for Victory: Mental Exercise is the Key to Success
handle adversity greatly affects your career
By Patrick B. Ropella
President & CEO
Drop and give me 30! Are you ready
for the challenge? Chances are that if you regularly enjoy
physical activity, you’re ready. After all, 30 push-ups are no
big deal, if you’re prepared.
The same idea holds true for mental fitness–preparation is the
foundation of success. And while busy chemical industry execs,
entrepreneurs, and professional athletes are a diverse lot,
those who consistently excel have the following characteristics
1. They maintain exceptional
concentration. Peak performers focus on what they want to
what they are afraid will happen.
2. They remain relaxed despite outside factors. High
achievers quickly recover their balance in the face
of stressful circumstances.
3. They like to learn and do it quickly. Top performers
welcome feedback and integrate it (unlike lower
achievers, who tend to get defensive about
Achieving peak performance means
becoming mentally fit—understanding the nature of your
responses, maintaining your concentration, and setting
meaningful goals. Just as important, you must recognize and
control those instinctive responses to stress or adversity that
derail your quest for high achievement. Take Lance Armstrong for
example, a man who single-handedly battled cancer, then came
back to win the Tour de France seven times. Now that’s someone
that we could all emulate!
While you can be motivated for any number of reasons, you
respond to situations in one of two ways:
1. Fight or Flight Response
First discovered by Harvard psychologist Walter Cannon, this
response has been “hard-wired” into our brains through years of
evolution. It’s designed to protect you from bodily harm. When
you become frustrated, angry, or upset, you are exhibiting this
2. Relaxation Response
This response, discovered by cardiologist Herbert Benson
(another Harvard graduate), is your antidote to the fight or
flight response. Eliciting the relaxation response breeds
calmness and a sense of control, so you can perform at your
best—but it takes practice.
On a golf course, high achievers concentrate on the green. While
they take into account all the elements of the hole (e.g.,
distance, pin placement, obstacles, wind), they lock onto their
target. Then they execute. Chances are, the ball travels in the
direction of the hole. In contrast, high handicappers focus on
obstacles. When facing a water hazard, they use a beat up ball.
They always look toward the sand trap or the rough. Perhaps not
surprisingly, the ball often ends up precisely where they were
afraid it would go!
Likewise in business, success depends on your ability to
concentrate on desired outcomes. When you have a clear focus,
your attention is directed. Conversely, when you’re not clear
about where you want to go, external factors can frustrate you
To improve your concentration, try mentally visualizing yourself
reaching your goal and performing at your best. Throughout your
day, take a few seconds to concentrate on your mental picture of
success. If you have some extra time, use it to perfect your
visualization technique. Such practice makes your goal (and the
necessary steps to reach it) clearer.
Concentration is necessary, but what to focus on is equally
important. People naturally set goals, believing achievement
will bring fulfillment. Often, however, they experience less
fulfillment than they expect. The problem is the kind of goals
Many times, goals that focus exclusively on outcomes are missing
a key ingredient—personal value. By choosing a clear, inspiring,
and personally meaningful objective, you experience more
fulfillment on your way to reaching your goal. For example,
vowing to make $200,000 a year by the time you’re 30 is probably
not as meaningful as striving to be professionally successful
and personally happy. As an added bonus, the desired $200,000 a
year is more likely to follow!
By setting personally meaningful goals, you can better enjoy
your tasks, experience fulfillment, and achieve at higher
Responding to Threats
Is peak performance really as easy as concentrating on
meaningful goals? Yes and no. Concentration and thoughtful goal
setting are critical keys to outstanding achievement. But there
are many circumstances that can trigger your fight or flight
response, which can then prohibit extraordinary performance.
This fight or flight response is usually immediate and
unconscious. When you “become triggered,” a situation is
reminding you of something that has been historically painful or
Different people have different psychological triggers. One
person is triggered by a loss of control, another by a lack of
knowledge, and still another by a disregard for detail. Whatever
the specific occurrence, people respond in this manner when they
perceive a threat to their most core values. For this reason,
the fight or flight response is extremely powerful. This
response provokes automatic thoughts, feelings and mannerisms
used for self-protection. Common reactions include
rationalizing, complaining, attacking, sleeping, drinking, or
It’s almost impossible to concentrate on your goals while you
are stuck in this survival mode. As long as you are focused on
protection, you cannot access your creative ability. The five
steps below can help you get out of this state and regain a
focused, relaxed, positive attitude:
1. Acknowledge that you are in
survival mode. When you become conscious of the state you are
you have an easier time getting out of it.
2. Identify your survival mode symptoms. Your ways of coping
while in survival mode take you in the
opposite direction of your goals.
3. Actively elicit the relaxation response. There are several
ways to bring about this response, since it
is physically triggered. Exercise, deep
breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga are
common methods you can use to calm
4. Find a new perspective. Ask yourself the following
• What is my best outcome?
• What action steps can I take?
• What helpful qualities can I bring to the situation?
5. Take positive action with
the right attitude. By taking constructive steps toward your
goal, you are
again capable of peak performance.
Practice Makes Permanent
The pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries are
staunchly competitive markets. In order to excel above the
competition, you need to be in command of the course you set and
the attitude you bring to the pursuit. Through practice, you can
maintain your concentration, define meaningful goals, and
recognize and diffuse your fight or flight responses. When the
time comes to put yourself to the test, you’ll be flying across
that finish line in first place!
For more information on issues related to Human Capital
Management, call Ropella & Associates at (850) 983-4777.
About Ropella & Associates
Patrick B. Ropella is President & CEO of
& Associates. With 20 years of experience, Ropella &
Associates is the leading international executive search
consultancy specializing in the chemical and allied industries.
Ropella & Associates focuses on mid-level management to
executive-level retained searches in sales, marketing,
manufacturing and R & D. For more information on their
services, visit www.ropella.com or call Patrick Ropella at (850)
Mental Preparation, www.futurepro.com/articles/MentalPreparation.txt
Nemerouf, Nikki. Executive Mental Fitness. Presentation, July
Sports and Exercise: Mental Preparation, www.amateur-sports.com/mental.htm
The Flight or Fight Response. www.mindbodymed.com/EducationCenter/fight.html
Toward Peak Performance, www.joe.org/joe/1987fall/al.html