The road to your dreams can look long and hard and twisty and difficult. But in your heart you know exactly what you want and what it would look like once you achieved it.
That same road also looks filled with traffic filled with competitors all looking to achieve the same destination.
There seems to be so many people. Thousands of them. Who want the same thing you do.
But how do you set yourself apart and get yourself in that top 1% who actually go on and make it happen? And do it fast enough so that you are rewarded with your progress and avoid getting frustrated by the lack of progress and quit?
How do you go from where you are and leapfrog over all of those similar wannabee’s who seem to be cluttering your path to success?
Don’t Give So Much Respect To Your Competitors
We tend to give more credit to our competitors where none needs to be given.
The bottom line is that we tend to compare our inside fears to their outside performance.
We wonder, “How on earth did they do that?!”
As we marinate in our own doubts and fears and wonder why our last performance wasn’t as good as theirs we forget that they are dealing with the same challenges…they are just different ones.
Most of your competitors will not be hard to pass. They are their biggest competitor. Their mind will quickly fall prey to their own doubts and fears and limiting beliefs.
It is not their competitors who will hold them back…it is themselves.
Most people quit well before they really get into anything. They may look like they are doing the same things as you but on the inside their mind is elsewhere. Distracted. Their lack of intention while doing a similar drill or task is what matters long term.
For many they are are just going through the motions on a path to being mediocre. They may be better than you, now, but you will catch up and then pass them.
They lack a strategic plan to reach that 1%. Their results are like a bottle of alcohol that soothes their ego but muddies their thinking.
There is a saying that goes, “he who holds his breath the longest, wins”. Be patient. Play the long game. Hold your breath.
I am about to give you the three stage framework to go from the mediocre middle to the top 10%. Whether you are an athlete in sports or in life this framework will first take you to the top 5% and beyond.
Listen To Your Gut
Everyone who has made it to the top 1% in ANYTHING will admit that, along the way, there was a voice or a vision or a feeling that guided them along the way.
No matter how doubtful they may have felt there was always a glimmer of hope that reminded them of what it would feel like when they reached their goals.
You have that too.
Some days it’s strong. Other days it’s weak. But it’s there.
And not matter how badly you may be feeling, with some work, you can call up those feelings and get back to that headspace that inspires you.
Some people NEVER have this. They are so out of touch with who they are or what they really want to become they lack the energy boost that trusting your gut gives you.
In some spiritual practices people will reveal that this is God or Energy or Source guiding you. It could be your dead Uncle Jerry. I don’t really care and neither should you.
Just know that those feelings are not to be dismissed or discarded. They are your internal compass that drives you forward. Listen to it. Trust it.
Stage One: Be The Apprentice
In the old Industrial Age it was common practice for a man to take on the role of the apprentice. A seven year journey to become world class at whatever field they had chosen.
There was no other path really. You knew that to get…there…you were going to have to go through seven years of…suck.
In today’s world of social media and instant gratification this whole idea of “apprenticeship” has really been lost.
We can grab our phone right now and see athletes doing amazing feats. Entrepreneurs with billion dollar companies.
We rarely see their early struggles. Their first, failed companies. Their botched attempts.
Being The Apprentice gives you some of the best psychological “nutrients” that you can have. Just like nutrients from food, struggling through the apprenticeship phase teaches you:
Autonomy: Control over your own choices and learning from the results both good and bad.
Competence: Gaining joy from overcoming challenges and taking advantage of opportunities gives you feelings of growth and development. The entire video game industry is built on the human need to feel competence.
Relatedness: Dealing with teammates in sports and in life gives us the opportunity to play and interact with others.
1. Amateur Before Pro
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb
Look at any YouTube star today and you can go back and find their first video. Horrible as it may seem.
Each one of those stars of today will tell you about their first videos and how horrid they were. How the lighting was bad. The sound, not good. Their voice…terrible.
But they started.
The truth is every single one of them embraced the fact that if they just started…if they just put themselves out there…that one day, someday, they would have a breakthrough.
For some a single video went viral and then the trajectory of their life changed. But for others, it was a long, slow grind that led to a cumulative accumulation of work that led to more traffic.
You must be willing to put yourself out there and embrace the suck. Embrace the mistakes. And know, deep down, that most of your competitors won’t have that tolerance.
They will quit before they get started and before they see the fruits of their labour.
Across all school systems in North America administrators will tell you that there is an incredible drop in resiliency. An overall attitude in stick-to-it-tive-ness.
Most people lack the tolerance to be an amateur before they can become a pro. They want to be perfect…now, but lack the ability to put in the work to get to perfect. (Perfect never comes, however.)
For all of those YouTubers they believed that if they put in enough quantity that quality and videos would come.
2. Improve Your Inputs: Get Educated
When you listen to your gut and trust those feelings that lead you to your dreams you will start to take things seriously. Your brain will help you by noticing people/places/things that can help you reach your goal.
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” -Buddha
When you commit to your goals to be the best you can be at this thing that you love, people will come out of the woodwork to share with you bits of advice to move you forward.
Think of this, you are where you are right now because of the inputs in your life.
This can be people or music or books you’ve read. It can be internet articles like this or YouTube videos.
The bottom line is you must improve your inputs.
Get around better people. Get coached by people who can take you to the next level. Look for ways to improve all of your abilities and not get sucked into the one’s you like.
That’s where you begin to outpace your competitors who won’t 1) decide what they really want and therefore 2) won’t upgrade their inputs.
You will quickly pass these competitors liked parked cars on the highway.
3. Just Because Everyone Is Doing It Doesn’t Make It Right
“When you see everyone headed in one direction you’ll be better off heading in the opposite direction”
Most rules are designed, not for elite performance, but to keep people inside of a box. Or to keep the stragglers from slipping so far behind.
When I was on the Olympic team, each and every year we had physical testing standards.
These “standards” were typically tied to the funding we got. Score well on that push up test and you’re on the team. Fail the test and…well.
But within the team there were athletes who hated push ups. Weren’t very good at them. Didn’t like training for them.
And then there were those of us who would run in front of an oncoming truck to make our Olympic dreams come true. Training for push ups was actually a hindrance to our goals.
But it was part of “team policy” so we had to do them.
You have a limited amount of resources to compete for your dreams. Whether it’s a sport or a job promotion. Time, energy and money are limited and you must be strategic in how you spend those resources.
You know the things that you need to do to make this dream happen, and the odds are there are things you know you should be doing that everyone else isn’t doing.
That’s the direction you need to head in.
Remember, your competition is so focused on each other that they are stuck in a pool of mediocrity.
Instead of following the rules as everyone seems to see them, trust your gut and create your own rules. Remove the friction. Don’t worry what others think of you because what they say about you and what you do says more about them than it does about you.
4. Punch The Clock
There is a rather unfair observation of factory workers who get paid by the hour. They show up and punch their time card on a clock at the entrance and start to get paid. They are paid for the time they put in and not the outcomes they produce.
And you will have days where you don’t feel you are getting equal return for the efforts you are putting in. That’s when you have to show up and punch the clock. Put in the work. Be consistent.
It’s great to have a goal. You need to have a goal. When I decided to start Mental Performance School I had a big goal and a big vision. But I knew that to reach that goal I was going to have to put in consistent work day in and day out.
This is a marathon. Compound interest. You are the rocket that uses up most of its fuel to break through the atmosphere and then it…
Conclusion: Stage One
These first four steps will set you apart from your competition. These are not meant to make you feel superior…
just the opposite.
These first four stages are there to make you feel humble. To realize that you aren’t as smart as you think you are. To encourage you that your results may not come quickly and that they will take consistent effort until your breakthroughs come.
But that being said, these first four steps should but you on a trajectory to pass 90% of your competition.
Stage Two: Becoming One of the Best. The Top 10%
When you focus on your competition your are distracted by the mediocre middle. The key is to only seek advice from those who have made it to where you want to go and most of your competition isn’t there yet so why would you possibly be influenced by them?
It’s easy to get distracted and to have “fear of missing out” syndrome. You must stay true to your gut and to the inputs of those you respect and who can lead you to where you want to go.
You can get to the top 10% just by out-working those around you. But to get to the top 5% is when you need to innovate. A leader who innovates and who doesn’t follow. This is where you become an artist and not the factory worker.
It is at this stage where you are constantly pushing your own boundaries. You are on the leading edge of thought, which feels really weird. It’s hard and it’s lonely. This is where people look up to you further up the ladder and it’s easy to take shots at your rear end.
At this stage you will start to develop an intuition about what you have been taught up to this point. It’s where you will start to object to what you’ve been taught and the teachers who have taught you.
Now is not the time to be disrespectful of those who have gotten you this far. To the contrary, you should thank them. If they can help you innovate from here…that is fantastic. In fact many of your coaches up to this point may have been craving to work with an athlete like you and take you further. Respect that. They may have untapped coaching abilities not yet seen.
If your intuition is guiding you to a higher level, trust it and go.
5. Double Down On Your Goals: More Creation. Less Consumption
When you get to the top 5% success becomes less about hard work and perseverance (although they are still important).
It becomes more about a feeling.
Every aspect of your life will either help you towards that feeling or it will take you away. This is where you double down on what is working and cut everything else that doesn’t.
Friends. Family. Hobbies. Food. Education. Training.
Everything is under scrutiny.
This is where your true “art” comes out. Where you go from just “playing” to becoming elite. Where you start to tap into forces outside of you to help you reach the 1%.
Most athletes in sports and life are in a reactive mode. Like a goalie getting peppered with shots, they aren’t dictating the play they are reacting to the play.
They are stuck in a subconscious loop most of their day. They get up on the same side of the bed and take the same steps to the bathroom. They are so good at navigating their house they could do it with their eyes closed.
It’s time to become more of a creator and less of a consumer. To challenge yourself more instead of expecting to take it easy. Your competitors will be taking it easy only focusing on one aspect of their development. You will be designing your life so that every aspect of your day takes you closer to becoming that artist who reaches their goals.
True masters in anything realize that they are a whole. Not individual parts.
When I work with athletes they are shocked to realize I want to know about their sleep, their health, their relationships, their school, etc. Why? It ALL matters.
6. Train. Recover. Compete. Recover. Repeat.
Elite athletes in sports and life realize that there are times when they are on and times when they are off.
My Coach Charles Staley taught me that in order to have peaks you must have valleys.
When you are focusing on improving your results you are not focused on just being busy. An elite marathoner doesn’t run all day every day. No. They train strategically and then they rest. Then they run a race to see how their training is serving them.
Then they rest.
They say the silence between the notes is what makes the music.
We know from brain research that getting psychologically detached from your work is critical to being attached when you work. Just like an athlete is more apt to have a great result if they have taken time away to mentally and physically recharge.
If you are fatigued…your work suffers.
If you are so engrossed in your work…your relationships will suffer.
If you’re burnt out you’re less likely to put in your best effort and you might not get started at all as this study shows.
Giving yourself the right amount of time to recover mentally, emotionally and physically is critical to returning to a high level of practice and peak performance.
Stage Three: Getting To The Top 5%
Here is where you separate yourself even further from the mediocre middle. It is where you establish the mindset and the routines to predict your consistent performance and to push yourself past perceived barriers.
While others around you will randomly prepare for their Game Day performances you will know that the reward comes from the preparation and not the Game Day.
By continuing to “do the work”, you will have consistent performances that will reward you above and beyond what those around you will do.
This doesn’t mean you will be perfect day in and day out. But what it will give you is a consistent foundation to perform from. With that consistency you will have solid feedback that you can improve off of
7: Learn To How To Get To Your Peak State
You have an optimal zone of performance that is unique to you and we call that “Peak State.”
Your Game Day might be giving a presentation. Or taking an exam. Or running a race.
Game Day is that day where you need to be at your best mentally, emotionally and physically to perform at your best.
But every day is different.
Depending on a number of factors, you’re going to feel differently each and every day.
And how you feel affects your performance.
You might have heard the term “getting in the zone”. Some call this “flow.” Whatever you call it, it is a window of mental, emotional and physical readiness that you are trying to get into BEFORE you perform.
To perform at your best on your Game Day it’s critical to have some sort of pre-performance checklist that you go through to trigger your brain and your body that Game Day is coming and it’s time to get ready.
The more elite you become the longer these routines may become. Your pre-performance routines serve two purposes: 1) to get your body ready to perform and 2) to get yourself mentally and emotionally ready to perform.
As you get better and better at knowing your body and what it takes to get it ready your pre-performance routine will vary and lengthen or shorten depending on how you feel.
The really interesting fact is that, as you mature, you will be able to get yourself mentally and emotionally ready in shorter and shorter amounts of time. You will literally be able to “snap yourself into it.”
Having a conscious routine triggers your brain and your body which in turn regulates your emotional state.
8. Learn To Suffer
Of all the athletes I work with, my endurance athletes are some of the best examples of humans who have learned to suffer.
These athletes will compete for hours and hours and in that time the pain they experience in their muscles would put other athletes to shame.
Sure, many athletes get sore AFTER a Game Day or a Practice Day but the suffering they have within a session is short. But for the endurance athletes they will experience pain for hours.
These athletes actually get to a point where they not only look forward to that pain, but they crave it.
And that’s a lesson for all of us. When things get difficult and we begin to feel like we are suffering that is usually the signal for us to persist.
These endurance athletes will describe this state of pain and suffering as “the Hurt Locker”. They even set up rooms in their house with their bikes on trainers and treadmills as “the Pain Cave.”
These athletes don’t fear these feelings, they learn to enjoy them. And they actually become their new state of “normal”.
This is one of my favourite quotes:
“Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them.”
— Josh Waitzkin — American Chess Player, martial arts competitor, author.
When you start to feel uncomfortable this is when the real work begins. The aim is to not feel good all the time but to push yourself so you can feel good where others feel uncomfortable. That is where your performance will begin to surpass theirs.
That’s when you start moving into the top 1%.
9. Shoot For a Feeling
The best performances are transcendent. They rise above what others have done before.
In sports, business, and life we see examples of people every…single…day who are pushing limits. Exceeding boundaries.
They are literally and figuratively at the leading edge of thought. (Stick with me.)
You may not be able to relate to a performance like that just yet.
And here’s why.
You are focusing on the work. On the effort. On the doing of the thing.
You are trying to out-effort your competition and that will only get you so far.
Truly great performances come from a feeling. Where the body is less particle and more wave. We start talking about energy and faith.
We describe these experiences as “out of body”, as if someone or something else has taken the reigns. We say things like, “ I just shut my brain off and my body took over.”
When your Game Day arrives it is time to stop the conscious thinking. Leave that for your preparation days. Now is not the time to figure it out or dwell on past failures. Now is the time to let your body do what you have trained it to do but to release it so that it can go beyond your mental handcuffs.
Game Day is the time to shoot for a feeling. To arrive happy and to compete because you just love what you are doing.
From there you will compete in the 1%. No work. No worry. No fear. Just…
Olympian - Jonathan Edwards
Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Chief Challenge Master and Performance Coach at OvercomeAnyChallenge.com. An author, Olympic Speaker, blogger, podcaster and more he's been dedicating his life to helping people overcome any challenge using the power of games and sport. He looks forward to hearing your story and the challenges you are planning to overcome.