite sportspeople employ to boost their motivation. An athlete struggling with the monotony of their strict training regime and eating plan will picture themselves at a competition months or years in the future. By allowing their brain to ‘see’ their body in peak condition, to ‘hear’ the roar of their fans and ‘feel’ the triumph of achievement as they mount the podium to receive a gold medal, athletes get the boost they need to maintain their focus today and keep working towards their goals.

When it comes to retirement, business owners should picture themselves at an older age and imagine what it feels like to be free from any unwanted burdens around work. Reflect on where you would like to live if money was no object – maybe you would divide your time between different homes or countries. Think about what hobbies or interests you would pursue if you had fewer demands on your time, spending more time with loved ones, or volunteering for a cause? All of these are possible when you have a clear long-term goal you can dedicate time and effort over a substantial period of time, with a clear vision of what that future will be.