“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
It is true, I believe, that champions do what others talk about doing. Lance Armstrong has removed himself from the staple of role models, but his use of steroids doesn’t change the fact that he also trained hard in all kinds of weather when any sane person would have stayed home. I thought of him many times in the years I was struggling to run a Marathon fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon (a dream I finally reached in 2004). The image of him riding in 115 degree Texas summers came to my mind more than once when I went for runs in 98 degree New York summers.
The same metric holds true for every other discipline as well. Take music as an example. Millions of music teachers preach that practice makes perfect (even though that is a flawed conjecture, in my opinion) yet how many students actually practice as much as is suggested? The answer is, of course, precsious few practice for the recommended amount of time. And do know how you can tell which students DO practice that much? They’re the good ones.
After my graduation piano recital at college a friend of my Mother’s came up to me and said she’d do anything to play like me. I said, “Great. Just find a good teacher and practice your ass off everyday for the next eight years and you will play exactly like me, because that’s all I have done.” (Actually I’m not sure I said that out loud but I certainly thought it.)
Behold this great truth: The more you practice, the better you get. Simple, right? The more your work out, the better in shape you get. The more you write, the better your writing becomes. etc. etc. etc.. To some degree you can do whatever you set your mind to if you are willing to do what is necessary to get there.
So why aren’t you doing it? When would now be a good time to start?
In my Coaching Practice I have often counciled people to follow the prinicples of habit formation I have put forth in my e-Book Step Up to Mastery with “E.A.S.E. “The idea is to do SOMETHING everyday in the toawrds bettering your current level of the desired goal or skill set, even if it is small. It is in this way that we get into a new habit of doing the activities necessary to achieve excellence.
Using “Creative Lying” to achieve your goal
What I mean by “creative lying” isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’m not talking about lying to someone else. I’m talking about carefully choosing the way you represent things to yourself in order to stay motivated and continue to better yourself.
Here’s a brief summary of the E.A.S.E. method for those of you who are not familiar with it: Each letter of the acronym refers to a level of accomplishment or effort. There are four levels: “Easy,” “Acceptable,” “Stretch,” and “Extraordinary.” The idea is to form a new habit of excellence by doing something everyday.
The “Easy” level is there to make it OK to just do the minimum level of accomplishment. So you tell yourself (lie to yourself) that it’s OK to just do the minimum. This “creative lie” serves to overcome inertia. (See Newton’s first Law of Motion, “An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it.”) That’s fine except that, in truth, you know that if you really just do the minimum everyday you’re not going to achieve outstanding results, you’ll just get into a new habit of doing the bare minimum. You know that the “Easy” level is only really acceptable on those rare occasions when something is better than nothing. And usually, once the inertia has been overcome and you are in the act of practicing (or working out or reading or writing or whatever), then you keep going to the next level of “Acceptable.
The “Creative Lying” continues at this level because you know that if you actually want to see some improvement you must strive for more. So you image what the “Extraordinary” level of daily practice would be and tell yourself (lie to yourself) that THAT is your goal.
Now, you may ask, why is that a lie? Don’t we want to be extraorinary? Well, it is both the truth and a lie. It WOULD be great to do that “Extraordinary” level everyday but, for most of us, that isn’t realistic. However, it does serve to motivate us to stretch our limits and go past where we would ordinarily. It’s like dangling a carrot in from of the mule in order to motivate it to move forward. If the mule ever really DOES catch and eat the carrot, it’s done moving forward. You’ve got to keep it dangling out there just out of reach. In the same way, since we are both the mule and the dangler of the carrot, we creatively lie to ourselves because what you really want is to “Stretch” yourself to new levels. If you find yourself reaching that extraordinary level regularly, it’s time to reset your goals.
It’s just like Board Breaking
Each year I am happy to lend my talents and experience to teach board breaking at a Leadership Camp for high school juniors. I teach some basic principles of NLP as regards beliefs and goal setting and cap it all off with a karate style wooden board breaking experience where each kid gets to have the experience of breaking through perceived limitations metaphorically by busting through a 1” piece of wood with their bare hands.
There are a few steps to accomplishing this but real secret to doing this is using “Creative Lying.” Just like telling yourself you are striving for the “Extraordinary” level when you really will be happy with the “Stretch” level, in wood breaking you must tell yourself (lie to yourself) that you are aiming at a target past the actual board. This is essential because if you aim to strike just at the board, you will not go through it. To break the board you must aim past the board and you break through the board on your way to the target.
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Artist Chuck Close
Ultimately then, to be a champion we must do – everyday – what champions do everyday. And that’s the truth.