5 Shared Traits Among Elite Performers

Check out my guest post last week on Jacob’s site that he graciously agreed to publish for me – I think it’s some of my best writing thanks to his superb editing skills. Jacob is a good friend of mine who has a passion for missions, living simply, and paying things forward. Check out his site and subscribe to get his essays delivered weekly – I promise it won’t be a waste of your inbox space.

5 Shared Traits Among Elite Performers

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Your Best Work Now

“Hack away at the inessentials.” – Bruce Lee

I delete way more posts than I ever actually publish. That’s because any idea that I have immediately goes into a draft post with a few notes as soon as it pops into my head. I’ve gotten pretty good at going back through and figuring out which ideas are terrible and which ones I think I could actually use to add value to a reader’s life.

See, I’m a firm believer in Pareto’s Law that, essentially, says that 80% of the results come from about 20% of the effort. If you were to look at my blog stats, you’d see that about 80% of my views come from about 20% of my actual posts.

“Quality only counts when you care enough to do your best.” – Dad

Where this applies for me is that I work very hard to make sure that 100% of my posts are aligned with my goal for the site – to add value to any reader who comes across it. It doesn’t matter if only 20% of my posts ever get read at all. What matters is that any 4 out of 20 that are selected to be read consist of good content.

I find great fulfillment when I can finish a post (after several times of reviewing for content) and say that it is some of my best writing. The challenge is to make your current work be your best work. Whether it’s your fitness/diet, production, or your happiness, there is the 20% that contributes most of what you need/want and there’s the rest of it. Find that 20% for yourself, pay special attention to it, and keep knocking everything you do out of the park.

Why I Wake Up Early

“My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.” – Psalm 5:3

My dad and grandfathers have probably gotten up before the sunrise since they were in high school. Because of that, I’ve always just associated getting up early with being a man. When I went to college, it became a habit to get up early for exercise. The pool was right across the street from my dorm and made for a great warm workout during those freezing winter months. It wasn’t until I got out of school that it really started becoming a habit simply because I enjoyed it. The exercise aspect was convenient because it saved me time later in the day. It also kept me to a pretty consistent 10:30PM bedtime throughout my college career.

Since starting a new job this past November, my hours were set for the first 2 months to begin at 7AM every day. For the month of December, due to production demands, we were scheduled to start at 6AM for 6 days a week. Factor in my commute and my alarm is suddenly set to 4:30AM on a regular basis.

It became easier to just keep it that way on Sunday too because I would otherwise wake up Monday feeling terrible if my body had slept much past 4:30AM on Sunday. In January, the hours went back to 7AM or 8AM to start work but, at that point, I was already in the habit and decided to keep going. I had been going to the gym in the evenings but realized that it was much less crowded at 5AM than any other time. It’s also much easier to have the workout out of the way and not have to fit it in later when I want to be spending time helping around the house with the kids and whatever else we have going on in the evenings. I shower there after a good workout and am in the office just before 7AM every day (I pack my breakfast along with my lunch). My wife thinks I’m absolutely crazy but I’ve found what works for me.

I don’t know that there’s any reason to beat a dead horse and list all of the same reasons why getting up early is a good idea. This article does a pretty fantastic job of explaining it. That being said, these are just my personal preferences and why they work for me. Forget why you should – it takes way more work to stick to something just because you should. Figure out why you want to and that will motivate you to keep it up. Here’s why I like the early morning:

1. Dawn

The early morning sky is one of my favorite creations on the planet. The coolness, the moon and stars, and the dim glow of the approaching dawn all combine for a glorious experience. I’ve always enjoyed sunrise more than sunset because just about everyone sees the sun setting in the evenings. That’s a great time as well to spend outside visiting with your spouse, reading a good book, or going for a run. But the sunrise involves coffee (which I firmly believe God created simply to enhance the experience), solitude, and greeting the day. You just can’t beat that, if you ask me.

2. Serenity

There is a stillness and quiet that comes early in the morning that we don’t see at any other time of day. Taking full advantage of that serenity is wonderful to me. It’s much easier to just think and relax. In fact, if the TV is ever turned on early in our house, it seems far louder and more invasive than usual. The morning offers a unique time where there are no interruptions.

3. Meditations and Reflections

In Psalm 5:1, David asks God to “consider my meditations” which will come early in the morning. For someone as busy as King David, I’m sure that the mornings were the best time to talk with God. Think about it. David came from a shepherd’s background where he had all the time and solitude he could have ever asked for. As a king, most of that was probably gone. The only time left with a little peace and quiet would have been in the mornings.

4. Energy

All the energy of the day starts when you wake up. In fact, you’re at your peak of creative energy a couple of hours after you first wake up. By 8AM when many of my coworkers are just getting to work, I’ve been there for an hour already and have been up for over 3 hours – dialed in and ready to go. It sounds weird, I know. But the earlier you get up, the more energy you’ll have for your morning. Maybe it’ll even convince you to go to bed earlier too!

5. Consistency

What I’ve found is that, with any routine, it’s important that it can be done in multiple places. My current morning is such that, no matter where I’m staying (hotel, guest in someone else’s home, with family, etc.), it can be done anywhere. I enjoy the consistency of my morning – it keeps me from wasting brain space on what I’m going to do when I first wake up and leaves room for adding value for customers. My willpower to make healthy choices depletes throughout the day. It’s great for me to get a jumpstart on that in the morning. At the end of the day, at least I’ve had a couple of healthy meals and gotten in a good workout.

Today, 4:30AM is my favorite time of day. It’s also a day off from the gym and the clock is about to hit 5:30AM as I type this. It’s time to go get to it. If you’re still having trouble being convinced or still think I’m nuts, that’s fine. But here’s a cool video about it, anyway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjqYut-pyDU

Welcome to the grind.

Do Things You Hate

“A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Life is never going to be easy all of the time. In fact, more than likely, we will remember the hard things that we go through far more often than the good things that happen to us. It is in discomfort that we really grow as individuals. It is in discomfort that our “comfort zone” is expanded.

Everyone has a little voice inside of them that keeps them from getting into uncomfortable situations. The problem is that we have listened to that voice so much that we are incredibly unprepared when a situation does arise that pushes us to that comfort limit. That little voice regularly tells us what to do, how to act, and with whom to interact in the first place.

Stop listening. If something makes you uncomfortable or it’s something you really don’t want to do, do it anyway. Do it just for the sake of practicing denying that little voice when the need really arises.

Think about it like this: At church we discuss sharing the Gospel with a lost and dying world around us. But how many of us really have the guts to do that with the next stranger we see? If we don’t practice silencing that little voice and getting into uncomfortable conversations with people we don’t know, how can we ever expect to tell them about Jesus?

“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

Doing things you don’t like to do is about the practice and discipline of doing them anyway. Without the practice of doing them, we will never be ready when the time comes that we must do them. So, go ahead – saddle up.

Sustaining Your A-Game

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

We live in a world that is driven by competition. Human nature has grown to find that, through competition, businesses and people perform significantly better. Competing gives people a goal to achieve and something to lose. Though it isn’t a perfect system, the idea of constantly performing at an optimum level is both desirable and admirable.

The sad part is that we drop to a level below our capability far too quickly. Humans were made, first and foremost, for survival. That being said, your body will use what energy/fat/muscle is necessary and nothing more. Your body also adapts and learns as it is faced with different circumstances. Therefore, the more comfortable you get with something, the less your body has to use or work for it. Why is all of this so sad? I’m glad you asked.

While being able to adapt and become more comfortable with our surroundings is a wonderful thing, the competitive world around us wants us to continue to exceed our own limitations. Get too comfortable where you are and someone working to be better is going to pass you. People naturally desire comfort. But the only way to continually get better is to challenge yourself. Hence, our world of competition.

What does all of this have to do with habit and excellence? Constantly performing at an exceptional level can become just as much of a habit as anything else. Habits make us comfortable. They are the norm for our bodies and can easily be accomplished without much thought. While we do need to be challenged in order to perform, looking for challenges and actually facing them becomes a habit as well. That is not to say that the challenges are ever easy. But looking for them, mustering up the motivation to pursue what you want, and taking the challenges head-on can be just as much a part of everyday life as eating or sleeping.

Your life is full of opportunity. Some of it falls into your lap. Most of it must be found through diligent searching. Many opportunities in life are unknown to us. What I mean by that is that you never know if that person you’re talking to will be the next president of the United States. The ability to sell yourself comes with every handshake, conversation, and meeting you have. That’s why it is always important to have your A-game as an everyday habit.

How do you make a habit of it? Press the “Page Up” key a couple of times and reread what Aristotle said. “…repeatedly do.” That’s it. If you force yourself to constantly play up a level, you will find yourself being able to do so without thinking about it so much. What comes next? Find the level above the next.

“Climb to the top of a mountain and you will be able to see the top of the next one.” – Zig Ziglar

Beauty in Simplicity

Keeping life simple is a difficult task when you consider the world we live in. Technology gives us access to unlimited amount of information that is located thousands of miles away. We have the ability to communicate with people across the world in mere seconds. To make simplification that much more difficult, many people can perform their jobs from anywhere in the country. Through the use of smartphones, all work-related tasks can be accomplished and the risk is run of never being able to escape.

Think about your life and how you live each day. Now take a minute and think about how much of that is stuff you really don’t need. That’s what simplicity is. Simplifying is not stupefying. Simplifying just means getting rid of all the junk that you don’t need.

Think about a musical scale. There are only eight notes that are contained in a standard, major scale. In fact, if you change scales, the same notes are still used but in a different way. With less than ten notes, you would think that there would be a fairly limited amount of combinations. Beethoven, Chopin, and J.S. Bach all proved that theory wrong. Look/listen to the works of these three men and other classic composers and what they were able to do with those notes.

There are only five primary colors. Think about your favorite piece of artwork (You do have one, don’t you?). Take a second to fathom what Picasso and Van Goethe were able to make out of those five colors.

Music and artwork are just a couple of examples of how far simplicity can really go. The greatest example that I know of is when Jesus summed up the entire Old Testament in a very short phrase.

“So in everything you do, do to others as you would have them do to you…” – Matthew 7:12
 
Simplification reduces clutter, it eliminates stress, and it enables you to reevaluate what is really important. Consider your life. Think about all the junk that you don’t really need and simplify a little bit. You will be more effective in those things that really matter.

Learn to Appreciate Excellence

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has done the unthinkable this past season. They have just won four collegiate basketball national championships in a row. The seniors on this team have never lost in a national championship game with this team. Their best players are continually decorated as the best in all of college basketball. On top of that, UConn’s top 3 went as the top 3 in the WNBA draft – the first time ever that the top 3 picks have all come from the same school. Their dominance is unprecedented in the sport.

As with everything, there are haters who believe that UConn’s dominance is bad for the sport. Somehow winning and blowing teams out creates an unfair balance of power. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant and not really the point of this post. The point is that, whether we like UConn or not, we should take the time to appreciate the quality of work that they produce.

The same can be said for any sport and any of the reigning national champions: The Alabama Crimson Tide (football national championship), Villanova (men’s college basketball national champion), etc. It’s important to learn to recognize and appreciate excellence and quality work at any level – whether you like the person (team) accomplishing it or not. This skill is invaluable when choosing the right person for a job, making hard decisions, and it should inspire you to put the same care and dedication into your own work.

If sports isn’t your thing, think about music – all styles. I love jazz music, and one of my favorite activities in college was going to hear our school jazz band play. I appreciated the sound but also the quality of work that they produced. Keep in mind that, the point is not whether you like the style or not. The point is to learn to appreciate the excellence that accompanies it. Rap music is a great example here.

When he first started, Lil Wayne freestyle-ed all of his raps. That is, with any song he was working on or was a featured artist in, he started the music and just went to work rapping. Though I personally find some of his content questionable and some of his lyrics better than others, I can’t knock the fact that he has put a huge amount of work into performing and his craft. That’s noteworthy and worth appreciating.

Excellence in style is another great area to think about…

“People respond to how we’re dressed so, like it or not, this is what you have to do.”                             – Harvey Specter, Suits

Since I work in sales and marketing, I put some work into how I’m dressed every day and perceived by others. It also doesn’t help that I look about 15 years old, anyway, but even more so when I walk out of the house not caring what I look like. Because I take extra steps in my appearance, I notice those things when other men do them as well. Pro tip: It’s much easier to respect someone who you can tell has put in the work to get where they are.

These examples of quality are really easy for me because they’re the ones that I find interesting and enjoy. If you’re having trouble coming up with examples of your own, here are a few things you can do to help:

Why to appreciate quality for the sake of quality:

1) Stop and smell the roses

This is cliche but really taking the time to slow down is a great way to see the handiwork that others have put forth. Stop and take the time to enjoy street art when you’re on vacation. Again, the point is not to like everything you see, the point is to slow down to the point that you recognize the work that went into the product.

2) Inspiration

What work inspires you to work harder? When learning to appreciate quality, this is an important question to answer. Stretch outside of your personal preferences and get a little uncomfortable with the material you’re observing. Love art? Find a tattoo artist to observe at work. Like country music? Check out some blues greats and hear them perform. Love reading blogs and self-help stuff? Pick up a huge biography.

“Quality only counts when you care enough to do your best.” – Dad

3) Credit to those who deserve it.

Practice giving credit where credit is due. There will always be arrogant jerks who make this hard to do. Trust me, it’s good for you in your pursuit of learning to recognize excellence for what it is. Besides, there’s nothing like receiving a standing ovation as an artist. Next time you notice something you like, be that guy or gal who starts the standing and clapping. It doesn’t matter if people stare or even if you end up being the only one standing – this is for the performer and the work they’ve put into the performance.

4) Learn what goes into a craft

Again, whether you take an interest or liking doesn’t matter. Take the time to see how much work goes into creating the finished product. Pencil sketches, pottery, and successful people, in general, are great places to start observing.

Learn to appreciate quality for the sake of the quality. The content and your preference are important, sure. But if you can’t appreciate the work, you’re severely limiting yourself. When someone performs exceptionally in their chosen field, it’s important that they’re both recognized and applauded for it.

Earning the Right to Decide

The players will get to decide. They’ve earned that right. – Coach Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Kerr’s comment was made to Doris Burke at halftime on April 13, 2016. The Warriors played their final regular season game heading into the playoffs. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (Hi, Mom!), you know that the Warriors were also going for a record-breaking single season win for most regular season wins in basketball history.

It’s important to note that, before the playoffs, coaches tend to rest their starters in the final games of the season once playoff seeding has largely been determined. See, the playoffs in the NBA are a 2-month ordeal and, in order for teams to go all the way, they have to be well-rested.

That being said, Coach Kerr was asked after the Warriors’ playoff seed was determined if he would rest his players in preparation of the playoffs or if he would continue playing starters for the chance at breaking the record previously held by the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls (coincidentally, Kerr, himself, played on that team). His response was this: “My rotation is my rotation. No player will play more than 28-32 minutes.”

At halftime of this final game, the Memphis Grizzlies were close on the heels of the Warriors. And Coach Kerr gave the right to decide whether to keep playing starters or not to his players. Something that most coaches wouldn’t dream of doing. The result? The Golden State Warriors went on to break the single-season win record held by the Bulls and, as a part of both teams, Kerr managed to keep hold on the record, himself.

“Decision rights are earned, not given.” – Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries

This philosophy that the right to decide is earned and not given took me a while to wrap my head around. When it comes to a company, everyone has certain job responsibilities and are given authority to perform those responsibilities, right? While I can appreciate that mindset, it’s definitely not always the case. What it really comes down to is proving that you’ve earned the right to make the call.

See, that right isn’t your’s until you’ve proven that you deserve it. At that point, it really falls to you by default. That’s the best way to lead, in the first place – where your people trust you and permit you to make the decision for them. After all, what is the government without the consent of the governed?

Keep this in mind next time you’re in a power struggle situation. Next time you’re fighting for authority, ask yourself some questions:

  • Have I really proven that I deserve this?
  • What have I contributed that would make me trustworthy to make the decision?
  • Even if I can, does that mean I should?
  • Will people actually respect the decision, anyway?

This isn’t to turn you into a self-doubter, rather, to get you to perform an honest evaluation of where you stand in the matter. Maybe your decisions aren’t respected because you haven’t earned the right. Maybe it’s going to take tucking your tail between your legs a few times before you get to that point. Maybe it’s going to take some more results. Every situation is different – just like every decision is different. Whether you make the right call or not, have the guts and reliability to belong in the driver’s seat in the first place.

Happenin’s in the ‘Ham: Why You Should Add Value for Free

Several weeks ago, Melissa and I met a couple who runs a site showcasing all things going on around the city of Birmingham, AL. They frequent the new shops, go to concerts, and even post pictures of yummy food from new restaurants. It was very easy to tell that they loved what they were doing. Getting to run the social media marketing and being invited to all of the cool events were just icing on the cake for them. Being more of a business-minded guy, my first question was, “So, how do you make money from that.” The response: “We don’t…it’s just a hobby that we use to help people out.”

I won’t say that you shouldn’t ever get paid for your work. As a matter of fact, the husband behind Happenin’s in the ‘Ham got a job in social media marketing because of his work on the website – it’s definitely paid for the time investment in the website, for sure. But meeting the creative minds behind it really inspired me.

It inspired me to not always have something I need to gain from the value that I add to other people. Work to provide for the needs of others. That’s what I try to do every day. Now, I do get paid for that. But I should be looking for opportunities to add value to people without expecting to receive anything in return. There are a myriad of benefits to giving away value but here are a couple off the top:

More Energy

I know it sounds weird, but when you pour yourself into other people just for the sake of pouring yourself out, you actually have more energy than you would have if you were just doing it for yourself. Don’t believe me? Try this: Mow the lawn for someone who would otherwise have a difficult time doing so themselves, then go mow your own. Next weekend, just go over your own lawn twice. Guess which of the two is going to feel best energy-wise.

Fulfillment

You get a deeper sense of fulfillment from helping someone who can’t help you back. If you have a hard time coming up with individuals to work with – go volunteer somewhere. They won’t complain that you’re there to help, I promise. Have an attitude of someone who wants to help and wants to contribute. Keep that at the forefront of your mind because that will get you through whatever non-glamorous task you’re privileged to perform.

Taking the time to pour into others where you’re needed is something that all of us need to do more of. Kudos to those of you who do it regularly. Let’s all spend some additional time adding value to the lives of others for free. The return on that is how much better off they are as a result.

 

The Call to be a Producer

“Everyone wants to produce.” – My father-in-law

You don’t have to search very long before you’ll find someone ready to criticize our consumer culture. Black Friday, buffet lines, and night clubs are just a few examples off the top of my head of how much we want to consume for ourselves. But do we really think that stores are going to run out of merchandise? Are we seriously concerned with a buffet running out of food or of night club performers getting tired of the provocative nature of their jobs? Why is it that we naturally want to consume so much?

The issue definitely isn’t a scarcity kind of thing. In the South, people purchase land because they know that, with government controls, more is being seized than is being released – and no more is being created. That’s something different. Where we are right now as a culture is an obsession to consume all we can. Think about twitter usage.

Most people follow way more than follow them – I’m the same way. But think about your twitter timeline. Depending on your social media activity and how long you’ve been on twitter, you have your tweet number. But have you ever considered how many tweets you’ve “consumed” as compared to how many you’ve produced? That number is probably staggering.

“Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.” – Atlas Shrugged

This world is driven by producers. I am concerned that, without the continual drive to excel and produce more than we consume, the scarcity of production will continue to grow. The challenge to us is to create regularly. Add value to people. Maybe that means tweeting more and consuming less. Maybe that means starting a blog. Maybe that means paying it forward to someone else – lending a helping hand or lending out a favorite book.

Whatever the creative outlet, produce something, anything, that gives other people the tools they need to be better.