Elite Minds — Author Interview with Dr. Stan Beecham

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Dr. Stan Beecham, sport psychologist to many Olympic and collegiate athletes, knows what it takes to succeed and has been able to translate this winning mindset and approach to the business arena. In his book Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success he shares with us how “mind over matter” is actually real, and therefore success begins in our head.

What all winners have in common is an unconscious belief in themselves and in their ability to win. This unconscious belief effects their conscious behavior and actions, leading them to make decisions that help them win. The reverse—a lack of confidence and belief—is often what holds many of us back. With his great anecdotes and relatable science, Dr. Beecham teaches us how we can retrain our brain and get the elite mindset necessary to win.

1. First of all, thank you for a great book. You share how writing this haunted you and I’m so happy you actually wrote this. But I am curious why you think your subconscious decided it was finally the time to write this book, and why at that specific time?

It’s very difficult to fully understand what drives us to do certain things at a specific time. Writing Elite Minds was something that had been on my mind for a couple of years, primarily because so many people were encouraging me to do so. I started making notes to see if I did in fact have enough material to write the book. After this initial phase, there were about 25 topics that I thought would be helpful to share with others. Sometimes we do things because we want to, and other times because we cannot. Once I started writing, the words started flowing easily and I took this as a good sign. In hindsight, I think it took me about a year to convince myself that I actually had something worth saying.

2. I was amazed by the two anecdotes of how “mind over matter” can actually alleviate the need for surgery or special treatment if there’s a strong belief in the placebo cure. How far do you think our minds can go in healing ourselves? Could it heal an illness of the mind, like Parkinson’s too?

Despite all that we have learned about the human brain and its capacity, I think there is still much more to learn. There is tremendous evidence that suggests whatever we believe, or hold as truth, dictates how we function and respond to any number of situations, including physical disease and pain. The concept of “faith healing” has been a cornerstone of most major religions and spiritual practices since recorded time. How we perceive ourselves and the world is the basis for our thoughts and emotional experience. Stress, anxiety, and worry all play a major role in our physical health. The relationship between mental and physical health is inseparable and we should all pay close attention to our own inner state. So, how far can our minds go in healing ourselves? That’s totally up to you.

3. Has there ever been an athlete you could not get beyond his/her fears or mental hang-ups? Why do you think this happened? And which athlete had the biggest variance in performance before and after the mental shift?

There are many athletes who are not able to reach their physical best because of the limitations of their mind. In fact, most athletes never find out what they are truly capable of achieving. Sport has placed tremendous energy in developing the physical body and very little in developing the mind. The reason being is that most coaches and athletic administrators don’t fully understand the opportunities and possibilities available through mental coaching. The main challenge I see in working with athletes is to get them to stop thinking about themselves and how well they are doing and place total focus on the task at hand. The larger the athlete’s ego, the smaller the chance they will achieve their best.

4. What made you decide to try this approach in business? Did you have to make any adjustments to the theory and application in doing so?

When I was working at the University of Georgia, a local businessman approached me about working with his managers. My first thought was, “I don’t know anything about business.” He actually convinced me to begin working with his team and see if this was true or not. Almost immediately, I realized that human performance and the factors that affect our performance are the same for both sport and business. The major difference is the vocabulary we use in these two arenas. Fortunately, my work with athletes has been a great education for the consulting I do with business leaders. We are all trying to find our best and the factors that impact us are the same for athletes and business professionals.

5. Talented athletes and performers often know what their talent is and therefore are able to have the intention and focus you speak of. In the business world, this is not always the case and many find areas they’re good at but may never find that “why.” Have you had to coach someone in that situation and if so, what was your approach?

My experience is that most business people do not have a clear understanding of themselves and their specific talents and abilities. This is largely because corporate environments do a terrible job of giving honest and immediate feedback to the workers. Instead of improving their abilities, most people are interested in getting a promotion or making more money. They focus on the results and not the process. My biggest challenge is to get people to believe that if they are able to maximize their abilities and impact, the money and recognition will follow.

6. What is the one thing we can do daily to ensure we have the right mindset to succeed? 

The best thing you can do for yourself is find something you love to do, spend a lot of time doing it (so you become great at it), and not worry about whether or not you are going to be successful. I call it “getting over yourself.” When you find yourself worrying about yourself and the subsequent evaluation of your performance, remind yourself that does not matter and refocus on what you are doing and who you are doing it with.

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