Olympic Psychology: How to Think Like an Athlete

(Last Updated On: March 6, 2023)

While Olympians often make it look easy, becoming a gold-medal athlete takes years of training – both mental and physical. What can you do to think like an athlete? These athletes have developed a mindset that allows them to focus on their goals, train with intensity, overcome obstacles, cope with injury and setbacks, and push themselves past their limits.

Psychology plays a critical role in the success of these elite athletes, which is why the field of sports psychology has gained prominence in recent years in areas including professional athletics. Sports psychologists help athletes develop motivation, improve their focus, and overcome injuries.

Even if you are not trying to excel in the field of sports, there are some lessons that you can take away from Olympians and apply towards succeeding in other areas of your everyday life.

Develop an Internal Locus of Control

Successful athletes do not pin their failures on outside forces. They feel that they are in control of their own destinies. When they spot a weakness in their performance, they know that they have the ability and determination to address the problem and overcome it.

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Researchers have suggested that one of the key characteristics of mental toughness is an internal sense of control. People who possess mental strength have a solid and unshakable belief that they have personal control over their own fate.

If you want to think like an Olympic athlete, focus on seeing yourself as an active creator of your own success rather than as a passive bystander at the mercy of outside forces.

Build Your Sense of Self-Belief

When researchers looked at what some of the world’s greatest athlete had in common, they found that they shared one critical trait – and unwavering belief in themselves. These elite athletes know that they have what it takes to succeed, and they are willing to put in the time, effort, and whatever else it takes to achieve the goals they have set.

Of course, building this strong sense of self-esteem is not always easy. Finding ways to encourage yourself, building a positive self-image, and avoiding negativity are all things that you can do to help foster this strong belief in your own abilities.

Avoid people or situations that leave you feeling emotionally drained and downcast. Focus on surrounding yourself with people and experiences that help you feel that you could take on anything the world throws at you.

Focus on Finding Intrinsic Motivations to Reach Your Goals

Sure, Olympic athletes are certainly eager to bring home the gold and win for their respective countries. But it isn’t just a desire for medals and acclaim that drives these athletes to succeed. Many of these athletes are passionate about their sport. Participation in the sport they love is its own reward. They possess an intrinsic motivation to succeed and see just how far they can go and how well they can do. This type of motivation is often seen as superior to extrinsic motivation because it drives people to keep working harder, even in the face of obstacles.

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Be Willing to Test Your Limits

Another trait that Olympians share is that they are not afraid of testing their limits, even if it means experiencing pain or discomfort. After all, it is only by testing these limits that we are able to learn what we are capable of accomplishing. Pushing our boundaries also allows for growth and learning, which can only result in improved performances and the development of new skills.

How Can Thinking Like an Olympic Athlete Help You

Whatever you are trying to accomplish, whether it’s running a marathon or getting a promotion at work, applying some of these Olympian mindsets can make it easier to reach your goals. Success is a process, and building these skills can take time. By taking the first steps forward and continually working on fostering the mental strength you need to take on new challenges, you will be better prepared to achieve your goals and succeed in every area of your life.


Clough, P., & Strycharczyk, D. (2012). Developing Mental Toughness: Improving Performance, Wellbeing and Positive Behaviour in Others. London: Kogan Page Publishers.

Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2007). A framework of mental toughness in the world’s best performers. The Sport Psychologist, 21: 243-264.