Olympian Sarah Cowley knows what it takes to achieve big dreams.
“In 1992 I watched the Barcelona Olympics and I was mesmerised by the track and field athletes. The speed of the sprinters, the power of the jumpers and the strength of the throwers had me hooked. As my interest in sport grew, my burning desire to compete at the Olympics was firmly established. 20 years after Barcelona, my Olympic dream came true competing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.”
This month Sarah inspired us with hot tips for living your dream and the success mind-set that saw her not only compete in the 2012 Olympic Heptathlon but is also lining her up for her new focus… the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games High Jump. Sarah’s approach and attitude to life has resulted in success in many arenas, not just sporting. She’s a qualified physiotherapist and a role model for living life courageously, aiming high and giving it your all.
Getting the inside word on what drives and supports this Olympian to thrive, and how that wisdom can benefit us all, is quite simply gold!
What are the top pieces of advice you have been given along the way?
- Never never never give up – probably the most important piece of advice I've been given. If you have an unrelenting and burning desire for something get your plan sorted and don't stop at the first hurdle….just jump it and keep trucking.
- Insanity is the doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! Don't be afraid to hard ask the hard questions of yourself about how you are tracking and what’s working or not. If things aren't going the way you want them to, it's not someone else’s fault… it's time for you to take ownership and make some positive changes.
- Finally….believe (it's a beautiful thing!)
For someone wanting to achieve a dream what tips would you give them?
- Be limitless and believe.
- Surround yourself with people who share your dream and you can turn to for support and honest judgement.
- Know that it's okay to be passionately obsessed about your dreams.
If you had to go back and give yourself advice at the start of your journey, what would you tell yourself?
Don't let your own personal expectations weigh you down to achieving your dreams. Self-acceptance is the key to success. Look after your body. In athletics we won't compete below 90% which differs to other sports. So being healthy should be a priority.
What things do you do in order to motivate yourself and maintain your focus?
I have clear goals about what I want to achieve and a detailed plan about how I'm going to tick them off. I have my main goal on my wall in my bedroom that I see a number of times a day. It says what I want to achieve, my plan to achieve this and the cost that it will take to do this. By ingraining it into my mind and body I can focus on what I'm going after.
Additionally as part of my programme I have recovery weeks where we have extra rest days and some testing. This allows for not only to get fresher physically but also a mental break in order to maintain focus on what I'm trying to achieve. In these recovery weeks I know it's important to do something away from the track so when I return I'm itching to go.
What have been the most significant obstacles you've encountered and how have you overcome those challenges?
- Injuries for any athlete are a challenge and I've had a fair few of them. I required surgery to fix them and a good dose of patience and perseverance in returning to competition.
- The biggest obstacle I faced was changing my mind-set. I did a lot of work with my team and particularly my sports psych in order to move away from outcomes (at training and competition) to loving the process. So much so that I saw a new love for my sport and my life…sounds cliché but as soon as I figured this out life became a lot easier and more fulfilling.
How do you view sacrifice in relation to achieving your goals?
I think it’s choice rather than sacrifice. You have to make choices that will benefit your goals. If you constantly feel like you are missing the boat then the potential for resentment of your goals may restrict you.
How important is it to have a support structure around you to leverage you in achieving your dream, and what sorts of roles are most important in that support team?
Hugely important. I've been so lucky to have the most supportive family and friends who have allowed me to live my dream which is awesome. Having someone to bounce ideas off and just be there to hear you dribble on the days you need to is good for the soul and your dreams. Having these people as part of your inner circle along with your team is crucial.
Do you utilise visualisations or affirmations as part of your sporting psychology? If so, how do you incorporate that into your routine?
Yes, I have used visualisations for a long time as part of my routine. In a technical event like high jump I see myself clear the bar and run my run up in the exact way I want to. Sometimes this takes a while to get mastered but it sets my mind up to clear the bar. If you can't see yourself clearing it before you start your run up you're in trouble! I use visualisation in training and round the home to constantly be getting my mind believing what is possible.
How do you calm your nerves, doubt or fears when you're facing challenges or when you're about to compete?
I think about all the hours of training I have done and how many jumps I have done, reps I have run and all the work I have done in the gym to create a powerful jumping machine. I know that I'm ready and ultimately I have done a lot of mental skills preparation to be able to go out there and enjoy the moment. I see competition as a way to express myself and the gifts I have been given so this helps in those nervy moments. I also see nerves as a positive thing because adrenalin is a good thing for performance used in the right way.
What do you identify as the top 5 personal attributes for success?
- Loving what you do
- The ability to set goals and commit to them
- Being passionately obsessed about improvement
- Having a strong sense of fun
- Being adaptable to change
Who inspires you and why?
Anyone who is prepared to dream big and get after it. Everyone has a gift and finding yours and getting after it is what inspires me. I love seeing people who are prepared to risk in order to find out how far they can go. Anyone who has a limitless attitude and ‘why not?' mentality!
Bernadette Logue (known to everyone as “B”) is the Leader of The Daily Positive, a Transformation Life Coach and the author of 3 personal growth books – guiding you on how to master your mind, to live consciously and soul-aligned. To receive regular coaching resources and support, join B in EvolveHQ, The Daily Positive’s private personal growth membership and community. To find out more about B click here.