What Can the St. Louis Cardinals Teach Us about Workplace Performance?



Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jason Selk Ed.D. on how to apply principles of mental toughness to improve your performance at work.

Jason is the bestselling author of 10-Minute Toughness and Executive Toughness.  His mission is “the relentless pursuit of greatness” and he makes a living training entrepreneurs, executives, and world-class athletes in how to bring out their best in any situation.  Jason has also been featured in USA Today, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, Shape, and Self Magazine, an he’s a regular contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC.

What I like about Jason’s approach is that it’s about accountability, focus, and optimism.  I also like that Jason draws tools and techniques from sports psychology that you can apply to “win” in the boardroom and win at life.

In this post, Jason shares the same tools he’s used with the St. Louis Cardinals that you can use to change your game in the workplace. Without further ado, here’s Jason …

When spring arrives, my mind always conjures up the baseball fields in Jupiter, FL, where I spent many seasons helping the St. Louis Cardinals get into peak mental condition for spring training.

Mental conditioning? What’s that?

Back in 2006, I was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals to train them in Mental Toughness. They already had a coach that to teach them the mechanics of pitching, batting, and fielding. What they needed was to learn how to set goals, focus on their priorities, stay positive, be disciplined, and win. I became their first Director of Mental Training, and that year they went on to win their first World Series in 20 years.

The principles of Mental Toughness are as useful in the workplace as they are in the dugout. In fact, I have trained not only world-class athletes but countless entrepreneurs and executives as well, using the same techniques. Not surprisingly, highly productive business leaders and high-performing athletes have many traits and behaviors in common.

5 Ways to Build Your Mental Toughness

Businesspeople are prone to many of the same unhelpful behaviors and mindsets as underperforming athletes, which prevent them from being at the top of their game and outshining the competition.

Let’s look at five ways to train your business brain in Mental Toughness, taking a cue from the world champion Cardinals. These will prevent unproductive habits from getting in the way of your personal best.

1.  Pay Attention to Your Swing, and Forget the Home Run

If you focus on the target—e.g., finishing the report, making the sale, acquiring the new client—you may never get there. That’s because you can’t accomplish a goal without first having a sound process in place. Instead, identify those daily goals that have the greatest influence on your performance and, therefore, your success. I call these process goals. Then put all your energy and courage into tackling them every single day. If your aim is to double your client load in one year, then figure out three specific tasks, or process goals, you need to complete each day that will help you reach that ultimate target. If you are relentless and consistent about completing your three daily process goals, you will succeed.

2. Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Ball

Many high-performing businesspeople believe they can multitask and still maintain focus. For instance, they answer emails and check their calendar while talking to a client. However, recent research from Stanford University found that multi-taskers are both less productive than their single-minded counterparts, but also suffer from weaker self-control. In other words, multitasking can be addictive. Control your tendency to become distracted by keeping your eye on the task you are involved with right now. While completing the three tasks you identified above, turn off your cell phone and shut down your email. The American Psychological Association cites a study showing that multitasking leads to as much as a 40 percent drop in productivity.

3. Be Your Own Ref

If you want to be more productive, you need to establish your own limits, or “not to-do” list. This might include counterproductive tasks such as responding to company emails during family time, talking to clients after 3:30 p.m., or not saying yes right away to a new project, but giving your answer the next day, after you’ve slept on it. Be sure that you are scheduling your calendar rather than allowing your calendar to schedule you.

4. Get R&R Between Workouts

Nearly 4 out of 10 workers are regularly fatigued, according to a recent study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Lack of sleep causes fatigue, and that’s a productivity killer. In fact, the rate of lost productivity for workers with fatigue was 66 percent, compared with 26 percent for workers without fatigue. Total lost productive time averaged 5.6 hours per week for workers with fatigue, compared to 3.3 hours for their counterparts without fatigue. Make rest and rejuvenation a priority. Give yourself 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

5. Listen to Your Body

In sports, when athletes try to push through the pain, they end up on the DL with injuries. In the workplace, this is known as “extreme working,” and it results in lower performance. New research found that 69 percent of extreme workers—super high achievers who regularly work 60-80 hours a week and are in the top 6 percent of earners—admit that their extreme working habits undermine their health. Most of these workers can’t sustain this level of performance, and end up burning out, just like promising athletes who have to sit on the bench all season or retire early because of injuries.

Jason Selk Ed.D. is the bestselling author of 10-Minute Toughness (McGraw-Hill, 2008) and Executive Toughness(McGraw-Hill, 2011). He is a regular contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC radio and television and has been featured in USA Today, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, Shape and Self magazine, among others. Dr. Selk uses his in-depth knowledge and experience from working with the world’s finest athletes, coaches, and business leaders to help individuals and organizations outperform their competition.


  1. I loved “Be your own Ref” part!
    It’s a good mental model i can easily remember and it can serve me well when setting and actually *enforcing* boundaries and don’t’s.
    If that works for sports super stars it surely would work for me, eh? 😉

  2. Good stuff. All advice that I can use. Especially with #1, I’ve found that it’s counter productive for me to constantly focus on the goal vs how to get to the goal. It becomes pressure that leads me to do anything vs the right things to get to the goal.

    And having the courage to be you own ref is something I’m working on as well. People don’t validate your method of setting boundaries until you show that it works. I have to remind myself that I get to set my own rules and I don’t need others permission to do so.

  3. Like it!
    Special the part about sleeping, and I’m going to start with that right now!!
    So, good night 🙂

  4. Hi Jason, I love this and especially the “Be your own ref” part. So much we can learn by just taking action and getting into the game! Of course, in my opinion, leadership was a better friend of the Cards with Albert Pujols, but that’s just me. 🙂

  5. I like how it aligns with “getting results”.

    I can totally relate to #5, trying to achieve worklife balance these days.

    Good one.

  6. […] Code Monkey on March 23, 2012 I’m honored to have a guest post by Jason Selk, Ed.D., on patterns and practices for mental toughness.  Jason is the best-selling author of 10-Minute Toughness and Executive Toughness.  As a […]

  7. Hi Jason,

    Great post!

    On #1 you hit the nail on the head. I found it useful to call that distinction, one between goal obsession and goal definition.

    There’s still a lot of value in setting the right vision to create the right idea-set by using big hairy goals (such as doubling your client load in one year) even if there’s no specific “goal process” to start with – as the saying goes you can’t get a ten dollar idea with a one dollar vision.

    It’s only when there’s an obsession with achieving that goal that you end up loosing sight of the small victories that add up.

    Mourinho seems to apply the same thinking to his teams. The most important game is the next one – on each one, best is if we don’t loose, and what we should be obssed winning each home game is what wins a championship.

    Loved the sports analogy to it all!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Excellent post! I guess I’ve had more than my share of the issues described in all 5 items… thanks for a succinct and lucid mirror!

  9. Hey All, I wanted to give everyone a big “hello” and say thanks for the nice comments about the “5 Ways to Build Mental Toughness” post. REMEMBER…MENTAL TOUGHNESS CAN BE LEARNED. Try answering the 3 questions below on a daily basis to begin developing strength between the ears…

    1. What three things did I do well today?

    2. What is one thing I want to improve tomorrow?

    3. What is one thing I can do differently that could help make the above mentioned improvement?

    Be specific when you answer and buckle in as you begin your journey to greatness.

Comments are closed.