Seth Godin recently posted his "Seven Reasons You Might Fail to Become the Best in the World" on the blog for his upcoming book, The Dip. Click the link for more info. He is ostensibly a marketing guru, but his new book looks to be more about the path one takes to be the best in the world at something and the importance of quitting (or sticking it out). Both the blog and the book look to be filled with insights that we Optimal Trainers can gain from.
Here are Seth's "Seven Reasons":
- You run out of time (and quit).
- You run out of money (and quit).
- You get scared (and quit).
- You’re not serious about it (and quit).
- You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre (and quit).
- You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard).
- You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).
I'd like to take a moment to comment on these as they pertain to running, Optimal Training, and every runner's pursuit of excellence.
1. You run out of time (and quit).
Time is such an important aspect of a runner's training, and it is so often overlooked or misunderstood. We tend to focus on quality (intervals, etc.) and quantity (mileage) while brushing off the third variable in the equation: time. I already posted once about the importance of how we use our time here.
This is a particularly salient concern for high school and collegiate runners. High schoolers have four years to become excellent if they want to attract colleges, earn scholarships, and set records. College runners have four (or five) years to live in an idyllic training bubble. This can have the tendency to make students worry more about acheiving success now and lead them to develop training habits that will hinder their long term success (i.e. eating disorders, steroid use, overtraining, etc.).
Optimal Training requires an athlete to be aware of the time frame within which they are trying to be successful. If you are trying to realize your potential, to be as excellent as you are physically capable of being, then your health and your improvement should take precedence over a short term focus. You have to find a way to balance the short term needs of your team with your long term success.
2. You run out of money (and quit).
I honestly don't believe this applies to distance running at all, unless you can't afford to eat. A problem in business, yes. A problem for your training? Not if you want it bad enough.
3. You get scared (and quit).
This one is particularly interesting to me. I think it is absolutely true, and I think it relates directly to whether or not you have a fixed or a growth mindset about your ability, something I plan to address in part 2 of my post on ability being a variable. (Part 1 is here.) Stay tuned for a more thorough analysis of this issue.
In the meantime, I want to point out that there are a number of different fears that can lead someone to quit. There is the fear of failure (embarrassment). There is the fear of success (raised expectations). There is the fear of commitment (responsibility). (Personal example: I didn't start this blog for years because I worried about the time commitment it would require.) And there is the fear of what I'll call "missing out" (that by focusing on your running you'll miss out on potentially better opportunities: travel, relationships, alternate hobbies, "college life", jobs, etc.). Perhaps there are other fears as well. I'd be interested to know what you think.
4. You're not serious about it (and quit).
This gets right to the core of another Optimal Training Principle: Active Engagement in Training Makes the Process More Understandable, More Relevant, and More Effective. If you're not serious about your training, you aren't going to do all that's required of you to be excellent. You won't study hard enough, prepare adequately enough, ask enough questions, analyze your performances critically enough, make your workouts efficient enough, or seek enough more effective behaviors enough. (And no, there is no limit on what is "enough".)
In short, if you don't really invest yourself in your training, you will never be as good as you could be. And you should be demanding nothing less than excellence from yourself. If you can't get serious about your training, you should pursue something else. Yes, you should quit. Find something to which you can devote yourself.
5. You lose interest or enthusiasm and settle for being mediocre (and quit).
Optimal Training as a whole is entirely devoted to solving this problem. What is the biggest reason runners lose interest and enthusiasm? Answer: they stop improving. Why do they stop improving? Numerous reasons. They might be training in their comfort zone, not pushing themselves. They might be suffering repeated injuries and repeatedly trying to get back to where they started. They might simply not know what they're doing. Or maybe they just lack focus. I think the most common reason is different, though.
I think most people don't adequately explore the mental aspects of training, and they develop poor ways of thinking about their training. Maybe they come to believe they aren't "good runners". Maybe they think they can get away with trying hard in practice but not in the rest of their lives (diet, sleep, etc.). Maybe they don't take the time to adequately evaluate their progress. All of these can lead runners to lose focus, lose discipline, and ultimately lose their opportunity to be excellent.
6. You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard).
In running, this is the equivalent of setting unrealistic goals and benchmarks. I've been playing with a post on this topic for a while now and maybe someday soon I'll post it. But here's the gist of the problem, which is directly related to quitting when the short term gets too hard.
Improvement is not linear. If you look at the previous post on ability, you see I drew a curvy line progressing upwards. In an athlete's career, there are going to be peaks and valleys, and those valleys can get pretty deep sometimes. (Look at Mark Prior of the Cubs right now. Another setback. Will he ever be able to regain his form again? He will, and he'll be great again, if he can rehabilitate with an Optimal Training mindset and not get frustrated when his recovery doesn't happen as quickly as he wants.)
Your short term outlook might be pretty bad right now. If so, then don't set a goal to be excellent in the short term. It's unrealistic and will exponentially increase your frustration. Set a goal to be excellent in the future, set realistic benchmarks to get yourself there, and spend your immediate future focusing on Optimal Training: the best possible training at this moment in time. Focus on doing what you can, as well as you can do it.
True excellence happens down the road. Optimal Training can happen everyday.
7. You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).
Ahhh, yes. Talent. You already know what I think about talent from my previous post, but this is an angle on the topic worthy of discussion. Here's the question: as a runner, should "the best in the world" be your goal?
I say no. And I say that for two reasons. First, many runners simply aren't that talented. While talent isn't the end-all-be-all of excellence, it is important if you're going to talk about being "the best". It's a major part of the equation. For 99.9% of the distance running population, adopting this goal should be done with the recognition that failure is highly likely. You can set this goal, but it isn't necessary.
Second, there's only one "best runner in the world". Maybe 20 if you take all the officially recognized events in distance running. In business you can invent an entirely new product or service, or create a new market in which to be the best. Not so in running. Sure you might be able to set the world record in backwards running, but unless you're going to get the running community at large to accept it, you're limited in your opportunity to truly "be the best".
There's no need for any competitive runner to evaluate themselves based on whether or not they are "the best" in a norm-referenced sense. What matters for runners is whether or not they are running "their best" in a self-referenced sense. That is, it is less important for runners to worry about being better than everyone else than it is for them to worry about being as good as they can be. The better you get, the more likely you'll be better than your competition.
You get to be your best by adopting an Optimal Training approach. Choose more effective behaviors. Do them as efficiently as possible. Evaluate your progress critically. Continually seek improvement. Repeat.
By and large, Seth's "Seven Reasons" do indeed apply to a runner's training. But they apply to a lot more than business and running. Think about the last time you quit something. Why did you stop? Was it the right decision?