How Champions Think: Book Overview and Takeaways

What’s the book How Champions Think about? How do exceptional people achieve exceptional things?

In How Champions Think, Bob Rotella shares the traits of a champion mindset: a positive self-image, realistic goals, and growing from setbacks. Anyone who wants to achieve their dreams should have a champion mindset.

Read below for a brief How Champions Think book overview.

How Champions Think by Bob Rotella

What’s the secret to extraordinary success? We often think it’s luck, talent, or skill, but sports psychologist Bob Rotella argues that people achieve excellence because of their mindset. In the How Champions Think book, Rotella explains that champions all share similar ways of thinking that set them apart from the rest: They nurture a positive self-image, break down ambitious dreams into realistic goals, and learn to grow from setbacks. By adopting the mental habits of a champion, you can unlock your full potential and achieve excellence in whatever you pursue.

Rotella is a professional golf coach and former Director of the Sports Psychology Department at the University of Virginia. He also wrote the bestseller Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. Rotella has worked with hundreds of companies, high-performers, and professional athletes, including LeBron James and golf champions Pat Bradley and Tom Kite, helping them improve their mental game and reach new levels of success.

Part 1: Adopt a Positive Self-Image

Rotella writes that to become exceptional, you must first change how you view yourself and adopt a positive self-image. He explains that your mindset—the way you view your abilities and the beliefs you have about the world—affects how successful you’ll become. It can either hold you back or empower you to further your skills, overcome difficulties, and achieve ambitious goals. 

Specifically, he says that champions choose to be optimistic, develop their confidence in their abilities, and overcome self-imposed limits. In the following sections, we’ll discuss these specific attributes and how to develop them.

Choose to Be Optimistic

According to Rotella, champions excel because they choose to be optimistic: They remain hopeful and expect positive outcomes even when faced with challenges or uncertainty. He explains that optimism doesn’t guarantee success, but pessimism almost always leads to failure. Imagine, for instance, that you have to give a public speech. If you’re pessimistic and believe that things will go wrong, you’ll likely freeze and panic if you forget what to say. Conversely, if you trust that your preparation and training will pay off, you’re more likely to relax, take a brief pause to recall your point, and resume your speech smoothly.

You might think that people are naturally optimistic or pessimistic, but Rotella argues that optimism can be learned. One way you can improve your optimism is by strengthening your belief in your ability to achieve your goals. To do this, find role models who’ve overcome struggles similar to yours or who’ve come from a similar background, and who’ve accomplished what you aspire to do despite those challenges. This will help you see that your dreams are achievable because if someone else, particularly someone who’s faced similar challenges, was able to succeed, you’ll develop the faith that you, too, can achieve your goals.

Develop Your Confidence

In addition to being more optimistic, champions also have a lot of confidence in their abilities. According to Rotella, confidence is the key to exceptional success because it empowers you to work hard and perform at your highest level. 

While optimism is a broad faith in your eventual success, confidence is more specifically the faith you have in your particular skills—for example, you might be optimistic that you can win a cooking contest, but your confidence comes from your knowledge that you can cook a perfect steak.

Rotella explains that when you have confidence in your skills, you’re more likely to put more effort and time into improving them. However, when you lack confidence in your skills, you may feel easily discouraged and give up when you face difficulties rather than work harder to overcome them.

Fortunately, like optimism, confidence is a skill you can develop. Rotella provides two tips to help you do so:

1) Avoid perfectionism. Rotella notes that perfection is unattainable in any field and even the most successful people make mistakes. Instead of obsessing over perfecting your skills, he recommends you simply improve them enough to feel confident in them.

2) Practice visualization. Spend 15 to 30 minutes each day visualizing yourself performing the skill you want to feel more confident about. Make your visualization vivid by imagining all five senses—how things look, feel, smell, sound, or taste. According to Rotella, if you imagine something in detail, your subconscious mind believes that it’s true. Visualize not only your successes but also the potential obstacles you may encounter and how you can overcome them. By doing so, you’ll be less fazed if setbacks occur in reality because you’ve practiced how to handle them through visualization.

Overcome Self-Imposed Limits

Rotella writes that many people limit their potential based on what they believe is “realistic.” But to become exceptional in your field, you must break free from the limits you’ve imposed on yourself. This means ignoring what others deem impossible and setting big goals.

Rotella says that there are several reasons why people limit themselves. 

First, people often set mediocre goals because they’re afraid of failing to reach bigger ones. However, Rotella argues that you shouldn’t be concerned about failure. Even if you don’t accomplish your ambitious dreams, you’ll achieve much more than if you limit yourself to comfortable goals.

Another reason people limit themselves is that they overestimate the importance of innate talent, believing others are successful because they have more talent than they do. However, Rotella explains that exceptional people succeed more because of their strong character traits and less because of their innate talent.

Part 2: Work Diligently to Achieve Your Ambitious Dreams

A positive mindset sets a good foundation for achieving excellence in any field, but it’s not enough by itself. Excellence requires hard work—you must master your skills by engaging in quality practice and staying committed to your goals, and then perform at your best by letting your subconscious mind take over.

Engage in Quality Practice

You can’t achieve your ambitious dreams through wishful thinking alone. To turn your dreams into reality, you must put in quality practice to develop your skills.

Rotella describes several methods for practicing your skills:

1) Create a training plan. Rotella suggests you break down your ultimate dream into realistic goals that you can pursue daily. You’ll then not only have a practical roadmap to follow, but also a way to measure and take satisfaction in your progress. Your plan will differ depending on your aspirations, but it should lay out actions you’ll do to improve and progress to your ultimate goal. For example, if you want to run a marathon, your process might involve finding a coach, following a training program, and setting frequent goals, such as how many miles you plan to run each day.

2) Practice smarter. Although developing a training plan is vital for success, Rotella writes that it’s not enough in the long-term—you must not only practice your skills diligently, but also strategically. Don’t sink energy and time into inefficient study or practice. Instead, evaluate your practice approach: Consider how you can best challenge yourself and strengthen your skills in a way that best translates to the real-world scenarios you’ll face. For example, if you’re preparing for a test, you could quiz yourself with flashcards or ask your teacher for extra worksheets instead of spending hours memorizing facts.

3) Watch the competition. By assessing your competitors and the standards of your field, you can get ideas of how to practice and prepare more effectively. Rotella suggests you compare yourself to people similar to you in skill level and be mindful of what they’re doing. For instance, if they’re practicing four hours a day and you only practice one hour, you should find a way to practice more effectively or put in more hours.

Boost Your Commitment

Once you have a training plan to follow, you must adopt a relentless commitment to your goal that drives you to invest more time and effort into honing your skills than others do. Commitment means you work steadily toward your goals and are willing to make sacrifices for them.

According to Rotella, there are a number of ways to boost your commitment to your goals.

1) Reflect on what you enjoy about your craft. It’s easier to be committed to your skill when you’re passionate about it. But, according to Rotella, many people struggle with how to stay passionate. This can happen for a number of reasons—they may encounter a lot of rejection or feel like they’re not improving, for instance. To renew your passion, Rotella suggests you regularly remind yourself about what you enjoy about the work or activity you do.

2) Create good habits. Replacing bad habits with good habits can help you stay committed to your goals. Habits are unthinking behaviors that don’t require willpower. Rotella explains that all habits begin with a cue—something that triggers you to do a certain action. To replace a bad habit, you must recognize the cue and consciously respond differently to it. For instance, finishing dinner might be a cue for you to plop onto your couch for the rest of the night. If you want to work on your novel instead, you must create a new response to the cue. Instead of going straight to the couch after dinner, you might force yourself to go straight to your writing desk.

Let Your Subconscious Mind Take Over

When it’s time to put your skills to the test, you may feel pressure and nerves you didn’t feel when you were training. To prevent your emotions and thoughts from interfering with your performance, you must quiet your conscious mind, trust in your training, and let your subconscious mind take over. Rotella explains that your conscious mind hijacks your brain with unhelpful thoughts such as doubts or worries that break up your natural flow. When your subconscious mind is in control, you can focus on your task, stay in the present moment, and maintain your composure after victories and mistakes.

To activate your subconscious, detach yourself emotionally from the outcome of the event and focus on the present moment. Rotella suggests you approach the situation as if you were doing something you don’t care about. For example, if you’re performing at a piano recital, imagine that you’re only singing karaoke with your friends. When you remove the stakes, you can focus on applying your skills rather than worrying about how well you’re doing. You should only judge how well you did later, Rotella writes, as immediate judgment will only interfere with your current performance.

Rotella advises that another way to tap into your subconscious is by smiling. Whether you’re facing down a business presentation, a sports match, or a college exam, smiling relaxes your brain and allows your subconscious mind to take over so that you fully trust your abilities and allow the quality of your training to shine through. In contrast, frowning engages your conscious mind, which makes you doubtful of yourself and your abilities.

Part 3: Grow From Challenges and Setbacks

Just as important as maintaining a positive attitude, training your skills, and trusting in your subconscious mind is learning how to overcome setbacks and challenges. Rotella writes that to be exceptional, you must learn not only how to bounce back after failure but also how to glean lessons from it. You can do this by learning to value the process over the outcome, letting go of your mistakes, and finding the right people to support you.

Value the Process, Not the Outcome

To ward off disappointment and persevere in spite of failures, you must see the process of pursuing your goals as more important than the outcome, Rotella writes. Exceptional people pursue their goals fully recognizing the possibility that they may not attain them. They find joy in the process of striving for their goals, rather than in the promise of external rewards or recognition. This mindset ensures that you give it your all and persist even when you face obstacles that might prevent you from getting the outcomes you desire.

You can be more process-oriented by creating two lists of goals: One for training and one for performance. Both lists should be process-focused. So, for example, if you’re a violinist, your training goals might be practicing sight reading for an hour every day and your performance goals might be focusing on the present moment during your concert. Having these goals in place gives you something to focus on other than the outcome of your performance, be that a competition, a musical performance, a speech, and so on.

Focus on Successes, Not Failures

Rotella writes that to overcome challenges, you should also focus on your successes and let go of your mistakes. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your mistakes completely. Instead, you should learn from them and then let them go. Wallowing in your mistakes doesn’t improve your performance but only weighs you down and depletes your confidence.

Rotella advises athletes in particular to spend no more than 10 to 20 minutes reflecting on a mistake. When you think about your mistakes, consider how well you followed your training and whether you let your conscious mind get in the way of your performance instead of trusting in your subconscious. Once you’ve reflected on these points and figured out how to do better next time, move on.

Find Support in Others

Another way you can grow from challenges and setbacks is by finding people who can give you advice and support you with your goals, Rotella writes. However, you must also be selective with who you listen to and learn to distinguish helpful feedback from unhelpful feedback. If you take everyone’s advice, you’ll end up experimenting with different and often contradictory approaches that will only leave you confused, distracted, and frustrated.

To determine who to listen to, Rotella suggests you first find the right people to support you. They should be optimistic and encouraging, yet willing to give you honest and constructive feedback. They should also share your vision and values. He then advises that when you find people you trust, you should treat them with respect and listen to their advice. 

Even when you trust someone’s opinions, though, you still shouldn’t take their advice without thought, Rotella writes. He suggests you listen to them, but know your strengths and stick with the techniques that suit you best. Their advice may be sound and their techniques may work for others, but they may not match your natural strengths.

Listening to the opinions of people you trust ensures you get constructive feedback that helps you improve rather than unhelpful feedback that damages your self-confidence. Thus, Rotella advises that once you’ve identified people you trust who can give you feedback, you tune out feedback from everyone else. This includes other experts who want to offer you tips, as well as negative and unhelpful people who may try to discourage you. Rotella advises you to ignore these people and not let them affect your confidence or performance.

How Champions Think: Book Overview and Takeaways

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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