What makes a winner?

Last weekend I spent the day at the GBPF British Nationals. For those who have no idea what that means, in the GBPF (the Great British Powerlifting Federation) this is where the best lifters from each part of the country come to compete.

Typically, a strong performance here leads to selection for the GB team and as a result, the competition is fierce.

For the past two years, I’ve been lucky enough to compete here but this year, last minute injury derailed my training and unfortunately I needed to back out of the competition. While this was obviously incredibly frustrating, it allowed me time to think and observe while at a competition of this calibre. Usually I have metal blaring in my ears and chalk dust clouding my vision, there typically isn’t much time to sit and ponder.

Something that I’ve had on my list of goals for some time now is to total 700+kg in an IPF meet, of course I’d also like to place again at Nationals.

As I sat and watched the best in the country do their thing, I got to thinking, what makes everyone here so successful at what they do?

While sipping an extremely average, lukewarm, machine coffee I searched for any and every comparison I could find.

Did they warm up the same?

Nope.

Was their technique the same?

Aside from the obvious, not really.

What about their training? Is that the same?

From what I learned from chatting to everyone and what I’ve read online, far from it.

Seemingly, everything about the way they prepare and actually perform at the meet was different in some way, for nearly everyone.

It occurred to me that obtaining a 700+ total and securing a place on that podium isn’t really about what you do, it’s about who you have to become. It’s about being consistent no matter what, keeping a handle on what you need to do, regardless of your schedule or how you feel.

It seems cliché  and “woo-woo” but ultimately, those who are successful in anything are so because they treat their chosen endeavour like a professional treats their work.

In the same way that you don’t only turn up to work when the mood takes you, you don’t only work your hours when it’s convenient and you don’t only meet deadlines when you got enough sleep the night before.

You just do it…

Because in your mind, there isn’t an option.

This attitude was the only constant I could spot across the competitors. An unwavering dedication to performing the required work day in day out for a pursuit that meant the world to them. 

To them this wasn’t a hobby that they did occasionally, this was non-negotiable.

Self Honesty

By this point I was onto my second machine coffee (what can I say, better than nothing) and I pondered whether or not I could really classify my last year of training in this way?

Could I honestly sit and say that I hit every session regardless of anything else? Did I always manage my diet? Stretch and recover? Was my sleep always in line?

Embarrassingly, it was nowhere near.

With a recent change in career (moving into running Propane Fitness full time) and lots to manage personally, I’d sub-consciously let my focus on diet and training slip a little. I’d picked up injuries because my training had been bitty and sporadic, often squeezed in when I could make it to the gym.

Even expanding on this, time with friends and family, free time to myself and even time to get in enough sleep, meditate and read had fallen by the wayside.

By simply sitting and watching people lift weights, I was able to shine a light onto the dark corners of my reality and reveal what was actually the case.

I wasn’t making progress in the areas of my life that truly mattered.

Numbers always tell the truth – Paul Mort

What was worse is that I hadn’t even been following my own advice for making improvements, something that I remind my clients of every single day.

What gets measured gets managed.

I was focussing on vague ideas in the future rather than the numbers and details of what was actually happening. How often was I getting enough sleep? Not sure. How many times a week was I stretching? Erm….

I was dismissing things as “I’ll get to that” and “I’ll do that later” when in actual fact I was just waiting for the ever elusive motivation fairies to help me.

The way I have always managed nutrition with my clients is to have a long term goal (aligned with what they want) that is broken down into small chunks.

“I want to lose weight” is distilled into a 12-14 week target, monthly and weekly checkpoints and then a list of daily habits they need to hit.

Beyond that I even use a process called the “Traffic Light System” to help them score and rate their accuracy over the week, keeping things competitive and “gamified”.

I decided that over the next year if I’m going to really make changes in how I perform in life, business and on the powerlifting platform, I was going to need to become a truly different person. Each day, week and month was going to need to take a different form in order to take me to where I wanted to be.

The compound effect

Some of you may be familiar with this amazing book by Darren Hardy. In it he discusses the simple idea of compounding and how small actions performed repeatedly can accumulate to a very significant outcome.

My favourite example of those he uses is that of £3 million versus 1p that doubles every day for 31 days. Here the £3 million can be likened to the total life overhaul that many attempt on the 1st of January every year, it’s sexy, appealing and seems to provide a quick win with minimum effort.

The doubling penny isn’t sexy and the payoff is much more delayed but every single day, the work is put in and at the end of those 31 days the penny is worth £10,737,418.24. Crucially, only at the very end of the 31days does penny amount to anywhere near to the £3m on offer. It requires a lot of patience before anything significant happens.

The point here is that to achieve a goal or outcome that is significant and meaningful, what we need to do is take consistent action every day and detach ourselves from the future target.

Instead, we need to focus on the fact that every day we need to do the work, every day we need to double that penny and we need to simply trust that with that, the results will take care of themselves.

Goal setting is useful but in terms of actually making progress, it’s as useful as saying “you need to lose weight”. Often too vague with no clear direction.

I decided that to maximise my chances of a podium finish next year I needed to forget about the 700kg total and forget about medalling and instead focus on how I can make today perfect and how I can do everything I need to do this week and this month.

A Perfect Day

The idea is simple. To make progress towards a goal, we need to compound days in which we do what we need to do.

With all the knowledge and experience, I have on the subject, I sat and designed a perfect day and perfect week in the life of a World class powerlifter.

What would he do and when, I made everything super specific.

I also applied this to other areas of my life (again borrowing from Mr Mort, in Body, Being, Balance and Business)

On a piece of paper, for each of these areas, I noted down what I needed to do in order to for the day to be perfectly aligned with what I wanted to achieve.

The idea isn’t that every day is perfect, in fact, for a day to be 100% is a real stretch but the crux is this:

  1. If I hit 100% of the required behaviours, I score 3
  2. If I hit 75% or more, I score 2
  3. If I hit 50-75%, I score 1
  4. If I hit less than 50%, I get -1

When I start getting 21 across the week, I’ll look at what I can add or refine, always holding myself to a higher standard.

The result of this is that my focus is rarely on the end goals that I have set for the next year or 90 days, I simply focus on what I can do every single day to give my chance the best chance of success and then if today is a bad day, what can I do tomorrow to turn the week around?

This may seem simple but for me it was a huge realisation, one that coalesced while I was sipping awful coffee and watching sweaty men strain under barbells.

Ask yourself, are you where you want to be with your body, mind-set, relationship and business or career?

If not, don’t fall into the trap of setting vague goals and hope it all turns out. Decide who you have to become to achieve that. What would someone who dominates those goals do on a daily basis?

That is now your goal, to accumulate a string of days that are as close to that reality as possible, make it a game and compete against yourself to get a new high score each week. Before you know it in 6 months’ time, those 1p deposits you’ve been making every day will have compounded to take you beyond what you ever thought was possible.

The Next Step

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