The secret of success?

“The one thing that’s common to all successful people: They make a habit of doing things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do.”

Right now I’m reading “No Limits” – Michael Phelps’ autobiography.  That was one of my favorite passages.

It’s all too easy to look at really successful people and feel as though they are somehow predisposed to being great at what they do.  The truth is, many people at the top of their game work harder than anyone else to get there and stay there.  They put in countless hours and overcome countless obstacles to measure progress by millimeters.  At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Michael Phelps won the 100 meter butterfly with a time of 50.58 seconds.  Second place went to Milorad Cavic with a time of 50.59.  Being the world champion was a difference of one millisecond.

In another awesome book, The Outliers, Malcom Gladwell goes further to suggest that mastery takes in excess of 10,000 hours of practice (roughly equivalent to 10 years).  For five years between 1998 and 2003, Michael Phelps took off less than 5 days from training.  Think about that, less than 5 days off in 5 years.  That takes a lot of energy and commitment.  Tiger Woods is known for the same rigorous work ethic, working out and practicing from 6 am to 6 pm every day.  Greatness is less a product of good genetics as it is rigid discipline.

On the one hand, it’s inspiring to know that most successful people around you worked their ass off to get to where they are.  That means you can too.  On the other hand, it can be daunting to think how much work your own success might take.  However there’s a difference between good enough and great.  Being good at something doesn’t require world champion discipline or 10,000 hours of commitment.  Think about the time you spend watching TV or surfing the web every day.  One hour a night is 365 hours a year.  365 hours is more than enough time to improve yourself and become proficient in most skills.

As I’m retraining my body to use proper weight lifting form, it’s frustrating to have to do the same light movements over and over.  Subtly adjusting the way your body performs a particular exercise is an excruciating process.  You have to mentally control which muscles you use and don’t use.  Not to mention that I love lifting heavy!  Training all the core stabilizer muscles in my body just doesn’t excite me.  Reading about how much time Michael Phelps puts into being a champion reminded me what achieving my goals means.  It has honestly inspired me to work twice as hard.

[ photo: flickr / markopako ]

3 thoughts on “The secret of success?”

  1. Hey Lorenz, great post! Haven’t read Michael Phelps Book but Outliers is amazing!

    This all reminds me of a quote about success:

    “The big secret to success is that there is no secret! Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work”

    So true.. Keep at it!

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