Sept. 1, 2008
This is the final article in a series of four articles written by Matt Michel that discuss what we can learn from the accomplishments of one of the greatest
This is the final article in a series of four articles written by Matt Michel that discuss what we can learn from the accomplishments of one of the greatest Olympic athletes of our time, Michael Phelps. 16. Keep Your Goals at the Forefront. When Ian Crocker beat Michael Phelps in the 2003 World Championships, Phelps tore the cover off a swimming magazine that featured Crocker, following the victory. Phelps taped it to his bedroom wall to remind him what it feels like to lose and to keep him focused on his goals. Earlier, I noted how Phelps keeps his goals on his nightstand. He says, “I have to see them every day, whether I want to or not. They're a constant reminder whenever I turn off the alarm clock.” Keeping your goals at the forefront is important. It keeps your subconscious focused on achieving the goals. Visual symbols of your goals, especially those that include a powerful emotional tie can be even more motivating. Do you keep your goals where you can see them? Do write goals or clip pictures that give you an emotional tug? 17. Learn From Your Mistakes. “I think I've had stupid things that I've done,” said Phelps, “But I've been able to learn from all of them.” Phelps isn’t simply referring to leaving the starting blocks early. He’s referring to a time following the 2004 Olympics when he went to a party at a friend’s, had a few too many beers, and got pulled over driving home. Phelps was at the legal minimum for intoxication and by the standards of a few years earlier, would have been under the limit. But it wasn’t the day Phelps was arrested. It embarrassed him and unlike many Hollywood celebrities, he actually did seem to learn from it. He certainly hasn’t repeated the episode and continues to try and help others avoid the same mistake he made. He started with a local Boys & Girls Club. “Going up there and talking about the mistake, it was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done. ... It was extremely hard to stand in front of kids who I let down, who looked up to me.” A 17-year old in the audience told a reporter, “You could feel his emotion and his sincerity. It wasn't just a front. You could see that he regretted it so much.” “Every day,” told Phelps to a reporter, “I get up in the morning, and I wake up thinking about this mistake I made. It's going to be with me every day for the rest of my life.” After moving to Ann Arbor, Phelps took his lesson and message with him. “Being in a college environment,” said Phelps “It's my job to try to help make sure people don't make the same mistake I made.” Fortunately for Phelps, not all mistakes are so serious. He flooded his kitchen because he put hand soap in the dishwasher. His philosophy is that the only way to erase a mistake is to learn from it. “You learn the most from mistakes you make,” he said, “They all may not be good, but I think I've learned from every mistake I've made. In that respect, I don't think I've done any stupid things.” What mistakes have you made? What have you learned from them? 18. Be Nice to the Media. If it seems like the Olympics were “All Phelps All The Time,” it may be that he’s such a great interview. He’s courteous, gracious, and patient. He never appears irritated when exhausted after an event and he’s confronted with inane questions from reporters that he’s probably answered a hundred times already. Either Phelps has had some great media training or he’s got the natural patience of Job. Given his background with ADHD, I’d say it’s the former. Whether it comes to him naturally, reflects a good upbringing, or is the result of coaching, Phelps played the media perfectly. He recognized their need for a story and their imposition of deadlines. As a result, the media loved him and promoted the Phelps brand incessantly. Of course, Phelps athletic accomplishments had more than a little to do with the coverage. The morning after Phelps won his eighth gold medal, newspapers from every country in the world led with Phelps on the front. Well, not every country. The Chinese papers mentioned eight gold medals, noting that the day was the first one where China won eight gold medals in a single day. Amazing. China looks tawdry again. If any country besides the United States should take note of Phelps’ accomplishment, it’s the host country of the Olympics. But then, China’s media is not really media. It’s more like state propaganda. How would you react to a reporter’s call? What are you doing to help your media? 19. Focus. For a kid who grew up with ADHD, Phelps focus is amazing. Or maybe not. Individuals with ADD and ADHD can show tremendous focus on the things that interest them. For Phelps, it’s swimming. In practice Phelps is all business. He doesn’t talk or joke around with other swimmers. “The people I train with,” says Phelps, “They know that I'm not a person to talk to during a set. I'm not a person for someone to come to the wall and say, 'Hey, how was your day?' When it comes to a set, I'm there to do a job. I'm in a mode, and I'm going to focus on that.” In a race, he shows similar focus. Matt Lauer asked Phelps what he thinks about when he’s on the starting block, waiting for the starting gun. Lauer was perplexed when Phelps said he doesn’t think about anything. “When I get up there,” said Phelps, “I can just get in the water and swim as fast as I can. That's all I can think about.” In other words, he’s totally focused on the race. How focused are you on your business? What are your distractions? How can you clear them? 20. Work Hard. Ultimately, Phelps succeeded. Phelps accomplished unprecedented athletic feats because he flat worked hard. He swims up to five hours a day at least six days a week and he’s done it for years. “For the past 10 years, at least, he’s never missed a practice,” explained Phelps’ mother. “Even on Christmas, the pool is the first place we go.” Phelps noted, “When I was growing up, I had five years in a row without taking a single day off. I was in the water every day. And if we can do it for 40 weeks or something, that's 40 extra workouts that no one else has. That just gives us a little extra confidence.” The “us” is Phelps and his longtime coach, Bob Bowman. After the 2004 Olympics, Phelps said, “Bob has a saying about putting money in the bank. When we train, sometimes we have sets that I don't like, or don't want to do, and Bob says: 'This is putting money in the bank, and at the end of the year, you are able to withdraw everything'. I put a lot of money in the bank over the past four years, and we pretty much withdrew every penny, so after Bob and I have a little break, it will be time to start re-depositing.” It should be no surprise, but there’s a strong correlation between hard work and success. Few people coast their way to the top. How hard do you work? How long? What would happen to your business if you bumped your effort another 10%? Matt Michelis president of the Service Roundtable, an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at
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