It’s not every day you get to hold an Olympic gold medal. Rarer still is the opportunity to get inside the head of an Olympian. At our annual conference this year, four-time Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield gave us the honor to do both, reports Forbes.
He shared with us his story of determination, success, failure and self-reflection — and it resonated in a way that transcended the Olympic podium. Here are three lessons we can apply to business from the words of a gold-medal champion.
1. Write Down Your Goals, Every Day
Years before he won the gold, Whitfield stood outside the Sydney Opera House and envisioned himself on the podium. Over seven years later, the first-ever Olympic triathlon kicked off at the same spot — and Whitfield was the first to cross the finish line.
Whitfield says the power of visualization turned his dreams into reality. And he believes it’s even more powerful when you write your vision down. Every day leading up to his first Olympic performance, Whitfield wrote in his journal, “I am the Olympic champion.” He made the goal a part of his psyche and he says thinking like a winner helped him become one.
In 1997, I wrote the first Painted Picture for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. It was a two-page document describing how the company would look and feel in five years, down to every last detail. Writing down goals boosts commitment and accountability — and we turned 90% of our vision into reality. Our Painted Picture is now a company tradition that guides us as a team towards our goals.
2. There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Team’
After three Olympic appearances (and a gold, then silver medal), Whitfield approached his final Games with the same mindset as his first: to be the champion. Instead, he was met with what he calls “poetic failure.”
Somewhere along the way to London 2012, Whitfield and his team lost sight of their common goal. Instead of working in synergy, they became a fragmented team — and in the bike portion of his event, Whitfield suffered a crash that knocked him out of the race.
Teamwork is the foundation of sport and business. And I narrowly missed a similar fate in the early days of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I realized my team didn’t share my vision for the company and I had to make a choice: fire the entire group or let the business crash and burn. I let them all go and rebuilt my team with passionate people aligned towards our collective goals.
3. Prime Your Emotional State First Thing in the Morning
Between work, home, hobbies and friends, we are constantly being pulled in different directions. It’s easy to lose sight of where you’re meant to be but Whitfield says your mindset can keep you on track.
When his Olympic career ended, Whitfield says he suffered a loss of identity and purpose. He fell into a doom loop until he finally realized his negative state of mind was holding him back.
To set yourself up for a positive day, Whitfield says you need to prime your emotional state first thing every morning. This can be a positive affirmation, exercise, or any activity that gets you vibrating on a positive frequency.
My morning ritual starts with a 6am Power Hour — a self check-in to set my mental state for the day ahead. Some days, I meditate. Other days, I go for a run. By using this time to clear any negative blockages, I can show up as a positive leader for my team.
The road to Olympic gold is more than a physical feat; it’s a test of mental acuity that takes focus, confidence and a competitive attitude. The best athletes see failures as opportunities to learn, grow, and come back stronger than ever — and successful entrepreneurs operate on the same principles.
Whitfield’s story teaches us that realizing our dreams starts with inner strength — to visualize where we’re going, to maintain focus and a level head, and to believe in our own power to take us to the finish line.