This week we’re interviewing Laurent Blondeel on the wonderful Tizi n’Trail. This is an 80 km trail over 3 stages in Morocco, starting from Ouarzazate, across the rocky desert to world heritage village Aït Benhaddou, through canyons and over mountain passes to lake Tamda at 2550m.
Laurent Blondeel (46 years old) runs his own business Planet Outdoor in Marseille, offering teambuilding and management coaching services. In a previous life he was a professional athlete specializing in cross-country and 1500m. He won the French Championships 4x800m title and later specialized in extreme adventure races like the 7-day Patagonia Expedition Race. Now he’s using his experience to help managers improve their team’s cohesion and handle stress.
What did you learn from your experience as a professional athlete?
I have learned that you need to be very passionate to perform at a high level. This same passion, on the other hand, can make you blind for the risk of overtraining and injuries. I also learned the importance of team cohesion, certainly on a multi-day race like the Patagonia, where teams consist of 3 men and 1 woman. Only 40% of the performance is determined by physical fitness. The other 60% is determined by teamwork and mental strength.
Only 40% of the performance is determined by physical fitness. The other 60% is determined by teamwork and mental strength.
Physical training is well documented, but how do you train mental fitness?
There are many different ways to improve mental strength and creativity. I often use two techniques:
Both athletes and politicians use this technique when they’re looking for internal strength. First, try to remember a moment in the past when you felt strong and happy.
Straighten your back, push your chest forward, and close your eyes. Try to visualize the colors, remember the sounds, tastes and odors and relive every second of that moment. At the same time, trigger a pressure point (e.g. on the back of your hand). If you repeat this exercise several times, you’ll build an association between the trigger point and the feeling of happiness. You can then use this as a real mental booster, before an important speech, in moments of stress or at a difficult point in a race.
The 3 hats
Many people are familiar with the black hat: what is the worst thing that can happen? This is an important question, because it helps you to prepare for the worst. But in order to move forward, it is equally important to put on the yellow hat: what is the best thing that can happen? This question gives you the confidence to launch yourself in an unknown adventure. And finally, the green hat: what would you do if there where no restrictions? This question will open your mind, liberate your creativity and strengthen your passion. Train yourself and make it a habit to think of all 3 hats equally.
How did you decide to start your own business?
I have always wanted to start my own company, but for a long time, I didn’t dare to jump. Finally, I just quit my job. This is my way to force myself to take action. I put myself with my back against the wall so that there is no other way out than to go for it, for 100%. And that’s exactly what I did.
Is it easy to find a balance between your private and professional life?
To be honest… No.
It has been a long process and I’m still struggling with it. I have always been working a lot. When my wife was delivering our son, I was working. The first year of his childhood, I didn’t even know what he looked like. My wife is also my accountant and as a result, I’m often asking her about the business or about some paper work, instead of asking her about her day or how she feels.
I realized something had to change. I’ve always been working at home but now I’m building another office, next to my house with no connection between the two, so that I can literally close the door and stop working in the evening.
Finally, which personality traits do you think are important for both entrepreneurs and professional athletes?
- Perfectionism in combination with creativity. Perfectionism will bring you to the top, but once you’re there you’ll need creativity to reach even further, to go beyond the beaten tracks.
- Work hard.
- Dare to throw yourself. Don’t be afraid of an adventure.
- Be passionate, but don’t forget that in the end, you’re also doing business.
* VAKOG is an abbreviation for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory