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How the Psychology of Sports Can Enhance your Performance in Management and Work

By Michael Bar-Eli
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Boost! by Michael Bar-Eli

In his book Boost! (2017), author Michael Bar-Eli uses decades of experience with world-class athletes, and the many hard-won lessons he’s learned along the way, to explain the dynamic power of sports psychology. The author not only shows how athletes can use psychology to their advantage, but how this element can be used to improve the performance of any team player, whether on the court or in the office.

Key idea 1 of 8

Maximize motivation and productivity by setting specific goals.

In the winter of 1971, the author, Michael Bar-Eli, was in the Israeli military, undergoing a tremendously challenging basic training that included finishing a 3,000-meter run in under 12 minutes. Time and time again, Bar-Eli found himself running at the end of the pack during the practice runs. And then, the commanding officer threatened to punish him with four extra hours of night-watch duty if he didn’t shape up.

This proved to be just the motivation the author needed. Immediately, he set himself the goal of keeping pace with the front-runners who were always beating the 12-minute mark. And sure enough, when it came time for the official race, Bar-Eli managed to come in under 12 minutes.

This experience taught the author an important lesson about how goals can greatly influence outcome, as long as those goals are specific.

Being specific is crucial because it leads to a detailed action plan that you can focus on and measure yourself against – all of which will help you achieve your goal.

In the case of the author’s 3-kilometer run, the goal was specific – keep up with the front-runners – and this allowed him to plan, focus and measure his progress by comparing his pace against theirs. In tracking himself against their speed, the author knew precisely when and where he needed to adjust in order to stay on track.

If the author had settled on just “doing his best,” he wouldn’t have been so focused and motivated, since there wouldn’t have been anything to measure his progress against. The author’s “best” has no specific pace.

As for more long-term goals, you should use specific short-term goals as building blocks.

One of the greatest Olympic swimmers in US history was John Naber, and he used this incremental goal-setting strategy with historic success. His specific long-term goal was to cut four seconds off his personal best in the four years before the next Olympics. If he did this, chances were he’d win gold.

Now, to reach this primary goal, he set small, yet still specific, short-term goals of shaving off a fraction of a second in each practice swim. He knew that, by doing this constantly, he could reach four seconds by the end of his four years of training.

Naber’s strategy worked like a charm. The fractions of a second added up as planned, and his new time didn’t only win him the gold – it made him the holder of a world record.

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