Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview and take a deep dive into the minds of over 40 business executives, sales leaders, sports coaches and entrepreneurs. These were lengthy, in-depth conversations around what made them successful…and, furthermore, what held them back. My findings were pretty fascinating and I thought I’d share some of this with you. What started as a small project last November quickly became an obsession of finding out what the best of the best did to keep their edge.
I was really suprised by how different everyone went about their day to day work. I’d say for sure that everyone had things they do really well and things they can improve. One of the objectives was to uncover both and help everyone get a little bit better. And, of course, to tease out what some of the consistent themes were so that I could help add value going forward. Finally, and selfishly, I wanted to learn : )
I really believe no matter how much success you have or how “good” you are today, if you’re not looking to get better it’s a recipe for disaster. I say that from experience. Nine years ago I got a big promotion. I was 30 yrs old and if I’m being honest – got a little complacent. I stopped pushing the envelope and thought I had “made it”. Thankfully, I got a wake-up call a few years ago and my mindset is all about continuous growth. Hard lesson, but a great lesson.
Back to my research and some key findings. I’ve been blown away by the candor and how different people approach things. I liken the conversations to that picture of the iceberg where all you see is what’s above the water. You know the one I’m talking about – where you can only see a small piece above and there’s this huge piece below the surface we never see. This was such a big theme – everyone had so much they did on a day to day basis that they really never thought about. I found that many never thought about their daily habits and what made them “successful”. I put that in italics because success is certainly different for everyone. I can definitely tell you that although important, financial success was rarely the primary factor. In fact, the idea of serving and adding value was a big theme for most. The best of the best definitely had a contribution mindset that set them apart. That was cool to see.
I thought I’d list out a few key learnings and the cool part is this has opened up a much larger conversation about how we can all learn from each other.
Three core themes stuck out and they are as follows:
Theme #1 – Mindset
Everyone has challenges in their daily lives. It was a pervasive theme. The best of the best have a resiliency to them. They know that things won’t always go their way but they’re focused on moving forward. Carol Dweck, who wrote the book “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success” refers to two different types of approaches. One is a Fixed Mindset and the other is a Growth Mindset. Here’s what Dweck says about Fixed Mindsets – “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.” Here’s what she says about Growth Mindsets – “People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.” Make sense? We can all get better. Whatever cards you’re dealt today are simply the hand you are dealt. You have a choice with how you play that hand. This is crucial – without this foundation, I’m not sure anything else matters.
Theme #2 – Planning
The best plan their work every day. They don’t let the urgency of others own what they do. They utilize their calendars to schedule important tasks and meetings. As Stephen Covey said in “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, the best definitely “Begin with the end in mind”. Abraham Lincoln has a great quote, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Think about that…we often times want to dive into our email or daily grind….but are you really thinking about your work the right way. The best focus on high impact work and plan their day around that. There are many different approaches to how people plan and execute, but the important thing is that you’re not just falling prey to what comes at you. The best of the best had specific tasks or projects they work on for the day and they get after it. Those that leverage their calendars to plan out specific tasks are certainly on the higher end of performance. One of the key habits that came forth was around identifying a small list of specific outcomes for the day and having an intense focus on achieving those before working on less impactful things. Quick tip – Write down the top 3-5 outcomes for the day and block time in your calendar to start the day (start with 90 minutes). Start with the top outcome and work your way down that list. Do this first and do it everyday…you’ll start to see some results, I promise.
Theme #3 – Fuel
Simply put, the best fuel for optimal performance. This means they think like an athlete when they work. Whether it’s what you put into your body (food/liquid) or how much you sleep, I can assure the best of the best are thinking about this. In fact, I talked to a very successful CEO who chuckled about the notion of CEO’s pulling all nighters and working 80 hour weeks. He counted sleep as one of the primary components to his success. The average amount of sleep per night was about seven hours for these top performers. There were some that operated on less but I can tell you that their stress level was a lot higher. When it comes to what you put in your body, if you ever played a sport, did you perform well if you just at a Big Mac and Vanilla Shake before your game? I think we both know the answer – so, why would you eat a bunch of junk during your work day? To perform at an optimal level, you MUST think about what you’re fueling your body and mind with.
These are definitely the top three themes that came to the surface but there were a lot more that are important to the daily success. I can tell you that most wake up early but not all. I talked to some very successful folks who aren’t early risers…they still do high impact work. The fun part is that the conversation continues to evolve.
How can you take action?
My encouragement for you is to pick one area that you want to get better. If it’s planning better, schedule 30 minutes in your day just for planning. If it’s mindset, I recommend journaling about what brings you down and makes you think from a negative state. On the flip side, think about what brings you up. Just being aware is a great first step. And, remember, life isn’t perfect. If you can focus on production over perfection, you’ll be so far ahead of the game. If it’s fuel, think about what time you’re going to bed. Start your bed time routine a little earlier. Try putting your phone in airplane mode so you won’t get buzzed right when you’re going to bed. Think about your energy throughout the day. Start to think about your food intake as fuel for your body, mind & soul.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s the one habit/ritual/thing that helps you achieve what you set out to on a daily basis? Furthermore, what’s the biggest challenge you have when it comes to daily “success”?
Would love to hear in the comments!
Thanks for reading.