The Pursuit of Excellence, Part 2

Book by Ryan Hawk; Summary by Samantha Schilke

The Pursuit of Excellence shares the story of Roger Bannister, the first runner to break the 4-minute-mile, a barrier that had become psychological for many runners. Bannister focused on visualization and the belief he could accomplish this goal rather than training like a maniac. The proof that this barrier was more psychological than physical came after his race, when another runner broke the record further 46 days later. Then three more runners broke the 4-minute mark within months after the record holding for nearly 70 years.

This chapter focuses on finding the resistance in your life, the 4-minute-mile barriers, and shifting your focus and energy to believing it can be done.  Here are some more takeaways from this chapter.

Chapter 3: Resistance

1. Making a change in your life is a choice, not a New Year’s resolution. To aim for excellence, focus on habits and routines and ignore sweeping declarations. January 1 is always the next day.

2. To make a change that lasts (from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits):

a. Focus on small goals that ensure the activity happens regularly and allows for momentum to build. “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”

b. Choose ritual over result. “New goals don’t deliver new results.  New lifestyles do.  If you want a new habit, you have to fall in love with a new ritual.”

3. Fix your environment. Choose rooms full of people who are wiser than you. Remove distractions and create an environment that increases your odds of behaving in a way that will help you achieve your longer-term objectives. (Benjamin Hardy, Personality Isn’t Permanent)

4. Progress happens at the edges of comfort and competency. Adopt an experimental mindset. Ask “What’s the worst that can happen?” “What’s the best that can happen?”

5. Embrace the process and recognize that it will be painful. Those who understand this are the ones who perform at excellence levels far more consistently than those who quit. There is a reason why all math teachers require their students to show their work – so they could prove they understand the process well enough to replicate it in the future.

6. Unrealistic expectations can be as fatal to great achievement as having no expectations at all. The ‘Shoot for the moon; even if we miss, we’ll end up in the stars’ approach is ineffective.  If a leader is not honest with the team about what it takes to achieve a goal, the likelihood of achieving that goal shrinks. (Handstand coach)

7. Do not “over goal” high performers and “under goal” low performers. This can create lower standards all around by incentivizing low marginal performance and penalizing the high achiever. Give your team goals they can hit and encourage them to exceed them.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Vice Admiral James Stockdale

8. When faced with a challenge, strike a balance between unshakable faith in yourself and a cold-blooded, clear-eyed view of the reality of your present situation. (Stockdale Paradox)

9. Break down your goals into smaller pieces to create a system for progress. We need to look ahead and mitigate risk when we can, but we must recognize that the only reality is the moment we’re in right now. Focus on one step at a time, one day at a time. (Alison Levine, Everest)

10. If you want something badly enough, don’t let “mere mortals” determine your fate. Don’t take resistance personally.  If you want it, keep attacking, experimenting and moving forward.  (Frances Frei, Harvard)