Opinion: This is Zlatan’s secret to success

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.

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

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.

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OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Swedes have a reputation as a nation of orderly queuers. But it doesn't take long living here before you realise that for things that matter - housing, schools, health treatment - there are ways of jumping the line.

OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Soon after my daughter was born, I emailed Malmö’s sought after daycare cooperatives to get on their waiting lists. 

I didn’t get an answer from any of them, so a year later, I began dropping her off at the daycare allotted to us by the municipality. 

It was housed in a concrete structure so grim-looking that it was used as the gritty backdrop to the police station in The Bridge, the Scandinavian Noir crime drama based in Malmö. Getting there involved taking a lift that frequently smelled of urine. The rooftop playground was (after we had left) used by local dealers to stash drugs.

But to be fair, it was close to our house and in other ways, perfectly adequate. 

A year later, though, I got a call from one of the cooperatives I had emailed. My daughter Eira was next in line. Did I want to come to meet the staff and existing parents?

When I arrived, I discovered I wasn’t alone. My friend, a Swede looking to establish herself in Malmö after a decade in London, was there, as were several others.

Listen to a discussion about queue-jumping on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

I soon had a distinct feeling of being outmanoeuvered, as I watched her identify the parents in charge of new intakes and get to work on them, asking intelligent questions, demonstrating her engagement, and generally turning on the charm. 

A few days later I discovered that, even though I’d been told Eira was top of the list, my friend’s son had got the place. 

This was my first lesson in Swedish queuing, and it is a pattern I’ve seen time and time again.

Swedes, I’ve learned, generally respect a queue if it’s visible, physical, and not about anything particularly important. But when it comes to waiting lists for things such as housing, schools, and healthcare, many people, perhaps even most, will work their contacts, pull strings, find loopholes, if it helps them jump the line. 

When it was time for the children of the parents I knew to go to school, several of them — all otherwise upstanding law-abiding people — temporarily registered themselves at the addresses of friends who lived near the desirable municipal options, and then, after their children got places, moved back.

When I protested weakly that by doing this were depriving someone else’s child of their rightful place, they simply shrugged. 

When Eira joined Malmöflickorna, a dance gymnastics troupe that is a kind of Malmö institution, the other parents whispered to me that joining the troupe helped you get your child into Bladins, Malmö’s most exclusive free school, as the troupe had longstanding links. 

When it comes to accessing health treatment, I’ve learned, it doesn’t pay to stoically wait in line. When I was recently sent for a scan, I immediately rang up the clinic my primary health care centre had chosen for me. The receptionist spotted a time that had just become free the next day, and slotted me in, saving what could have been months of waiting. 

If you’re looking to buy a house, I’m told it pays to develop good relationships with estate agents, as sometimes they will sell a house without even listing it. And there are all sorts of ways to jump the long rental queues in Swedish cities, some involving paying money, some simply exploiting contacts. 

I’m not, myself, much of an operator, but I’ve also learned to take advantage of any opportunities that crop up. 

A year after we had lost our battle for the daycare place, the same Swedish friend got in touch. She had managed to upgrade to an even more sought-after cooperative. (This one has had world-famous novelists and Oscar-contending film directors as present and former parents.)

There was a place free, and she was in charge of the queue. Did we want it for Eira? The queue at this daycare, I soon discovered, was pure fiction. The municipality has since cracked down, but at the time, places went to the friends and contacts of whichever parents happened to be on the board, or failing that, to people in the queue who seemed the right kind of person. 

It didn’t seem right, but of course, we took the place.