What Does It Mean To Excel?

Who comes to mind when you think of success?

Whether in technology or sport, people who sit atop their ladders are viewed in high esteem. Often, the more successful you are, the more you’ve contributed to your field; but this is not the only way to excel.

The corporate structure is the template we follow to be considered successful. You start as a simple pawn and, with application, time and luck, you progress. Though this approach limits you to one area; business for example.

In the past, you weren’t so limited. Men and women of yesteryear contributed to different arenas and they too excelled. Leonard da Vinci was not just an artist but a technological innovator.

How do you gauge success?

Does it boil down to objective data, like wealth? But success is subjective in many ways; Michael Jordan is more successful than Mark Zuckerberg for the sports fan.

Success is determined by your definition of the word. If that means having a lot of money, then so be it.

Excel based on factors you deem important. Your family, friends and society all have different markers for success. Attempting to meet their determinants is an exercise in futility.

Become a success in your own eyes.

Lessons Imagined Vol. 2

The two continued to walk and the smiles gradually washed from their faces. A gentle sea breeze eased it’s way across, accompanied by the gush of nearby bushes. Several minutes past when the older man said, ‘I was just being stubborn you know’.

He spoke with more than a hint of regret in his voice. It was clear the thought was something he had recognised long ago though had never vocalised, let alone acted upon. The younger of the two remained quiet, managing to keep several quick witted remarks to himself.

‘Change is possible at any age. There’s truth in the fact that it’s a greater challenge to change old habits but it’s doable.’

The old man was looking at the path ahead. His face grappling with the notion.

‘I know I’m stubborn. Hell, I’m proud of it; it’s one of the reasons I’ve thrived as a businessman. Though it does have its negatives.’

‘Change is always possible, son,’ he repeated as he lifted his gaze.

‘Pride has stopped me from changing in the past and has led to more harm than good. It’s stunted my ability to grow and become a better man,’ he spoke sadly and softly.

The older man turned his head towards the younger man and said, ‘Learn from my mistakes, son. Learn to compromise’.

The younger of two nodded, promising to keep this advice close to heart.

Lessons Imagined Vol. 1

The water lapped the bank gently. It was late in the day though the dry heat lingered, as was typical for this time of year. Dusk had brought many out of their homes. Children played games of their own invention while dogs took the opportunity to stretch their legs and converse with their counterparts.

The two walked side by side, one taller than the other; they kept a good pace, enough to force a light sweat. The walk had been silent. Not an uncomfortable silence but a silence that allowed the two to enjoy each others presence.

The older man walked with a brisk gait. His hair was more salt than pepper. His face showed he was not afraid to work in the sun. The various lines and contours illustrated a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. Even if he wanted to, he would have difficulty suppressing the emotions he felt. Despite the signs of father time, he moved and behaved with a youthful exuberance.

The younger man walked with his hands clasped gently behind himself in a sage-like manner. Each of his footsteps angled out slightly as he strode along. He moved with a quiet confidence though there was a knowingness that he still had much to do with his life.

‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ the older man spoke while casting an eye over the dogs in the field. He was talking to himself though said it in a manner that suggested something had dawned upon him; something he had stubbornly ignored in the past.

‘I remember you saying those very words when Mum tried to get you to change in some way’, the younger man said softly, his voice appearing to come from times gone by.

One corner of the older man’s mouth tilted into a subtle grin which would be imperceptible if you weren’t looking for it. He let out a light chuckle acknowledging that he too recalled these instances in the past.

‘Boy, was I stubborn,’ the older man said, his grin turning into a wistful smile.

The younger man snorted, his face breaking out into a close-lipped smile as he managed to stop himself from a quick-witted reply.

‘Boy, I’m stubborn. Better?’ said the older man while giving the younger man a knowing glance.

‘Much better,’ the younger man replied as the two basked in their memories.

Why Do You Eat?

There is a growing obsession with food in our culture.

Food and eating have always formed a strong part of society and plays different roles in different cultures, but we place a greater emphasis on food than ever before.

The plethora of food-related TV shows and YouTube channels contribute to our focus on food. Another factor is the ease of food accessibility and availability, in developed countries.

Though mindset is the main driver.

We live in an era of instant gratification; social media provides us with an avenue to gain acceptance and popularity without leaving the house. Pornography offers the same immediate satisfaction.

Food’s omnipresence and the growing problem with food-related disorders, like obesity and bulimia, is no coincidence. Instead of food being sustenance and a way to connect with others it’s used fill a void.

Why work hard in the gym and gain long-term rewards like improved health and performance when we can feel good immediately by eating a chocolate bar?

Why work hard to further our career when we can forget our dissatisfaction by eating a calorie-laden snack?

We need to step back and look at why we eat. While it’s OK to look forward to eating, if your day consists of thinking about breakfast, lunch and dinner, you need to add more substance, not sustenance, to your life.

Reassess your relationship between food.

Harness Your Intuition

Cultivating internal tuition is an important tool for anyone who wants to lead a healthy life.

Listening to your internal cues, like hunger, is part of the intuition puzzle. But we often don’t consider the influence of mood and mind state. If we can cater to these factors not only does our performance and longevity improve, but also our experience.

Following routines is part of life but it’s important to ditch your habits when your body’s telling you otherwise.

Many people underestimate their fatigue signals and the benefits of rest when it comes to staving away illness. Why do I feel so tired, it’s only 8 and I normally sleep at 10? Instead of listening, you push through to maintain the status quo, despite the craving for rest.

Failing to listen to your intuition will cause your performance to suffer and opens the door to sickness. Also, it impacts your ability to recognise future cues making it harder to comprehend what your body is trying to tell you.

Similarly, you need to learn to adapt what you’re doing, including your physical training, based on how you’re feeling emotionally.

There are a few ways you typically respond to your emotions. You…

  • Ignore them
  • Let them dictate your behaviour
  • Use them to your advantage

You’re mostly guilty of the first two responses. However, with time and practise, you can harness your emotions. The first step: achieving awareness. If you can develop an innate awareness of your emotions you can control your reaction.

Pause, recognise then refocus – how can you use this emotive state to your advantage?

The Hero’s Way

Stories inspire. I remember Yes Man with Jim Carrey having this effect on me. His life wasn’t panning out as he had expected though a seminar with a motivational speaker changed everything. He began to say yes to the opportunities life had to offer rather than remaining in his comfort zone.

I made a concerted effort to apply the same principle to my life and, even today, remind myself of the benefits of staying open when I start to play things safe.

If created correctly, tales that follow the journey of a hero make us, the viewer or reader, hope he succeeds. In many cases, we wish we were the hero due to his noble characteristics and exciting adventures.

Exaggeration and a bit of magic make the lives of these individuals a little hard to replicate but we can lead the life of a hero if we choose. It takes a willingness to be bold and to seek adventure. Though the main ingredient – the thing that most stories gloss over – is the need to work hard.

The grind doesn’t make for good reading. No one wants to read about the countless hours of repetition required to make the difficult look easy. As an audience, we want to be entertained.

Know this though: it’s possible to become the hero. Take the time and put in the work behind the scenes and eventually, you’ll become who you want to be.

Very few are willing to put in the hard work. There’s plenty of space at the top while the rest of the populace slug it out in the purgatorial middle ground.

Say yes to putting in a hero’s effort to become a hero.

A Matter of the Mind

Ever get that feeling that you should do something but don’t want to?

Maybe it’s making a phone call or apologising to a loved one. Starting the task is challenging though once it’s done, a huge weight lifts off your shoulders and you know you’ve done the right thing.

The same is true for mindfulness practice. I’m reluctant to call it meditation as that has people thinking of monks solemnly contemplating the mysteries of life in a faraway cave.

So we’ll call it mindfulness.

Mindfulness is any practice that strengthens the mind: mental rehearsal, visualisation and focusing on keeping a quiet mind are examples. You neglect mental training despite your reliance on your brain and a lack of time is an often cited reason.

‘I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes sitting doing nothing’

If you have these thoughts, it’s time to start practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness training is like a defragmentation of your brain. It improves clarity, clears away junk files and helps you to better organise the data in your head.

Next time you find yourself woefully short on time or your brain feels like it’s labouring, practice mindfulness even if only for a minute or two.

Be Prepared

Hope for the best but expect the worst – how many of us heed this advice?

We’re guilty of approaching life as if everything will go to plan and the trains will always run on time. When something comes up or the train runs late, we scream and curse our misfortune.

Expecting the unexpected is a paradox but we’re old enough to recognise the inconsistent nature of the world. This runs with themes I’ve discussed before – adaptability and being OK with chaos. Though, I want to explore the idea of being less obdurate.

Oftentimes, there are signals, subtle or not so subtle, that forecast change. The issue – we fail to acknowledge them and hope that ignorance will ‘magic it’ away. This is analogous to an ostrich who sticks his head in the sand.

It is utter foolishness.

In times like this, when our sixth sense warns us of a potential plight, we need to wisen up rather than falling into the safety that stubbornness provides. Doing so allows a change of mindset – shock is replaced by acceptance.

A heightened awareness allows us to plan; to make preparations that place us in a better position to manage the situation rather than being without a strategy.

Ok, you say, that’s all well and good, but what about when something comes from out of the blue? These instances are inevitable and the key is to stay calm and relaxed. Once the shock passes, analyse the situation and make plans accordingly.

Anger and frustration serve as additional roadblocks when something unexpected and unpleasant crops up. Be clever and adaptable. See the event for what it is, a challenge, and make the best of it.

Seek Distraction

We like to train and compete in optimal conditions with full equipment availability, no distractions and a clear mind.

But how often is this the case?

Oftentimes, the squat rack is unavailable and heinous music plays in the background. Meanwhile, you can’t get your mind off that damn Johnson file from work. Your training suffers and you walk out of the gym muttering to yourself about the unfairness of it all.

Josh Waitzkin in his book, The Art of Learning, makes a point of inviting these distractions. Instead of searching for perfect conditions, he recognises the importance of thriving on the chaos that the world creates.

Let’s jump back to the gym example and imagine you’re an aspiring powerlifter preparing for a meet.

Following Waitzkin’s advice, you download music that you’d normally save to torture others with and decide to train at an unfamiliar gym. Also, you give yourself a limited time period to complete the session.

Adopting this approach has benefits…

  • It makes you comfortable with chaos so you won’t be shocked when it does arise
  • It forces you to dial in your focus and block out distractions
  • You learn to keep your cool under duress rather than cursing the world and all inhabitants

Although you’re unlikely to produce your best performance, you’ll improve under imperfect circumstances. Next time something unexpected crops up, such as leaving your training shoes at home, don’t write off the session. See it as a challenge in bettering your ability to adapt.

 

We can’t expect consistency from the world so prepare for chaos.