What CMOs and CEOs can Learn From Sport Psychology

As a marketer, I’m always fascinated by what makes consumers tick. Whether it’s the psychology of storytelling, or the psychology of colors, the study of the mind is a powerful tool. But marketers and executives, who love to look outward, don’t always look inward when it comes to studying our minds.

Marketing departments are well-oiled machines that have to perform under tremendous amounts of pressure, and the lynchpin of it all is its brainpower. There is an increased drive in corporate culture to tend to our employees psychological needs, as they should. A happy employee, after all, is a productive employee. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Enter sport psychology. It’s a field of psychology gaining traction among professional athletes, and more and more professional teams are turning to sport psychologist to make sure their mental abilities are on par with their physical abilities. After hearing about it incessantly, I decided to reach out to one, Dr. Jonathan Fader, who works with pros from Major League Baseball.

So what’s all of that got to do with running a company?

“In my view, everything is a performance,” Dr. Fader told me, “whether you’re a chief marketer, an entrepreneur, or a starting pitcher – your job is to perform at the highest level possible.”

Here are some of his tips to running a marketing department or company:

Focus on the Process

It’s easy to get caught up with the bottom line: meeting deadlines, hitting financial targets, etc. And while setting goals for yourself and your employees is what makes executives sink or swim in this highly competitive environment, they can sometimes be counterproductive.

“It’s like telling a pitcher to throw a perfect game,” Dr. Fader joked, “it’s a nice idea in theory, but doesn’t do a whole lot make them pitch a better game.”

“Instead, pitchers turn to process-oriented goals: Did they strength-train as much as they needed to? Were they distracted during the game? Was their form on point? These are all related to process, and they get pitchers to where they need to be.”

“Executives should ask,” Dr. Fader continued, “what are the process-oriented goals that will get my team will where they need to be?”

That might mean, for instance, asking how many meaningful interactions your sales department has had instead of asking how many clients they’ve landed. Or it might mean asking creative to mock up more ideas rather than just saying “make it better.”

Focus on What You Can Control

Losing confidence can ruin any kind of performance,” Dr. Fader explained, “we’ve all seen people ‘choke,’ and it’s usually the result of feeling overwhelmed, of losing confidence.”

Some of the techniques he described to me are a sort of mental routine to deal with these dangers. “What every business person has within their control, at all times, is their self confidence, their demeanor, and their communications. Managing those 3 things is key to enduring through stressful situations and bouncing back from failure.”

Visualize Success

It might seem kind of corny, but Dr. Fader assured me that there is a strong body of research boasting the benefits of a technique that athletes use called “visualization.”

Batters, for instance, will imagine themselves, in great detail, swinging the bat and hitting a home run. Some of the executives I’ve worked with have found it just as helpful: they visualize themselves giving their big presentation, or even just their pitch to a potential business partner.”

I came across an interesting phrase that Dr. Fader uses a lot when talking to athletes, which I’d like to leave the reader with. “Don’t think.” For athletes who are in the zone, habit and training take over. If they’re thinking about what they had for dinner, or how their coach will react if they succeed or fail, they’re setting themselves up for failure. As executives and marketers, we don’t exactly have that luxury.

But I still think there’s something to be gained here, and as many successful leaders know, sometimes the right decisions need to be made from a gut feeling. So remember – “Don’t think, sometimes.”