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Be Uncompromising

Many Americans are familiar with the story of Henry Ford and his drive to produce the V-8. As the story goes, “When Henry Ford decided to produce his famous V-8 motor, he chose to build an engine with the entire eight cylinders cast in one block, and instructed his engineers to produce a design for the engine. The design was placed on paper, but the engineers agreed, to a man, that it was simply impossible to cast an eight-cylinder engine-block in one piece.”

Ford’s reply was simple: “Produce it anyway.”

A story that some may be less familiar with is the story of the Burj Al Arab. I’ve been there twice, and each time I’ve marveled at the achievement it represents. The Burj Al Arab is the iconic structure standing approximately 1,000 feet off the coast of Dubai, UAE.

burj al arab

Completed in 1999, the Burj al Arab was the tallest hotel in the world for several years. However, when the vision for this self-proclaimed 7-star hotel was conceived, the ruler of Dubai was told it was impossible.

It was to be a hotel that looked like the sail on a yacht, and it should appear to float atop an island. In the words of the guide who showed us around the property, “The lead architect was perplexed. He said, ‘I cannot create land. An island is not possible.’”

The ruler of Dubai simply replied: “You build it. Or I’ll find somebody who can.”

burj3

Sure enough, just as Ford’s engineers found a way to build the impossible V-8, the architect (along with an army of engineers) found a way to construct an artificial island that could support a hotel consisting of 70,000 cubic meters of concrete and 9,000 tons of steel.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on compromise, but it seems to work best when people are trying to avoid conflict or when they have shared goals. If you fancy yourself a dreamer, a visionary, or an entrepreneur, consider the cost of compromise. Sometimes it is essential to be uncompromising.

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Start a Tradition

In 2003, I enjoyed New Year’s Eve at a surf camp in Fiji.

While I’m still a horrible surfer, I inadvertently established a tradition that has brought me great pleasure: beginning the New Year in a new country.

It began in Nadi, Fiji. I was solo. Just me and a rag-tag collection of would-be travelers. As the hours to the New Year drew close, two Fijians scaled a palm tree, grabbed a few coconuts, mixed the coconut water with rum—and voila—it was party time!

The following year brought Edinburgh—along with heaps of Scots in kilts, toting their homemade whiskey for warmth. I was on Princes street, flanked by the old world and the new. (On one side was a medieval castle. On the other, a Baby Gap).

By the time I met Michelle, I was several countries into an established tradition, one that she could now be part of.

And with Portugal, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Sicily, La Paz, Barcelona, Tokyo, Singapore, and Maldives now under our belts, people rarely ask us what we’re doing for New Year’s. Instead, anyone who knows us simply begins with “So where are you two going this year?”

Indeed, traditions abound. Some develop accidentally. I have four friends from college, and we’ve managed to make one trek to Las Vegas every year (with rare exception) for the last 23 years. The question isn’t, “When will we see each other?” The question is “Which month will we be going to Vegas this year?”

Some traditions are cultural. My wife’s family gathers at the cemetery every year to clean their ancestors’ grave sites . . . to pay respect to those who are no longer with us, to honor them by making sure they are not forgotten.

Some traditions are religious. I was raised a Buddhist. Each year my parents would take my brother and me to the Vista Buddhist Temple’s Obon Festival. I’d marvel at the muscular Japanese men, wielding wooden mallets at mounds of rice resting atop a wood block. They’d pound the rice until it became pasty and began to resemble what would become mochi. (When my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her I wanted to be one of those guys . . . the guys who swing the wooden hammers.)

People enjoy traditions for all sorts of reasons: to celebrate child birth (the Red Egg and Ginger party comes to mind), to celebrate love (via Valentine’s Day or anniversaries), or to honor those who’ve served (Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day).

Many of our traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next. We grow up looking forward to these traditions, planning for them, knowing they are good for us, knowing they make us better.

What’s of note, though, is that you may certainly create your own traditions. I know some triathletes who do a birthday swim every year: 100 x 100 yards. That’s 10,000 yards (not a big deal for a swimmer, but it’s a fairly sizable swim set for most triathletes).

Every year my dad—a competitive and talented cyclist—rides twice his age. I remember accompanying him on his birthday ride when he turned 58. We’d gotten to mile 57, and I was thinking, “Okay. It’s almost time to turn around. And then only 58 miles to go.” But my dad, always eager to push himself, said we should ride a few more miles before turning around, just in case our route wasn’t measured correctly. I figure we rode at least 120 miles that day. (Last year my dad turned 70, which means he rode 140 miles . . . if not more . . . on a hot day in August.)

While habits are performed daily, or weekly, or monthly, traditions are different. They are over-arching annual goals that our habits help advance. A well-chosen tradition should make you better.

Consider creating a tradition this year. You’ll be glad you did.

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Surprise Yourself

I don’t like surprises.

It’s not that I don’t champion spontaneity. It’s that I see my day as a closed-energy equation, one where I’ll need to allocate my energy stores in order to perform optimally. If I don’t know what’s going on, then allocation becomes sub-optimal at best.

There is a scene in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character describes herself as a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda girl.” Well, that may work for many. But I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda guy.  In fact, if I had a playbook that identified the rules in my life, this would be one of them.

Of course, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are moments in life—when you’re with your significant other, or spending time with your kids, or sifting through a work-related problem or a health-related issue—when surprises make you smile. These moments give you a reason to keep going.

The other day, for instance, I awoke exhausted and unmotivated. I struggled to read a few pages from a sports biography, brushed my nose when I was endeavoring to brush my teeth, haphazardly applied sunblock, and made my way downstairs.

As I drank my espresso and ate my oatmeal, I seriously considered skipping my swim and run session in favor of going back upstairs to get a few more hours of sleep. After all, my wife and dog were up there. And they looked (and sounded) comfortable.

But I reminded myself that the decisions I make when it’s early in the morning—when it’s dark and cold—those decisions shouldn’t be trusted as much as the decision I made the night before, when I was clear-headed. When I had a plan. When I was motivated.

So I trudged on, got into my truck, and reached the pool just after 5:30 AM. I was still exhausted.

They say a car uses a lot of energy to start. But it relies on far less energy once it’s rolling.

Well, I’d used a lot of energy that morning just to get into my jammers and onto the pool deck. But once I got into the pool, and once I did a warm-up of 500 yards, I started to feel pretty good.

Half way through the workout, the whiteboard indicated that we needed to do another 500. This was not all out. Just a 500. So I swam, with effort, but I didn’t go anaerobic or hypoxic. Typically, if I were going hard, I’d come in around 7:05-7:10.

When I hit the wall, my time was 6:51. (I didn’t believe it at first, but after conferring with my Garmin, I was convinced). Wow. I was officially surprised! And it was not on a day when I felt rested. It was not on a day when I exuded motivation. I hadn’t even gone all out!

Michael Phelps would likely hang up his Speedos if he ever swam a 500 in 6:51. But I was absolutely stoked!  It was a reminder that, indeed, most rules do have exceptions. And if I can be a party to these sorts of exceptions in sport, then bring ’em on!

To permeate a quiet confidence, to know that your happiness cannot be taken away from you, not today . . . that is the benefit of a breakthrough. That is the benefit of a stunning surprise in sport.

I suppose you can’t plan to surprise yourself. But perhaps if you take a chance, take a risk, push yourself—perhaps you speak up at a meeting, or organize a family getaway, or learn a musical instrument, or a foreign language. Perhaps you find a trail, or a pool, or a bike. If you take a chance . . . if you put yourself out there . . . it’s exciting to see what can happen.

Believe in the power of you. Allow yourself the luxury of dreams. Make the time to pursue them. And you might just surprise yourself.

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Work Ethic

“I shine ’cause I grind” is the chorus for a Crime Mob song that is on my playlist. On especially tough days, I’ll click my iPod to that song, and I’ll repeat the chorus over and over: “I shine ’cause I grind, I shine ’cause I grind.”

Like most things, you have to look for the motivation. But sift through the verses of this song, and you find the line: “I got an aura about myself, and that’s greatness.”

It’s funny, but I still remember the look on my colleague’s face when I told her (after a long training run) that it was a mental victory. She was perplexed. And I proceeded to explain that I wasn’t motivated to train that day. (This was exercise, not business training, but both have a lot in common.)

Her response was perfectly warranted: “But you LOVE to train!”

Sometimes we forget that people bear witness mainly to our actions, and rarely do they get a glimpse of the inner battle, the war declared between body and mind. Sure, there are almost always moments during training that are “perfect.” They are Ferlinghetti’s rebirth, a renaissance of wonder. You’re weightless, in flight, one with the Earth’s rotation.

But often it is a battle to get out that door and onto the track, or the bike, or the pool deck.

Like many things I know are good for me—eating broccoli, watching a TED Talk, cleaning the house, bathing—sometimes I’m simply not in the mood.

And that’s where you must have strategies in place in order to set yourself in motion. Momentum, as they say, is a cruel mistress.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” —Thomas Edison

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” —Alistair Cook

So what is your plan?

Visualization

Ask yourself, “How will I feel once I’m finished?” (I even go as far as “feeling” that sense of fulfillment and accomplishment before I’ve begun).

Motivation

Watch motivational YouTube videos. There are so many videos (2-3 minutes each) that might compel you to start moving.

Transformation

Try to change from the outside in. Get all of your gear on so that even if you don’t feel like an athlete, an entrepreneur, a CEO, a top-performer, you look like one. (Of course, if these things don’t work for you, do not ever underestimate the power of caffeine.)

I stand by this quotation: “Luck is the last dying wish of those who believe winning can happen by accident. Sweat, on the other hand, is a choice.” If you are at the top of your game (as an athlete, or as a parent, or as a professional), or if you are striving to reach the top of your game, then you likely have something in common with those committed to performing optimally. You are consistent. You do what you need to do, especially when you don’t want to do it. In other words, you shine ’cause you grind.

And because you do, “You got an aura about yourself, and that’s greatness.”

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Remember “The Magic of Thinking Big”

Originally published in 1959, Dr. David J. Schwartz’s entrepreneurial bible should warrant residence in your library. And while many of us have read his seminal work, The Magic of Thinking Big, we may not review it as often as we should.

“You are what you think you are.” —David J. Schwartz

“Don’t blame others when you receive a setback. Remember, how you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.” —David J. Schwartz

Here are three highlights from his work:

Rid Yourself of Excusitis

Schwartz writes about his amputee friend who is an excellent golfer: “One day I asked him how he had been able to develop such a near-perfect style with just one arm. I mentioned that most golfers with two arms can’t do nearly as well. His reply says a lot, ‘Well, it’s my experience,’ he said, ‘that the right attitude and one arm will beat the wrong attitude and two arms every time.’ The right attitude and one arm will beat the wrong attitude and two arms every time. Think about that for a while. It holds true not only on the golf course but in every facet of life.”

Build Confidence by Managing Your Memory

Schwartz argues that “Your brain is very much like a bank. Every day you make thought deposits in your ‘mind bank.'” Schwartz likens negative thought deposits to fertilizing weeds, and he offers this plan: “Just before you go to sleep, deposit good thoughts in your memory bank. Count your blessings. Recall the many good things you have to be thankful for: your wife or husband, your children, your friends, your health. Recall the good things you saw people do today. Recall your little victories and accomplishments. Go over the reasons why you are glad to be alive.”

Vitality Is Essential

Schwartz writes: “In everything you do, life it up. Enthusiasm, or lack of it, shows through in everything you do and say. Life up your handshaking. When you shake hands, shake. Make your handclasp say, ‘I’m glad to know you.’ ‘I am glad to see you again.’ A conservative, mouse-like handshake is worse than no handshake at all. It makes people think, ‘This guy is more dead than alive.’ Try to find a highly successful person with a conservative handshake. You’ll have to look a long, long time.” And about smiles, Schwartz writes: “Life up your smiles. Smile with your eyes. Nobody likes an artificial, pasted-on, rubbery smile. When you smile, smile. Show a few teeth. Maybe your teeth aren’t attractive, but that’s really unimportant. For when you smile, people don’t see your teeth. They see a warm, enthusiastic personality, someone they like.”

One way to inoculate yourself from small thinking is to devour success literature. Consider adding The Magic of Thinking Big to your daily ritual.