Elite athletes continually push their limits. They find new gears or fall behind. Pushing limits has been the key to me competing at the elite level for two decades and winning 15 world championship titles. In this Elite Action Series, I’ll share strategies from elite athletes that can shake up your performance and push your limits. Let’s start with the plan that comes from inspiration.
Strategy 1. Be Systematic
It’s a rare athlete that stumbles into greatness. At some point, elite athletes go beyond the pure play of sport and add a perspective. I want to be the best. or I want to become spookily consistent at this skill or I want to be stronger than anybody on the field or I want a strategy to defeat every opponent.
It’s kind of like when we want to lose weight but reach mindlessly for the pile of doughnuts every morning. Yeah, it would be nice to be trim again, but we don’t believe in that dream enough to change our behavior. Now we get diagnosed with heart disease and we have a real goal: stay alive. Tempting as they are, doughnuts are not part of our lifesaving plan. The plan becomes clear once we believe in the goal.
In 1992, I rediscovered my sport after a long layoff. Playing with some of the best freestylers year-round in perfect conditions by the beach was awesome. I had a vague desire to get better but was basically stumbling along. Then I started talking to Dave Lewis, a player who had rediscovered the sport within a week of me. We both wanted to become champions, to see how far we could take our games. Having Dave as a partner in crime allowed me to transform my vague desire into a goal, get specific about where to improve and get systematic getting there. We worked out beyond the recreational sessions, and more importantly we approached our improvement systematically. By the next year, we had won our first tournament and nearly made the finals of the world championships. Four years later, we had won the world championships.
Same thing happens beyond sports. We try to get through the week, meet a quota or finish a project. We might be doing a good job, but we’ve plateaued. Then new perspectives arrive, like I want to be a rockstar presenter or I want to be a master of strategic insights or I want to write inventive, secure and amazingly crisp code. And with the arrival of those perspectives comes something else: a plan, a systematic plan to take you to greatness.
Which pile of doughnuts are you reaching for every day? More importantly, what’s that big goal? You know, the one you can only whisper to yourself. The one that makes the doughnuts less important. What if you said it out loud? What would it take to make it real?