Three Principles of Greatness

Three principles, not three monkeys.
Some people are successful and just seem to rise to the top.  Others achieve more modest goals.  Still more live without purpose, or enjoyment, or passion.  Many harm themselves, or others, through ignorance or impulse.  This is the spectrum of human performance, and the age-old questions spring to mind: is it destiny, strength of will, or chance that propels some people to greatness while others remain mediocre, or fail?

A modern take on this issue is the Nature vs. Nurture debate.  Originally, the question was posed as either-or: are we a product of our genes, or a product of our environment?  For things as complex as human biology, health, and performance, either-or just doesn't cut it, so the goalposts moved.  The question became: how much do genes and environment each contribute to who we are?

My response: who cares?  To improve our quality of life, even considering things that are out of our control - our biology, the environment - wastes precious time and energy.  Instead, why not focus on what we can control and work hard to influence those things?  Really, we must focus on the one thing that we can control: ourselves.

At the end of the day, we are defined by what we do - how we behave - and humans are really good at learning tricks from other people about how to do stuff.  This is culture, and we are built to communicate and acquire culture.  Because of this, we can watch and learn from those people who achieve greatness and change ourselves by adopting the behaviors and thinking strategies that foster peak performance.  If we want to achieve greatness, we must think, and behave, like great people.

The science is always evolving, but three thinking approaches are clearly necessary for incredible performance.  Apply these to your own thinking to be your best, and don't let your genes or environment define who you are:

1. Mindfulness - Great performers are focused, completely, on the task at hand.  To be great, we must live in reality, attending to the challenges of the here and now.   Only with our attention focused on the present can we do things well.  If our mind wanders to distraction, or if we fixate on our own worry, anxiety, or frustrations, then we are not thinking about what we should be doing, right now, to achieve our goals.

2. Acceptance - Bad things happen.  That's life.  There is nothing we can do about it, so we should accept it and move on.  Peak performers don't try to avoid bad things, or change the past, they continue to work despite the bad things that happen.  This principle doesn't just apply to external stuff out of our control, it also applies to uncomfortable things we must go through to be great.  Want to get in shape?  You will have to accept some amount of discomfort.  Want to be the best at your job?  You're going to have to push yourself into new intellectual territory.  Being amazing requires a willingness to endure discomfort and frustration.  We must accept the sacrifices needed to achieve our goals.

3. Commitment - The final characteristic of peak performers is commitment.  For people to become great at something, they must commit to that something, and continue to pursue greatness again and again.  By "buying in" to an endeavor - athletic, professional, or personal - the peak performer will keep going, doggedly pursuing greatness no matter what obstacles emerge.  

When most people think about peak performance, they think of athletics, but these three principles are not exclusive to sports.  Whether your goal is to be the best in your career, improve your health, or maintain a strong relationship, these concepts are critical for maximizing your potential.  Of course, actually practicing these thinking strategies isn't always easy.  I know this first-hand.  All of us succumb to periods of self-doubt, low motivation, or frustration,  but these principles can apply to our own failings.  By being mindful of our emotions, accepting negative emotions as a part of life, and maintaining commitment to self-improvement, we will continue to grow stronger.

If you enjoyed this article, please take some time to promote The Happy Homunculus.  Also, you can learn more about the above topics by reading The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance. Thanks, and Stay happy!

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