What I Learned from an Olympic Goal Medalist about Goal Setting & Mindset

Source: Airbnb Online Experiences

Just as many of you, I have struggled to adjust to the new working environment. It’s been hard to be productive given all the distractions and fears. In my quest to find ways to improve my focus and enhance my productivity, I came across this amazing new online experience that Airbnb just started.

One such experience was “Goal Setting with an Olympic Goal Medalist” with Breeja Larson and I said, “wait, what?” I have an opportunity to learn the techniques she used to become a world champion? All for $40. That’s a no-brainer. What got me even more excited was her promise in the description.

And she did not disappoint, in fact, she excelled like the champion she is. She shared her personal stories, was vulnerable, insightful and full of wisdom. Here are my 3 key takeaways from her session:


She shared the objectives setting framework based on the Eisenhower IDEA criteria as outlined here:

Inspiring — only visionary, bold and eloquent objectives move people and your organization forward. “I want to be an Olympics Gold Medalist” is pretty inspiring.

Difficult — aim high with stretch goals far from the status quo, even go up to the point where one might feel slightly uncomfortable. The odds of winning an Olympics Gold are 1 in 662,000. Enough said.

Explicit — make your objective clear, concise and easy to understand from a first and brief glance, even for an outsider. Explicit here means being exact about the time it would take her to win the medal. She had the target time written everywhere — walls, her password, on her hand, on the phone, etc.

Achievable — only commit on goals that can be nearly or completely accomplished in the underlying goal period by the assigned team or individual. Basically, don’t set yourself up for certain failure.


To be world-class at anything, you need to excel in the two dimensions of “Talent/Skills” (How good you are) and “Work Effort” (how much effort are you willing to put in). She asked us to do a self-assessment on where we stand on these 2 axes. Compare this to how your boss/coach sees you (ask for feedback) and this will show you the gap you need to bridge to become world-class.

Make a list of all the key skills that you need to master to become world-class, and then be ready to put in the hours — remember the 10,000 hours theory by Malcolm Gladwell? It’s not the just quantity, Breeja also talks about focus and being present in the moment. Create a tree that outlines the key actions you must take to achieve your goals — for her, it was training, sleeping, and drinking water. Each of these trees had actions associated with it that got her closer, one step at a time.


While a lot of us dream big, but very few manage to get there? One big difference — motivation and the mental fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough. She shares 3 mental frameworks to get stronger:

1. Ask WHY — 5 times?

When you have to put in the hours at work or keep pushing during a killer workout and can’t seem to find the motivation anymore, ask yourself WHY — 5 times? Here’s a simple example:

I need to become healthier. Why? So I can be more active and alert. Why? So I can do a much better job at work. Why? So I can grow faster. Why? So I can take care of my family’s needs and serve the community. Why? So I can feel more fulfilled and happier.

Are you more motivated than before to take care of your health? I am.

2. Run the Fire Drill (Negative visualization)

This is a game day (presentation, interview, etc.) exercise. It helps in taking your fears head-on and mentally prepares for them. The Stoics called it negative visualization. Also referred to as a “premortem”, where you imagine everything that can go wrong and then think of a way to deal with it if the worst comes true. Breeja recommends going through this fire drill of everything that can go wrong over and over in your head until you get super comfortable with your fears.

3. Talk to yourself as your best friend

Do you give in to temptations or distractions? I have been guilty of this especially during these times when my brain is constantly searching for the dopamine hit to offset the underlying anxiety. Too much Netflix, carbs, or drinks?

She advises talking to yourself as your best-friend who gently, but firmly reminds of your goals and how these distractions and temptations take you away from them. “ I respect you for not eating that bowl of ice-cream” is the one that I’m going to be trying in the next few days :) It’s not a magic pill; building this mental strength takes time and requires practice. In this process, don’t forget to be kind to yourself and show self-love.

There’s a lot more she said that left me feeling inspired, motivated and super-charged to take on goals with greater grit, heart, and mindfulness.

I highly recommend taking her online course using the link below. It will be one of the best $40 investments you’ll make. Enjoy and spread the love!

Amit Rawal is a Sloan Fellow at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He has spent the last decade in building and scaling e-commerce ventures for 40%+ of the world’s population. At Stanford, he is focused on bringing together tech, design, and data to create joyful shopping experiences. He is a data geek and loves tracking all kinds of health and wellness metrics. He can be reached at amitr@stanford.edu.

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