I love watching the Olympics. Watching these athletes do what they do best is truly inspiring. I am tempted myself to wonder if I would have been able to compete in the Olympics had I started young enough, worked hard enough. Then I remember that I do not possess the kind of natural talent these athletes do. Instead, I ask myself what I believe to be a parallel question: If I put in the same amount of effort as those athletes competing at the Olympics, can I achieve the same level of success in life?
Therein lies the hidden problem. We only see the athletes competing, not the training they put in. We often try to replicate an athlete’s peak performance in our everyday lives. If the athlete we see competing is giving a 10/10 performance, even by their standards, then we believe we should also be similarly giving a 10/10 performance everyday if we want to be successful.
We tend to get over-motivated; we aim too high. This may not immediately strike you as a problem, except that such a fast pace is not sustainable over long periods of time for anyone. At best, it only leads to short bursts of motivation. This is not a 1 to 1 comparison. We do not see the hard work the athletes put in leading up to the Olympics. A lifetime of sacrifice. The consistency to show up when no one is willing to. Instead, I think there are 2 key takeaways we can apply to our regular lives from watching an Olympian.
Firstly, the consistency to show up and put in the work. Secondly, to do that over a very long period of time.
Consistency is defined as behaving in a similar way. A consistent person is someone who behaves in a similar way, regardless of external factors. If a parent shows up to pick their child up from school every day, the child learns to trust that parent. An employee displays consistency by showing up for work every day. An athlete is consistent if he works hard every training session. As you can see, consistency is the very foundation of our normal lives without us even knowing it.
However, what we all struggle with is intentional consistency. Consistency in sticking to the plan despite external factors acting on us because of a prior commitment to yourself.
Say you set a goal of being able to run a marathon by the end of the year. The logical next step is to set up a training plan that you think will make you successful in achieving that goal. It may look something like running 4 days a week for a year. So far you have completed the easiest part of completing that goal. You now require consistency in sticking to the plan. You do everything you can to complete the 4 training sessions you committed to doing. Even after a 60-hour work week. Even if your friends are planning a super fun night out but you have already committed to running that night.
"I do today what no one else is willing to do, so that tomorrow I can do what no one else can."
- 5-time Fittest on Earth Mat Fraser
The external factors that act on us are often out of our control. A reasonable person may even act in a different way, deviating from the plan. However, the ability to stay consistent throughout is what separates the elite.
At the end of the day, you have to decide how badly you want something. If it’s not something particularly important to you, then you may choose to set your goal aside temporarily. But if it is something important to you, you have to decide what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to stay consistent. I like how 5-time CrossFit Fittest Man on Earth Mat Fraser puts it, “I do today what no one else is willing to do, so that tomorrow I can do what no one else can.”
Over Long Periods of Time
Here’s where we talk about sustainability. While consistency will usually result in us meeting our immediate goals, to truly master something requires consistency over long periods of time. How long exactly? According to author Malcom Gladwell, the now famous magic number appears to be 10,000 hours.
In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell proposes there are 3 factors that contribute to a person’s success: innate talent, circumstantial opportunity, and preparation. Innate talent and circumstantial opportunity both play a huge role in success, often more than people realize. Unfortunately, these 2 factors are beyond our control. So, for now, let’s talk about preparation.
Preparation is hard work. Literally. It is the hard work an athlete puts in for years and years before making it into the Olympics. It is the extra hours of practice an orchestra violinist puts in to separate themselves from the average violin player. It is the shows the Beatles played in Hamburg strip clubs years before becoming a hit. It is the nights Bill Gates spent programming in preparation before building one of the most influential companies in history. In all of these cases, the estimate Gladwell puts on the time spent to master their crafts? 10,000 hours.
If you have a long-term vision of what it is that you’re mastering – be it baking, cycling, or starting a business - you develop methods that allow you to be consistent over a long period of time.
To do anything for 10,000 hours requires a commitment and a love for what you do. It also requires us being able to adapt to life. To respond to adversity and distractions. Steve Jobs was famously kicked out of Apple before coming back wiser and even more focused. But if you have a long-term vision of what it is that you’re mastering – be it baking, cycling, or starting a business - you develop methods that allow you to be consistent over a long period of time. While it would be nice to always give it our maximum effort, realistically, it’s more about putting in an 8.5/10 performance consistently over years.
So here’s to not striving after an Olympian’s perfection, but striving for their consistency over a long period of time.