Victory before the battle

“I can visualize how I want the perfect race to go.  I can see the start, the strokes, the walls, the turns, the finish, the strategy, all of it.  It’s so vivid that I can vividly see incredible detail, down even to the wake behind me.” – Michael Phelps, No Limits

I was really blown away by how intense Michael Phelps’ description of his visualization process is.  This reminds me of a conversation I had about a year ago.  Some famous olympic triathlete guy was signing autographs at a table outside my gym.   Curious I go to the table and ask him about what makes him win. He gets metaphysical on me. Tells me about how he projects his victory on others with his mind. He beats them by out thinking them. It’s an animal instinct. When he’s won – long before the race is over – he knows it and so does his opponent.

At this point our eyes are locked and we’re completely immersed in this spiritual mind domination conversation. I start to tell him about this amazing piece I read in Popular Science.  It’s about this crazy athlete who’s pushing the boundaries of physical performance and endurance with a revolutionary scientific approach.  He looks at me funny and says, “Are you serious?” I think he’s talking about the training methodology, so I answer, “Yeah, this guy’s intense.” Again, “Are you serious?”  Me: “Yes, it’s amazing.”

“My name is Andy Potts. I’m the guy in the article.”

He was the first person I ever asked for an autograph.


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 ]

If it was easy, everyone would do it

Yesterday I hung out with Henk Rogers who controls the Tetris video game. We took a ride in his brand new Tesla. It was AWESOME.

Henk was the co-founder and lead investor of my last company, iLovePhotos. He’s been a major inspiration in my life and truly embodies the rags to riches story (at one time he worked as a cabbie).

Growing up in a poor family with eight siblings, Henk got into computers and video games early in the 80s. He went to the University of Hawaii just so that he could take the computer related courses and have access to all the equipment. Once he took all the classes, he dropped out.

At the time he hunkered down and wrote the first role playing game in Japan called The Black Onyx. After a brief stumble, the game turned out to be a massive hit. As his company grew, he travelled the world looking for games to publish and came across Tetris. The Tetris licensing story is, itself, worthy of a James Bond movie. Lots of Soviet agencies and multi-national companies vied to prevent Henk from obtaining rights to the game. Henk become good friends with the actual creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov, and struck a deal with Nintendo. Through sheer perseverance and audacity he was able to gradually secure all the rights to the game over a span of 20 years.

Now, of course, Tetris is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is the most popular casual game in the world (even Google recently celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary). It’s easy to write it off as luck. But consider how many games are created each year and just how simple Tetris is – colorful falling blocks that form lines. The funny thing about luck is just how much work it takes. Henk has spent the last 25 years making Tetris into a “lucky” global phenomenon.

A couple years ago, I was really struggling with some issues at the company. I asked Henk for some advice and he said, “if it was easy, everyone would do it.” I remember that line every time I encounter a challenge.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Tonight I had dinner with my good friends Djuan and Brandon – two very awesome people.  Djuan is on a quest to climb seven peaks on seven continents.  He was one of the first people to go skydiving over Everest.  It’s called HALO jumping – high altitude, low opening.  Crazy.

The real story is that of his nephew Brandon.  A year ago Brandon was seriously overweight at 375 lbs.  Djuan staged an intervention and brought Brandon to Hawaii to get him back in shape.  They made a commitment to each other (they actually signed a document!): Brandon was going to get his weight back to normal, Djuan would take care of everything Brandon needed to get that done.  6 months later, Brandon has lost over 100 lbs.



Brandon’s also an awesome cook.  He made chicken breast with lightly sauteed tomatos, mushroom, and spinach for a total of 350 calories.