When it comes to resilience, we can learn a thing or two from elite athletes. Physical strength and endurance aside, sports stars know how to effectively traverse challenging situations.

Resilience involves successfully pivoting in pressure-filled moments. And if these past few years have taught us anything, it’s that stressful new circumstances can arise out of nowhere.

Resilience is a skill we learn and hone with practice, whether we’re training for a triathlon or prepping for a meeting or a long shift. These five lessons from elite athletes will give you key strategies for thriving, even under pressure.

1. Use productive self-talk.

Elite athletes aren’t immune to negative, worry-filled thoughts. The difference? High performers recognize these thoughts as the regular chatter of the mind and an inevitable part of pursuing big goals, says Erin Haugen, PhD, a sports psychologist and triathlete.

Consequently, they catch cruel thoughts quickly, replacing them with constructive statements. For example, a runner who thinks, “I don’t belong here. Everyone is too fast,” then reminds herself, “I’ve trained for this race for the past seven weeks. I’ve put in the work, and I’m going to go out and execute my plan. I deserve to be on the line.”

Elite athletes also regularly use motivational or instructive mantras, as in “finish strong” or “lean forward,” says Todd Corbin, CPC, co-author of “Mindfulness for Student Athletes.”

Just do it:

Empower yourself by creating your own mantra using Corbin’s acronym SPEAK:

  •   Make it short with one word or a few words.
  •   Make it positive, instead of telling yourself what not to do.
  •   Employ the mantra regularly, well before challenging situations arise.
  •   Have several alternatives, since the mind likes variety.
  •   Keep picturing your mind making positive connections.

2. Drill down to the details.

When dealing with a stressful situation or shaky performance, it’s easy to get upset—and get stuck. Elite athletes, however, deal with challenges or not-so-great performances by getting specific.

“So, it’s not ‘get better at my sport,’ it’s ‘to improve shooting free throws, I need to pull my elbow in and follow through with my shot,’” says Haugen.

Just do it: 

To solve a personal or professional problem, zero in on the toughest part you have control over. Then, similar to Haugen’s example, devise a detailed statement and strategic step you can take.

3. Feel the fear—and then take action.

Athletes “understand that confidence is a behavior, not a feeling,” says Haugen. They identify their values and goals and engage in behavior that consistently moves them toward both—even when it’s hard, they might fail, or they feel self-doubt. If they let anxiety run the show, they’d never sign up for an event or take a game-winning shot.

Just do it:

Name the courageous, values-based actions you’d like to take. Acknowledge your emotions, and suit up anyway. When anxiety arises, remind yourself why this endeavor matters so much.

4. Stay focused.

Rain. Difficult crowds. Fierce competitors. Regardless of their surroundings, star athletes don’t let themselves get thrown off by changing circumstances or unpleasant environments. They tune into what they’re doing (and tune everything else out) by employing various mindful methods.

Just do it:

Whether you’re preparing for a work event or wanting to boost your focus overall, remember you have “control over what your mind does and to what it attends,” says Haugen.  

Use your senses to vividly visualize yourself doing well every step of the way. Technology can help. Endurance athlete and performance-focused psychotherapist Neal Palles, LCSW, repeatedly watched his mountain bike race course on YouTube and visualized himself on his bike seat.

When you’re in the moment, “be where your feet are,” says Corbin. “Tune into your body, feel your feet, hands, and clothes, place your hand on your heart and notice the beat.”

5. View everything as useful data.

While elite athletes naturally feel disappointed over a poor performance, they try to look at the process as objectively as possible. Athletes review what happened, seeing their actions as data points to fine-tune their approach.

Just do it:

To cultivate curiosity and “refine your mental algorithm,” says Haugen, ask yourself: What do I want to keep doing and how? How can I use the parts that didn’t work as data to do things differently next time?