We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.
—C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
In the early hours of June 27, 2011, Ryan Dodd woke up in an alley outside a bar in a rough part of town in Flint, Michigan. He had a fractured skull. Only hours before, he had been standing on top of the podium after one of the biggest victories of his life, holding the “King of Darkness” gold medal high in the air.
Professional waterski jumpers hit the ramp at 70 miles per hour and fly over 200 feet. Ryan was used to facing danger, butnever so much as that night. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain in three areas. He was rushed to the trauma center for emergency surgery to alleviate pressure on the skull. Twelve hours later they were able to stop the bleeding.
After a miraculous recovery, Ryan not only skied again, but he excelled. He won his first event back on the water in May the following year. Several weeks later he then won the next (and biggest) event of the year, the Masters, which he’d never won before. He went on to have the best year of his career.
Ryan continued to improve and in 2017 he broke the world record, became world champion, and number one in the world.
Over the past four years (2016-19) Ryan won 87% of the tournaments he entered. In August 2019, on a Sunday afternoon just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he won his third world championship in a row.
How did Ryan go from waking up in an alley with a fractured skull, to getting back on the water and achieving things he never dreamed possible?
Interestingly, his workouts and training volume stayed about the same. Yet, there was a fundamental difference between Ryan pre-head injury and Ryan post-head injury, one that helped propel him to the top of the world rankings and the world record. Ryan found a different way of living in the world – one that changed how he thought about his performance and entire life.
This book is about that difference.
It’s a completely different way of seeing the world, one that transforms not just how we think, but what we think about. It’s a different lifestyle, one that revamps our hearts from seeking temporary, surface-level goals to seeking powerful, permanent ones. It completely reverses how we pursue peak performance.
Ryan’s life and performance dramatically changed by changing one thing in his life: he learned Inner Excellence. This book will teach you what Ryan and other world-class athletes have learned: how to train your mind for extraordinary performance and fullness of life.
Whether we’re athletes or not, we’re all performers. We all “compete” to have good days, handle adversity well, get in arhythm that flows with peace and purpose, and get great results.
We also all have a certain mindset from which our performance—and daily life—flows.
Your mindset is your overall attitude and way of thinking that comes from how you perceive yourself and the world. These perceptions create certain attitudes and ways of thinking that become habitual. It orients your heart around what you believe is important and possible in your life. Your mindset sets the tone for everything you do.
The mindset of Inner Excellence is this:
I compete to raise the level of excellence in my life, to
learn and grow, in order to raise it in others.
We don’t pursue peak performance for the trophy or adoration, but to discover something within us and experience something we’ve never experienced before. We compete for the competition itself, to fully experience the moment and feel fully alive. We do this to help others—including our opponents—do the same thing, so we can all learn and grow and raise the level of excellence in our lives. We crave adversity and challenges as a means of seeing the truth about who we are in that moment and therefore who we can become.
We don’t climb mountains to get to the top—we climb to see who we can become in trying to get there. The peak gives us a goal and focus for our behaviors, but the reason for climbing or competing is far more empowering than an expansive view and social media posts.
Consider the journal entry of Olympic speed skater Clara Hughes after winning a gold medal:
In my heart it is clear to me why I go to the line time and again. I can assure you it’s not a medal hanging around my neck I’m after. Medals are things I send to my mom in Winnipeg, which she in turn shares with friends and family. They are not what provide the deep sense of accomplishment, which fills my sense of self, in turn teaching me how to live.
Hughes skates so she can learn how to live. The most powerful way to live is to raise the level of excellence in your life, to learn and grow, in order to raise it in others.
Inner Excellence is an entire lifestyle and training system designed to help you, whether you’re a professional athlete or everyday citizen, perform extraordinarily and be your true self so you can live with absolute fullness of life.
In this book, we’ll look at how top Olympians and world-class performers train for years for an event that may last less than a minute. Despite not having full control over their results, these athletes perform with peace and confidence under incredible pressure. We’ll then look at how you can do the same, whether you’re an athlete or executive, baker or blogger.
In my experience talking to and working with world-class performers and leaders, I’ve learned that what we really want, beyond our tangible goals and pursuits, is to feel totally alive. We crave great experiences and meaningful relationships and we long to reach our full potential. We want to be challenged and creative. We want to grow. We want freedom to live with passion and pursue our dreams regardless of what people think, how much money we make, or what level of status we acquire. Ultimately, we want the best possible life—absolute fullness of life.
Fear takes all of that away. Fear lives in the painful memories of the past and unknown experiences of the future, taking us out of the unlimited possibilities in the present. Instead of challenges, we see obstacles; instead of opportunities, we see setbacks. Instead of experiencing growth, we live in the past. If we want to truly live, we need to embrace our fears and find the courage to be our true selves.
As an outfielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, my sense of worth and identity revolved around my performance, mostly my batting average. When I hit well, I walked tall and felt great.
When I hit poorly, my shoulders slumped and my outlook was dark. Life was a roller coaster of emotions. I was a slave to results and it stifled my performance. I was afraid of failure and that fear kept putting my mind in the past and future.
When I started coaching professional and Olympic athletes, I saw this over and over again: athletes had lost their joy and passion for life as they struggled under the pressure to perform. The fear of failure engulfed their lives.
This book will share with you how some of the best athletes in the world have learned Inner Excellence, how it propelled them to extraordinary performance even when they were filled with doubt, and how you can excel in the same way in your life. But far more than that, you’ll learn how to live with deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life.
We’ll see how the basic principles are the same, whether you’re an athlete or an executive, an Olympic team or corporate group. We’ll explore the concept of selfless-actualization and the ways in which the study of extraordinary people teaches us to perform our best and truly live.
The first concept to learn is this: This book, this lifestyle, is based on a presupposition:
The biggest obstacle we face, in performance and in life, is self-centeredness.
It’s not the morality of it that I speak of. The main issue is that in our preoccupation with ourselves, our vision narrows, our growth is limited, and our failures are amplified. Curiosity and excitement for challenges gets replaced by anxiety and fear of failure. The potential for self-rejection grows.
How you see the world, and therefore what you believe is possible, comes from the beliefs you’ve created and the story you made out of it about who you are. That story comes from your mind’s continual assessment of your past, to which you’ve become attached. It’s that attachment that limits us. Our biggest obstacle is in our mind, or, rather, the program our mind runs based on who we’ve subconsciously programmed ourselves to be.
The solution is one that has empowered world-class performers, Olympic and professional athletes, and some of the best teams in the world. It’s a model based on three simple words: love, wisdom, and courage. Love is to lead with your heart, wisdom is to expand your vision, and courage is to be fully present. In this model, love becomes passion, wisdom becomes purpose, and courage becomes poise.
If in the pursuit of the extraordinary, you devote your entire life to learning and growing in love, wisdom, and courage, you’ll find, I believe, that your heart will slowly transform to value experience more than results. You’ll gain belief, focus and freedom (BFF). Soon, fully experiencing the moment will move up in priority over winning or the bottom line, which ironically, will allow you to win more often. Where it once focused on temporary, surface-level goals and desires, your heart will lose self-conscious concern for self and become devoted to what’s powerful and permanent. Your performance will take off. Your life will change. Let’s go. Amazing awaits.
MASLOW AND THE MASERATI
The Pursuit of More
Seduced by the siren song of a consumerist, quick-fix society, we sometimes choose a course of action that brings only the illusion of accomplishment, the shadow of satisfaction.
—George Leonard, Aikido master
If you want freedom, you might consider going into the wild. There’s no mortgage, bills, or lawn to mow. If it’s stability and security you’re after, you might consider the three meals a day offered within the four walls of prison. But if you want a different freedom, the freedom of a life of vision and courage, peace and joy, it’s going to cost you. Real freedom is costly.
In order to be truly free, we must have the courage to conform to certain disciplines, face our fears, and connect with our true selves. The path toward real success and long-term fulfillment is a risky one: obstacles of materialism, consumerism, and instant gratification confront us every day. They create a seductive numbness and a false reality that inhibits a powerful life, a life of freedom. As we gradually conform to society’s expectations and its definition of success, we become defined by our day-to- day performance (and our results), we lose our freedom, and eventually, we lose our selves.
It’s a daunting view, the risky path of our true dreams. It’s much more comfortable to follow the easier, wider route of less risk, less failure, and more self-indulgence. We don’t like to look at that unknown path of possibility; it’s too scary. It’s easier to give in to that part of the mind that wants instant gratification and temporary pleasures, to cover up the bigger, scarier picture of what we really want: the sacred moments that come from feeling truly alive. So we end up using our God-given talents in pursuit of false idols— chasing money or status or numbers or approval—in an attempt to quench our deep thirst to be grounded and fulfilled.
We’ve all had times when everything came together in perfect harmony: sacred moments, when we were totally immersed in the experience and felt fully alive. When these moments occur, we wish, even for a split second, we had the courage to pursue this risky path with all our heart.
And we can! Often, though, we’re so hard on ourselves, amplifying all our failures and regrets, that we neglect to see what’s still possible—a life of freedom, filled with deep contentment, joy and confidence, independent of circumstances.
We’re all human, with the same deep desires and concerns. We all want great experiences and meaningful relationships; we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to love and laugh and be successful. It’s human nature.
But each of us also has a mind that has judgmental thoughts, produces desires that hurt us, and creates beliefs that limit us. This all occurs because our minds have not been trained to manage the one component on which everything hinges: our thoughts.
In the pursuit of extraordinary performance, it’s easy to succumb to anxiety and pressure, because so much is out of your control. When you learn to live a life that is fully engaged, however, then you can perform your best and love the challenge. Every performance, presentation, or problem you face is an opportunity to learn and grow and vividly experience each moment. You will find, as you take this journey with me, that your best moments always come from a clear mind and unburdened heart. This allows you to take the risks necessary to be everything you were created to be.
The Narrow Road of Selfless Actualization
Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
–Dr. Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor, author, Man’s Search for Meaning
In the quest for a life of freedom, there are two basic paths: the popular road, spacious and inviting, offering praise andadmiration; and the narrow one that, though difficult, less glamorous, and often rocky, leads to deep contentment, joy andconfidence. It’s the latter path that sacrifices much but holds the key to extraordinary performance. There you’ll find the freedom of an undivided heart, one not attached to your results or what people might think or say.
Psychiatrist Abraham Maslow studied this path in an interesting way. He analyzed the characteristics of successful people, such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein: how they thought, what they dreamed of, how they lived. In doing so, he found that they shared a number of common traits, including a strong sense of self, a close connection to others, and both the curiosity to solve problems and the resourcefulness to do it. They had high self-acceptance and were motivated to have peak experiences. He called these people, who not only changed the world but also lived fulfilling lives, self-actualizers, fully human. Self-actualizers, Maslow noted, with their greater vision, shared a unique ability to engage in moments in which they felt truly alive, creative, and integrated. Maslow’s high achievers selflessly pursued a purpose beyond themselves. In light of this, we’ll refer to these high achievers as selfless actualizers, or people who saw the world through a lens beyond self, and thus had the freedom to live fully. Here are nine characteristics Maslow used to describe them:
1. Total absorption
They learn to experience key events fully, vividly, and selflessly, with complete concentration.
2. Personal growth
They don’t get hung up on lower level needs or desires (i.e., approval from others), but seek to learn and grow. Their goal is to experience the moment, more so than anything tangible they can get from it. For them, the means is the end; the journey is the enjoyment, not the result.
Selfless actualizers do the work to uncover their true motives, emotions and abilities. They are guided by their own code of ethics, which often makes them feel like aliens in a foreign land.
This German word means fellowship and community. Maslow felt that belonging is a fundamental human need and that connecting with others was an essential part of self-actualization.
Selfless actualizing people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naïvely, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others. Thus, for such a person, any sunset may be as beautiful as the first one, any wildflower as breath- taking even after viewing a million wildflowers. For such people, even the casual workday, moment-to-moment business of living can be thrilling.
6. Authenticity/resistance to enculturation
Selfless actualizers are motivated to fulfill their own inner potential rather than society’s external rewards; they have greater autonomy and resist passively becoming like everyone else.
Selfless actualizers are able to be alone with their feelings. They desire solitude to a greater degree than the average person. Selfless-actualizers enjoy time for quiet reflection and do not always have to have people around them. They are able to be near someone and have no need to communicate with them; being in their presence is sufficient in and of itself.
8. Purpose beyond self
Selfless actualizers have some mission in life, some task to fulfill, some problem outsidethemselves which enlists much of their energy, for the good of mankind.
9. Lack of ego defenses
Maslow felt that we build walls we think will protect us but instead they hem us in. Selflessactualizers are able to identify their internal defenses and then find the courage to give them up.
In the pages that follow, you’ll learn how self-centeredness leads to fear, and similarly, how selflessness leads to fearlessness. For selfless actualizers, their natural concern for self - and all its limits and petty quibbles - were overshadowed by a much bigger vision with farther reaching possibilities than a self-centered mind can envision.
For Maslow, these characteristics and the behaviors associated with them, reveal what’s already within you, or, more accurately, what’s already you.
Imagine Michelangelo chiseling away the marble block as he sculpted David. He cut away everything that wasn’t David to expose this magnificent human form. Likewise, we are the rock with the potential to emerge into something incredible, but we’re constrained by expectations, worries, and fears. We’ve been socialized to value the fame and popularity of success, however fleeting, over the experience that drives it. In this we lose our joy. We get so locked into winning that we become afraid of losing.
Attachment to something you’re not in complete control of makes you needy and brings with it the fear of not getting what you want. Concern for self and self-consciousness kicks in, scattering your energy and dividing your power. Back and forth it goes, between the quest to win and fear of losing; tension rises as the pressure mounts. But beneath those constraints lies an undivided heart—the heart of a warrior—your true self. Remove what isn’t you and like Michelangelo unveiled David, you’ll discover tremendous strength and poise.
The Affluenza Virus
The true worth of a man is measured by the objects he pursues.
—Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, 161-180 AD
To chisel away what’s not you is difficult. It is easy to get sidetracked, seduced by the facade of what looks like your truedream. Western culture exposes us daily to the “affluenza” virus (the most dangerous type of virus—one that can steal your soul). This virus idolizes five things:
Looks (physical appearance)
Merriam-Webster defines palms as (among other things) symbols of triumph or superiority. These five symbols of success can steal your true dreams by getting you to focus on them instead of what’s truly meaningful, empowering, and permanent. The affluenza’s virus injects you with the constant desire to gain more and compare yourself with others, and it’s never satisfied. This phenomenon divides your heart and distances you from your true self.
Ironically, it’s our fixation on the symbols of our dreams that takes us further from the real dream inside us. A nicer car. A bigger house. A million followers. Our natural attraction to things that make us look and feel good is where the road diverts from that which is powerful, fulfilling, and permanent.
According to Maslow, if we spend our life in pursuit of nicer places to live and fancier cars to drive (even if they are really cool), we’re meeting only low-level needs. The problem isn’t the components of the virus in and of themselves—the money, achievements, and so forth—but rather putting your trust and identity in something transient and unstable.
The real problem occurs when those external things become your ultimate treasure, because your heart will follow. The focus of your highest desires molds you to have the characteristics of that which you desire. Possessions and achievements, looks, money and status are all fleeting, and a heart built on temporary things will have insecurity as a constant companion.
As others praise or covet your symbols of success, you get a momentary sense of pride and false sense of worth, which spurs you to chase after more of what you were praised for. The more you get, the more you want, and the more you havedifficulty enjoying what once was really exciting. That striving becomes a sickness that leads to despair as your identity becomes characterized by what you have, what you’ve achieved, how you look or how others perceive you. When those things come, you see that they’re hollow. It leaves an emptiness.
In Western culture, the affluenza virus is everywhere. When everyone around you has the cold or flu, it’s hard not to get it yourself; you must take measures to strengthen your immunity against it, or you will succumb as well. Your immunity, as you’ll see as we go along, is strengthened by a strong sense of identity, a purpose beyond self, and a powerful system for managing your thoughts, feelings and desires.
In my visits to other cultures, I’ve found life to be much simpler. In Costa Rica, for example, lawyers and cab drivers, shoppers and shop owners, all seemed socially equal. A dentist may socialize with a tow truck driver and invite the driver in for dinner after having his car towed, as my host family did while I was there coaching. I still recall my host asking him to stay during the meal —as if this was a normal thing—and getting so excited over dinner when the driver showed him on a map where he was from. The Costa Rican culture seemed far happier and more content than my own. They work. They eat. They play. In their developing country, they needed little and appreciated much.
Your Deepest Desire
O, God of wonder, enlarge my capacity to be amazed at what is amazing and end my attraction to the insignificant.
—Dr. John Piper, Theologian
About 1700 years ago lived a guy named Augustine Aurelius who was said to love wisdom and have a great thirst for truth. In his studies he shared an intriguing insight: “We are shaped most not by what we think, not by what we do, but by what we love. For when we ask whether somebody is a good person, we are not asking what he believes or hopes for, but what he loves.”
In other words, it’s our loves that govern our actions and the direction of our lives. What we love most at any given moment controls our lives at that moment. Augustine believed that the basic cause of our discontent was that our loves were out of order. Love popularity most, and insecurity will follow us everywhere. Love something much more powerful, however, like love itself— the unconditional kind—and we will be empowered and content.
To live with fullness of life, then, we must get our loves in an empowering order. We must love most what is most powerful.
When I played professional baseball, I thought what I loved most was hitting home runs, the cheers from the fans, being athletic, and competing in the moment. What I’ve since realized, but didn’t know then, however, is that what I really loved, was feeling totally alive. I craved being fully engaged in the moment... playing with passion...being part of a team, growing closer together in a common pursuit.
What you love most is a good indicator of whether or not you’re afflicted with the affluenza virus. How do you know what you love most? Ask yourself three questions:
1. What do I dream about?
2. What do I worry about? (What has regularly made me anxious?)
3. What do I get upset about? (What has made me the angriest?)
The answer to these questions reveals what, in the deepest place of your heart, is most important to you. Your life will be as stable as whatever that thing is. That thing is what your life is built around. Do you have the virus?
One of the viral symptoms is the sense of entitlement that comes to those who are infected. When you’ve grown used to a certain amount of worldly success and your identity has become intertwined with it, you’ll feel a deep disturbance when someone’s words or actions threaten your reputation or status. Those things society says are great—even though they’re fleeting—have entered your identity. They’ve become a part of you.
The most influential part of the virus is not the lust for more, but rather, the lust for more than others. The more than you issue is the fire under the simmering viral brew.
We all have an innate desire to grow, to become who we can become. It can be confusing, however, how to interpret what that means and how to go about it. It’s so easy to get distracted, to get on the wrong path, pursuing lesser goals and being led by low-level pursuits. We want great experiences and a meaningful life, but often get lured into desires, comparisons and pursuits that are neither meaningful nor exciting. Life becomes repetitive and numb when your greatest pursuit or desire is ultimately empty.
Pulitzer Prize finalist David Foster Wallace says you’re fooling yourself if you think you don’t have some pursuit/thing/god that you’re worshipping. Wallace explains:
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing,you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s beencodified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
You might say, I am my own person. I don’t have any attachment or thing I’m addicted to. I just want to be happy. Then perhaps happiness is your god. If that’s the case, happiness will be ever elusive until your life has more meaning and desire than meeting your own needs. Your life will be a continual pursuit of more—more comfort, more acceptance, more followers, or just more busyness.
In his thoughtful book Season of Life, Jeffrey Marx chronicles the unique coaching style of Joe Ehrmann, former NFL star turned volunteer assistant at Gilman High School in Maryland. Ehrmann’s career in the NFL seemed outwardly successful, but it left him feeling empty. Ehrmann explains:
I had expectations that professional football would help me find some kind of purpose and meaning in my life. But really, all I found in the NFL was more confusion. I kept having the belief that if it wasn’t going to be this contract, I would certainly find some kind of serenity or peace in my life with the next contract, the next girl, the next house, the next car, the next award, when I got to the Pro Bowl, when we got to the Super Bowl. And what happened to me I think happens to an awful lot of professional athletes: you start losing perspective. You’ve kind of climbed the ladder of success, and when you get up there, you realize somehow the ladder was leaning on the wrong building.
Ehrmann realized that he had been socialized to pursue ghosts of what he really wanted. “The single biggest failure of society [is] we simply don’t do a good enough job teaching boys how to be men,” he says. In his desire to be a man, he pursued a false masculinity by trying to validate himself as he grew up through his athletic ability, sexual conquests, and economic success. Ehrmann asserts:
Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships. Success comes in terms of relationships. The second criterion—the only other criterion for masculinity—is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants, and desires. At the end of our life we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world was a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other-focused.
Ehrmann's uncommon approach comes from firsthand experience in pursuit of the American dream, a dream that didn’t deliver on its end of the bargain. What Joe wanted was something more substantial than trophies, more meaningful than money. As he played pro football, he found that the alluring external symbols of success brought instant gratification but diverted his attention away from the qualities that would carry him throughout his life.
The trap Ehrmann fell into, and the virus that afflicted him, is one that ensnares most of us. We all want to be successful, but what does that mean? Often people say they just want to be happy, but even that concept is difficult to define. We’re not very good at knowing what makes us happy, let alone how to feel truly alive.
We want real and lasting joy, peace, and fulfillment, yet every day, we are presented with potential shortcuts that undermine this pursuit. There’s always something on the horizon that lures us towards temporary rewards, distracting us from the character development necessary to develop inner strength.
If you have inner strength, you move out into the world with peace and confidence, no matter what your circumstances are. If your inner life is unstable, you move out into the world with weakness, no matter how much money or success you have.
It’s natural to want to skip the character-developing process of your inner world. Our culture molds us into focusing ontemporary, superficial goals. We easily get caught up in robotic numbness, obsessing about getting to the next level in our lives and/or careers; we lose the meaning in the process; all that matters is the bottom line, win or lose, and how we’ll be evaluated or viewed by others. We wind up losing sight of the reason we want the things that we do, which are the experiences we have and the growth that results. Rather than using each performance to learn and grow, every performance and corresponding result becomes an evaluation of and constant search for self-worth.
So often we just end up chasing feelings to feel better about ourselves, becoming a slave to our impulses, rather than doing what needs to be done to build a long-term foundation for the best possible life.
The Obsession with Winning
As a young boy and eventual professional athlete, I dreamed endlessly about being the hero—hitting the game-winning home run to win the World Series or scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. So when the Chicago Cubs drafted me, it was a dream come true. But my obsession with stardom brought immense pressure. I allowed my identity to become wrapped up in the Cubs uniform. My mind was filled with fear of not measuring up and not living the life I was meant to live. As a result, I became defined by my performance. My self-worth depended on how well I performed.
It’s easy to confuse the excitement of winning with the experi- ence of learning and growing and feeling alive. What I didn’t realize was that what was most fulfilling wasn’t wearing the Cubs uniform, hitting a baseball on the sweet spot or making a diving catch.
Winning has a deceptive fascination for us because our social- media-driven world obsesses about it. However, the fact that you won doesn’t mean you were great, or at your best, or even good. Winning, you could say, is part of both the solution and the problem—it straddles the line between what you really want and the affluenza-inspired illusion of what you want. Consider a race where one athlete has a personal best time yet loses by a tenth of a second and the winning athlete does not match his personal best. Who ran the better race? While most would say the faster athlete won, perhaps it’s the athlete who beat his personal best who really won.
Playing to win is a strong motivator in competition, but when winning holds more value for you than fully experiencing the moment and getting better, you’ll realize so much is out of your control, and tension and doubt will be your constant companions.
The price of anything, as Henry David Thoreau said, is the amount of life you exchange for it. To trade your soul for one victory is to get caught up in society’s obsession with what’s fast and hot and exciting: the 454 horsepower, the Italian mystique, the paddle gearshifts, the wow factor. With no awards (or press coverage) for the discipline, self-control, and hard work that it takes to succeed, the process gets undermined.
Winning the gold medal (or Maserati) isn’t great because of the medal itself. The greatness lies in the person you become, the one meant to make a difference in the lives of others, the one who sacrificed themselves to learn and grow and become someone they never knew they could become. The process of learning and growing in love, wisdom and courage—to become more fully you—through all the adversity, is what makes the achievement great.
The best teachers and coaches know that an extraordinary life is possible, so they impart skills such as discipline, courage, and sacrificial love. They value learning and growth far more than the task they’re teaching or game they’re trying to win. Legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith relates:
Our North Carolina players seldom heard me or my assistants talk about winning. Winning would be the by-product of the process. There could be no shortcuts. Making winning the ultimate goal usually isn’t good teaching.
He adds that former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne believed that focusing on winning could be an obstacle as much as a motivator. Smith points out, “So many things happened in games that were beyond our control: the talent and experience of the teams, bad calls by officials, injuries, bad luck.” Defining your success based on factors out of your control undermines the process that got you there, and Smith made sure his players knew that.
Winning and losing are so similar, yet their emotional effects on us are vastly different. For most of us, we’re so attached to the outcome of our performance that it obstructs our vision and focus. We’re so fixated on winning that we become afraid of losing, which takes away our freedom and joy. What we really want in life is much more than winning a game or a medal; what we want are permanent life-enriching rewards like great experiences, feeling alive, learning and growing and being challenged. When we can “meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,” as Rudyard Kipling said, then we won’t be seduced as much by the false sense of security that winning can bring, nor will we miss the growth that losing offers. Failure is painful, but the learning and experience of failing is so valuable, we simply cannot grow into our true selves without it.
Winning isn’t the best measure of success because you can’t control or sustain it, and you might win, but it may not be your best effort, which lures you into laziness. If your goal is to win an Olympic gold medal or become CEO of Google, that’s awesome, but as you learn Inner Excellence, you’ll see the need for a much higher goal than that. You could use the principles and tools in this book to achieve your goal, but still feel empty. As high as those goals are, they are little lollipops when what you’re created for is the whole candy store.
Five-time national champion basketball coach (Duke University) Mike Krzyzewski describes his approach:
If we’re constantly looking at our win-loss record to determine whether we are doing well, we’re not looking at the right barometer. If you’re always striving to achieve a success that is defined by someone else, I think you’ll always be frustrated. There will never be enough championships, never enough wins. And when you finally attain them, if you’re lucky enough to do so, they’ll only be numbers. Somebody will say you were great or successful, but ultimately you’ll know it’s an empty success. The only way to get around such an unhappy ending is to continually define your own success. Your definition of success should have more depth than the equivalent of winning a national championship. It should be whatever passion moves you deep in your heart.
As Krzyzewski discovered, in the end, the biggest victory isn’t about getting something shiny, fast, and lavish, winning a gold medal, a corner office, or a national championship, but rather winning the battle with yourself – the battle for your heart. In every performance we undertake, we choose between our attachment to winning and our deep desire to feel fully alive, to learn and grow and become more at peace, more stable, more able to experience powerful, fulfilling moments. Of course, this frees us up to perform with passion and perseverance—and to win more often.
In the pursuit of a courageous life, we must continually learn about ourselves—who we really are and what’s truly meaningful. There’s only one way to truly know freedom, and that is to find that part of yourself that longs for it and to find exactly what it longs for, beyond the temporary pleasures and possessions that possess us. We must be determined to be disciplined in ways that empower us, sacrificing pride and status for growth and experience. In this pursuit we can find a freedom that knows no boundaries, one not enslaved to the outcome or seduced by success, but instead focused on purpose and others.
Key Points for Chapter 1
■ There are two paths in life: a life of freedom on a narrow, risky path that involves facing your fears to pursue your dreams and true self; or a guarded life where you travel a wider path of relative comfort and safety to pursue false, temporary rewards with less risk and fewer possibilities.
■ Western culture is obsessed with external symbols of success, constantly pushing us to have more and be more, like a treadmill that never stops. This slowly replaces our pursuit of meaningful relationships and personal growth with temporary, superficial rewards.
■ The price of fullness of life is costly, an amount most are unwilling to pay. It means doing the hard work of facing the truth about your inner life and relationships, and adjusting the lens through which you’ve been viewing and judging the world.
* Most of us have gotten sidetracked by our culture’s definition of success and become defined by our feelings andperformance, obsessing about what we want (good results) but can’t control.
* People who have changed the world, according to Maslow, were able to set their hearts and minds on long-term personal growth rather than external rewards. This enabled them to develop inner strength that carried them through the tough times.
* Maslow’s selfless-actualizers are people aware of their ego’s need to be recognized; they guard against the ego’s self- protective measures that isolate rather than enhance their lives.
* Unless you have a clear system for training your heart and mind, you’ll get caught up in the cultural illusion of success, moving farther and farther from the inner strength and peace that comes with having an undivided heart that reveals your true self.
Follow-Up Questions and Activities
► Examine your life. Which path are you on? If you find your identity through what you do or what you have, doesthat give you real peace and fulfillment? If those things or achievements were taken from you, who would you be?
► Imagine your 80 years old, looking back on your life. What was most important to you? If you continue to live your life the way you are now, will that be your legacy?
► When you’ve performed your best, what characteristics describe how you were feeling and what you were thinking?
► How much freedom do you feel when you’re at work or home? What will it take to live and work with total freedom (even in the job you’re in now)?