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A three-step process for greater success

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In ancient Greece, athletes, musicians and poets were given a crown of laurel leaves – a tree associated with Apollo and Zeus and considered sacred. Laurel crowns marked their achievements and signified victory, power and glory. The ensuing celebration and public adoration confirmed the wearer’s particularity – at least until a new champion was crowned.

Many winners mistakenly view their achievement as the end of the journey rather than a single step towards true greatness. The temptation to rest on laurels affects everyone, but competitors, hungry for their own laurel wreath, do not rest or give up. Remaining king of the mountain is a daily struggle with complacency, selfishness and complacency.

Winners and the truly exceptional

In every human endeavor, there are those who set standards for greatness. Many golfers win tournaments, but only the best of the best win major championships. There are hundreds of corporate presidents who run companies with billions of dollars in assets, but only a few — like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — have changed the face of entire industries. The difference between the good and the great is the latter’s constant pursuit of improvement, ignoring obstacles to achieve goals that the average person considers “impossible.”

The ability to be great is in everyone, but the challenge lies in how to awaken your natural gifts. Resting on your laurels is a state of mind that is always self-destructive. Fortunately, there are principles and strategies that can be learned and applied to counteract the hubris of vanity and temporary achievements. Implementing this three-step process will remind you that the journey is just as important as the goal.

1. Rest and recharge.

Too many people focus on the ultimate goal and minimize performance along the way. Athletes know that the best training method is a cycle of hard and easy sessions. Continuous maximum effort leads to failure and burnout. Runners in training cycle through days of speed work (sprints), endurance exercises (slow jogging), and then forced idleness, allowing their minds and bodies to recover before starting the next cycle. Authors can work for days on end, writing four to six hours each day to complete a book, and then leaving the computer or office just as long to regenerate their creativity.

Allowing ourselves to celebrate the small victories keeps us refreshed, motivated and moving forward. Everyone needs a break every now and then to rest and recharge. Temporarily yielding to the rewards of success is appropriate and even healthy, as long as the party ends before self-confidence degenerates into self-interest and enthusiasm turns into right.

2. Recalibrate your goals.

A goal once achieved is no longer motivation but the confirmation of competence. As we grow and learn, our horizons of what is possible expands. What seemed impossible yesterday is achievable today and commonplace in the future. In the past century alone, humanity has taken to the skies and airways to shrink the world and the solar system. People around the world regularly celebrate their 100th birthday, thanks in part to advances in medical technology. Dangerous physical labor is reduced as intelligent machines replace humans, and so on.

Rather than resting on their laurels, winners pursue a series of escalating goals. Progress requires continuous monitoring, analysis and adjustment as goals are achieved and obstacles are overcome. Understanding what works and why it works is just as important as analyzing failures, and emphasizing the positive often minimizes the barriers to success.

3. Double up on mentors.

Growth comes from experience, whether personal or learned from another. Isaac Newton, in a letter wrote to a friend in 1675 of his scientific breakthroughs: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Very few people achieve greatness by relying solely on their own effort and experience. Each of us benefits from the lessons of those who walked the paths of success before us and shared with them the wisdom they gained.

Mentors—experienced and trusted advisors—provide those they advise with valuable lessons from their own knowledge and advanced experience. There are many benefits to having a mentor, not the least of which is constructive criticism. Sometimes success can blind a person to his own mistakes, sowing the seeds of failure over time when there is no one to guide him and help him refocus. Mentors also give words of encouragement and act as a sounding board, allowing the mentees to test their assumptions and logic. They encourage mentees to test themselves and stretch for goals that seem out of reach at first glance.


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