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4 High Performance Truths
Talent, Differentiators & Knowledge
13 years ago, I wrote this before boarding a flight back to the US. My wife and I had spent the Northern Winter in Queensland, Australia.
My life was about to change in a way I didn’t expect. My drive for “greatness” was going to nudge me towards family and fatherhood. I was about to realize that the non-essential (see below) was the lifestyle I’d been following for the prior ten years.
I'm leaving Australia today and the way my schedule worked out, I'm probably going to take a "zero" in my training log. Not a big fan of zeros as I do best with a dose of exercise every 12 hours, or so.
Earlier this month, my buddy, Tony D, flew half way around the world to train with me and see what he could pick up in terms of training secrets. I did what I could for the guy and I think he learned quite a bit from the experience. Tony doesn't have a blog so this article is a summary of what I hope he learned.
It's fashionable to say "there are no secrets" and "there is no easy way". We should all HTFU and JFT.1
That's true but it is also an over-simplification. There is a tremendous amount of experience, and knowledge, that goes into what's required to perform at a high level. This week, I'll highlight four key concepts that have helped me in academics, finance and athletics.
Talent Is Essential, Forget About It
If you have passion for something then go for it. Your talent will make itself known, or not known, quickly (usually in a couple years).
The real world is the best place to measure talent.
Life gives us feedback.
Good Isn't Great
If you have ability in a field then it is straightforward to become good. By good, I mean a top 5% performer.
What does it take to become great?2
In a word, "everything."
The transition from good to great requires a complete shift in approach. We tend to think about what we have to add -- the "extra effort", going the "extra mile", "giving 110%"...
While the extra effort is both material, and essential. People don't breakdown due to the "extra" - people breakdown because they are unable to strip away the non-essential.
Absent 1-in-ten-million talent, achieving 1-in-ten-thousand results will require a sustained effort that is unreasonable and, too often, unhealthy.
Certain unique individuals that can tolerate extreme workloads over the long term (perhaps this is a form of talent?). Most of us can only cope with phases of intense work, primarily when we are young. Medical residents, investment bank trainees, elite military recruits... it's not just athletics where this applies.
The good news is that most of our competition will quit long before they fully exploit their talents. Not many people are willing to stick with it for as long as it takes.
My buddy Ron won his age group at the Hawaii Ironman by an HOUR when he was 70. I can assure you that being #1 in Kona was all he thought about, daily, for at least seven years.
Persistence in the face of setback and obstacles - counts.
What else counts?
The capacity to change - the key things are:
willingness to change geography - to make it easier to do the right work;
building the correct peer group around one's self - to make it easier to do the right work;
tailoring our approach to perform; and
continual technical enhancement - productivity.
My peer group is filled with good performers who limit themselves because they bump into a situation where they start defending why they can't change. Change is risky, you might not improve. So pay attention to what works (keep that) as well as your mistakes (don't repeat).
Most of us aren't going to make the shift from Great to Greatest. However, life gives us many opportunities to shift from Good to Great.
External knowledge rarely limits performance - if you have talent, motivation, opportunity... then you'll improve rapidly.
What limits performance, quite often, is a lack of self-knowledge. Highly motivated, talented people, with extreme work ethic can be blind. I've been totally blind.
I do, however, have moments of insight and I write those moments down so that I can remember the key items.
Most of us have 2-4 key items that, done daily, set up success.
Lay out goals for the week on Sunday
Don't check email after dinner
Wake up before 7am
Outline tomorrow, the night before
Eat every four hours3
Demonstrate love through action
I'd encourage you to figure out your key three, write them down and stick to them. It's a great technique in our busy lives.
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Harden The F*** Up and Just F***ing Train
Another way to become “great” is to stack a bunch of good talents. My favorite sport of triathlon is an example (swim, bike and run). Another is combining language, people and technical skills.
If I get hungry then I’m prone to binging. I suspect I’m this way with more than food.