Opinion: This is Zlatan’s secret to success

Opinion: This is Zlatan's secret to success
Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving the pitch injured from Manchester United's Europa League clash with Anderlecht. Photo: Dave Thompson/AP
Behavioural scientist Staffan Hultgren of The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences explains Zlatan Ibrahimovic's recipe for success in this opinion piece first published by SVT Opinion.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has suffered a knee ligament injury and will be off the pitch for some time, news hardly anyone will have missed.

On Sunday, Ibrahimovic himself broke the silence after his injury: “One thing is for sure, I decide when it's time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon,” he wrote on Instagram.

Zlatan is full of successful lessons about what we as humans can do to keep moving forward of our own free will, especially in the face of adversity.

What human qualities are required to push us forward, regardless of adversity and perhaps occasionally negative comments from others?

Generally, there might be a few clear processes, in combination with previous experiences. One of the drives is usually if the person has their own vital goals. We might be affected by something we have experienced in our early years and which has then created a vision, such as “I'm going to do that”.

What's characteristic about vital goals is the thing that is to be achieved, even if you often do not have a clue about how it is going to happen – it will sort itself out on the way.

Combined with the fact that children and youngsters learn to understand consequences and develop strategies to achieve their goals, the likelihood of it actually happening the way they have decided increases.

“It's no news I got injured so I will be out of football for a while.”

The statement describes consequence-based thinking, as well as a curiosity of finding strategies, which provides good conditions for a true comeback.

Being injured is no news. Exactly, it's highly likely that athletes will get injured at some point in their career. Moreover it is a basic condition of life.

We are all going to get hurt, get ill in some way, so it is no news, but more an obvious condition of life.

The driving force consists of being aware that things are likely to happen and that you have to be prepared to develop new strategies.

“I will go through this like everything else and come back even stronger.”

Come back even stronger – absolutely, a wise strategist always comes back, even stronger, something which also opens a path for new challenges in life, with new lessons and wisdom.

The statement also opens for other tasks and new perspectives in life. Our experiences make us all stronger, if we accept adversities as lessons.

The difference may be that other people's comments and possible setbacks can be interpreted in terms of feelings of not being enough, not being good enough or feeling small, which could have destructive consequences for the affected individual.

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it's time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option.”

I decide – a prerequisite for a strong will in combination with solid strategies and insight into consequences. It increases the preconditions for success, no matter what happens.

Goals are common to help you look ahead. Goals determine your direction, which makes you act in the present, with decisions that constantly drive you towards the goal or goals.

However, it is not necessary for the person to reach the goal, it is only a motivator to keep going. During the journey new goals often arise which actually can be achieved.

People with a strong drive often work on developing their self-reliance. They assess their ability to manage to do that which they have set out to do.

When their faith in their own self-reliance is weak, people with a strong drive can seek out environments which strengthen their self-reliance and also design their own reward systems.

The most common – and perhaps the most effective – reward is to prove to yourself that you are able to do things that are both challenging and difficult.

The drive helps boost your self-reliance through practical training and acquisition of the knowledge necessary to be able to strive towards the goal you have set.

What we can learn from Zlatan is that he shows good conditions for:

– How children and young people can handle their school work.

– How young people can create a vision of their future professional skills.

– How unaccompanied refugee children can get the strength to cope with a new situation in a foreign country.

– How we as adults can cope with setbacks and become interested in discovering new strategies and accepting consequences.

If you go through life with few strategies to handle adversities, it is likely going to be a difficult journey.

This is a translation of an opinion piece first published in Swedish by SVT Opinion and written by Staffan Hultgren, behavioural scientist at The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences.