Last Saturday I completed my first triathlon – a half-Ironman – in Clermont, Florida. On the Friday before my race, I had a call with my coach and he told me to forget about the time goals that I wanted to hit, because I was putting too much pressure on myself. He told me to focus on the second by second, minute by minute execution. Literally focusing on breathing every stroke cycle, high turnover and staying long, then having a quick transition, and executing my hydration plan on the bike, drinking every few minutes and eating every 30 minutes, staying at a high cadence, and not exceeding a certain heart rate. Forget the goal, focus on the small activities that my training had prepared me for. I placed 2nd in my age group, and 14th overall. That’s what happens with models, systems, training, coaching, and finally, pure execution.
Focusing on the small points of execution got me thinking about how important our daily, our hourly, and even our minute by minute execution is. Every day we start with extreme focus and clarity on our big goal, or our big why, our one thing, but can often get sidetracked, if we don’t focus on the activities, the execution, that will get us there. But it’s in those small, often mundane moments, where growth really happens.
I didn’t place in the top 15 in the Florida Challenge because I was telling myself to run faster, swim harder, hit your time goals! I placed in the top 15 because I forgot all about that and focused on putting one foot in front of the other, focused on my heart rate, focused on fueling myself properly. Yes, I had a goal. But the goal became secondary to the execution. Because I knew that if I executed on the activities, the goal would take care of itself.
Now, it’s simple to sit here now and say this, but is really hard. It’s hard to focus on the small, purposeful execution when your body (or business) is screaming and telling you to stop and give up. In any intense physical training (marathon, CrossFit, dance, etc.), just as in business, you are going to hit rough patches where your mind goes sideways and wants you to quit. Halfway through my race, my mind started trying to convince me to cancel my full-Ironman this summer! The key is to be able to pause long enough to get your mind right – everything ends and this is where grit is developed. It is the ability to push through the rough patches that allows you to find the sweet spots. Grit and character are not forged in the midst of success, they are developed when it’s completely dark and you can’t see your way out.
Will you allow it to make you or break you?
Anyone can train, build a business, or lead when things are good. But how many people can lead themselves and others when times are tough? The good news is, it is something that can be learned. Grit, resilience, and perseverance can all be developed, as long as you’re willing to do the work and get uncomfortable. The next time you hit a rough patch in life or business, just stop and breathe. Control your breath, say an affirmation (mine is “I demand of myself to create massive and pure energy within me now.”), or count to 100 3-5 times. These small actions will center you again, clear your mind, and enable you to fight forward.
I’ll say it again, small actions. Small actions to clear your mind and refocus. Small acts of execution to lead you to big results.
I knew I needed to leave the comfort of my stable job (making $42,000 a year, private office, expense account, assistant) to be an entrepreneur in order to grow and live the life I wanted. But the first step was actually quitting! And I did quit to become a real estate agent. In 2006. People thought that I was crazy because of the crash, but I knew that if I focused on just setting ONE appointment a day, I’d hit my goals. That became my small action every day. It didn’t matter how long it took. I could prospect for 12 or 16 hours a day. I just knew that I needed to start small in order to go big. Fast forward a couple of months, and my one small action became hiring an assistant. And slowly, then suddenly, I had an entire team around me. Next thing I knew, I woke up with five companies. Small actions.
Let’s look at another example – weight loss. If you have a goal of losing 6 pounds in one month, you must focus on the small things – daily caloric intake of food and daily caloric output through exercise. Every bite matters. Every step matters. Start small to go big.
These examples are all around us. Just ask anyone who has ever accomplished anything extraordinary how they did it. I guarantee they won’t tell you about some momentous moment when extraordinary just showed up. They are going to tell you about their daily habits, their extreme time management, their hourly execution, their small actions that got them there. Again, simple, but incredibly hard. But this is your competitive advantage! Most people can’t handle the mental discipline it takes to execute on the small (often monotonous) daily actions. They give in and give up. But not you. Not if you want to win.
Remember, don’t lose sight of your future self or your big why. That will always be what drives you and guides your daily actions. But if you just shift your focus to the daily execution of what must get done to move the needle forward, you will win.