Miller is the most decorated gymnast in American history, having won seven Olympic gold medals and been inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame twice. After beating cancer in 2011, Miller became a motivational speaker, and on May 3, she brought her brand of optimism and inspiration to WIN members who learned about her winning mindset.
Reminiscing about her gymnastics career, Miller observed that it is easy to remember the good times, but it is just as important to recall the challenges. “Remember those troubles because it is those mistakes, those obstacles, which have taught us how important it is to keep trying and to get back up when we do fall. I learned that I could not succeed if I wasn’t willing to do the work and able to believe in myself that I could reach my goals. We can’t give up every time we reach a rough patch, not if we went to truly succeed. I learned that I have to analyze my mistakes so I can learn from them and move forward.”
During her Olympic career, Miller often heard that she was too young, too old, too short or too weak, but she believes in using the power of past lessons to become more knowledgeable as she forges into the future. She says, “If you listen to everyone else, you’ll never win. You have to possess the will to succeed against all odds.”
These lessons, which help in all aspects of life, make up what Miller calls “The Gold Medal Mindset” which she describes as “an attitude of going out and winning the day, no matter what life throws at you. What you do today matters. You must remain positive and commit yourself to excellence.”
Setting goals is critical for successfully achieving your dreams as it helps close the gap between where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. Very few successes just happen, and while dreams are necessary and fantastic, achieving them requires a specific plan involving SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) goals. Dreams serve as motivation, while goals establish the steps necessary to reach the dream.
Miller stressed that goals being specific is imperative to define what needs to be accomplished. She said, “Wrap your mind around exactly what you want to achieve and then figure out what you need to do to make it happen. If you don’t take the steps to make your dream a reality, it’ll always be just a dream.”
When Miller suffered a knee injury in 1992, she had to decide whether to give up or to fight, and she is glad she chose to fight. She worked hard at practice each day so she could enjoy the competition. “I just wanted to live in that moment; I didn’t know about the scores or the medals. When you’re prepared, you have to just go for it, enjoy the moment, and have some fun.”
Miller is grateful to her team, including her parents, coaches, doctors, teachers and fellow athletes, who was there to rally her during the bad days; however, she also stressed the need to contribute to the team. “You need to rely on your team to achieve your dreams. Utilize the amazing resources around you. Find out how to make more of a difference and work together to achieve your dreams.”
Admitting that she lost the concept of teamwork after retiring from gymnastics, Miller stated that she rediscovered its importance when she was diagnosed with cancer. At first, she was overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown and the loss of control, she established knowledge of the steps needed to recover after her surgery, allowing her to move from a victim mentality back to her competitive nature.
Miller’s belief that she could defeat cancer faltered after her first week of chemo, but her team of doctors, nurses, family and friends rallied around. She says, “I was inspired by their positive attitude and wanted to learn from their example. Your team matters; don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it because that’s why they are there. This summer is the twentieth anniversary of my Olympic wins and the five year anniversary of being cancer free. If I can help just one woman focus on her health, that means I’ve turned my experience with cancer into something positive.”
According to Miller, “Many successful people rely on positive mental images to reach their goals. Seeing is believing. If you think you can’t, you won’t; if you can’t even see yourself achieving your goals in your own mind, you never will. A negative attitude will prevent you from reaching your dreams, so you have to combat negative thoughts with positive ones, especially when you have a bad day.”
Noting that a negative attitude will bring you down quicker than anything else, Miller finds power in seeing barriers as opportunities and focusing on solutions instead of problems. “Having a positive attitude is a choice you have to make each day, and though it can be a challenge, it makes you an asset, helping you develop better relationships and inspiring those around you. Life is only as good as you make it—choose to be positive!”
Although Miller was not the most talented gymnast, she believed in hard work, always going above and beyond her coach’s requirements. “Work ethic is an essential ingredient in the recipe for success. Each little effort adds up and makes a difference, and you never have to second guess the outcome when you’re committed to excellence because you’ve done everything possible to succeed. When you look at winners, what separates them is follow through, not talent or effort—they focus on winning every single day,” Miller emphasizes.
Before exiting the stage to a standing ovation, Shannon Miller stated, “It’s important to keep moving in a positive direction every day. When you’re repairing a vehicle, it’s not just a car—it’s that person’s livelihood, where they spend time with family, and how they protect their loved ones... Or maybe it’s a dad taking his little girl to the gym so she can pursue her dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. Each time you commit yourself to excellence, you are creating a winning aspect for everyone.”