Aim Your Habits at Greatness and Start by Getting Tougher

  • By JC Biagi
  • 10 Jan 2020
Business & Family
“Be grateful for adversity, for it forces the human spirit to grow – for surely, the human character is formed not in the absence of difficulty but in our response to difficulty.”
– Jim Rohn

There’s been an uptick in our blog posts – the new frequency is admittedly a new thing even for us.

I read an article recently from a Catholic podcast personality that I follow who suggested rather than resolutions in 2020, aim to change old habits.

The idea is basically that resolutions aren’t sustainable – I’ve found this to be true over the years.

So, pardon as we work to change our old habits.

I reflect back on my own year personally, and have to admit to making a pity case of it.

Things went different than I expected and for some time, my year was defined by the absolute worst part of it.

We do this often as people, right?

Find the worst thing that happens and spend a lot of time dwelling on it rather than committing to improvement and being thankful for all that went right.

I also had a lot of things go well and have much to be thankful for.

By this standard, I cannot think of a recent year that hasn’t been just awesome!

The problem with the former approach is that it lays the groundwork for doing just a little better than the last.

That is generally how we operate.

We take baby steps to improve upon a crap circumstance and come out of the hole quietly as to not be too disruptive.

To hell with that

Look, there is nothing wrong with looking back and acknowledging something that sucked or reviewing where life fell short.

In fact, it’s critical that we do this to keep growing.

Being defined by it, though, can have tragic consequences.

As a baseball coach, I used to remind players that they are at our community college because of some inadequacy – not the inverse.

Sweets players received similar reminders.

Now, on the surface this sounds terribly harsh, but we’re just making way for a change in habits.

After all, it was something greater that we all sought.

If you meet a solid young ballplayer you see a high level of aspiration.

These aren’t kids usually kicking the tires on whether they’d like to play beyond high school; I am talking about young men in junior college who aspire to play at the Division I level, or a DI guy that wants to be big leaguer.

That level of aspiration, if genuine, should be met with a commensurate level of expectation.

This is coming back now, right, former-athlete friends?

Not a former athlete? Stay with me…

High expectations, whatever that means for you, should be accompanied by responsibility.

We’re also not just talking about expectation of outcome, it also includes our work… the process.

Results are a bi-product of your work.

Expectations without taking responsibility to fulfill, are generally led by the word “Unrealistic.”

Let’s dive into that for a moment – Unrealistic for whom?

If you expect a lot of yourself, but don’t take on the responsibility, and fail – you personally have unrealistic expectations.

Not by someone else’s account, but your own.

If you don’t take responsible action, you don’t deserve to be great (and you know it.)

This isn’t personal… this is reality and it reminds me of a poem…

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

Man in the Glass – Peter Dale Wimbrow

Look, if you continue to bypass the driving range on the way to the first tee box, you know what I am talking about.

Now, do you want to be great or like everyone else?

Well, I suppose it should depend.

We’re not all necessarily out to be great at golf, and when it comes to grilling a burger, a lot of folks are cool being just ‘as good as everyone else.’

Heck, I’m even okay with being a touch worse at shopping.

But when it comes to being a dad or husband, or a friend, or a marketing entrepreneur, I want to be GREAT.

While I have a clear vision of what this looks like for me today, I know two things –
1. I’m not it
2. When I do become ‘it,’ I’ll have a new vision of greatness for my future self.

Being ‘great’ constantly needs to be defined and in defining we can establish a system of measurement for our own greatness.

It helps to have an example, mentor or teacher, perhaps many – someone you trust.

In short, we could define greatness as ‘extra-ordinary’ – that is, above and beyond the best in a respective space.

Knowing that ‘the best’ is always changing…We’ll save that for another time.

Some might suggest that you just “do your best” and don’t worry about what other people think or say.

Yes, the Wimbrow poem above even leans that way.

Wanna know a secret? It’s a big box of brown BS.

You, and I, (and them) are capable of SO. MUCH. MORE. and we don’t know what we don’t know.

So, sometimes we don’t even know what our best is…and that’s why everyone, and I mean everyone, needs someone to look to.

Maybe that person is dead, but we still have a vision of what our future greatness looks like.

When I was playing baseball I had the amazing blessing of having examples in many mentors, leaders and former coaches who paved the path I wanted to be on as a future coach.

Coach Kim Cox, in high school, was the first to provide this for me.

He demanded our effort, as a team and as individuals in both baseball and football be technically precise with intense physical effort.

This made us tougher and also fundamentally sound.

Coach Chad Miltenberger at Walla Walla Community College taught me to appreciate the intellectual and psychological aspects of baseball.

He demanded a totally new level of tolerance for the difficulties that baseball brought.

I was also really fortunate to view from afar, Coach Ed Cheff at Lewis-Clark State.

His baseball program was perhaps a culmination of everything I learned to be true about what it means to be a ‘ballplayer.’

Their combined forty-some championships were a result of the work that they demanded of their players and their teams’ response.

Their players and their teams collectively, were great.

Their players would run through a wall for cause.

When it comes to evaluating my success as a coach, the only opinions I really cared about, on top of my own, were those of my mentors – some beyond those I mention.

A mentor, leader or example is the one who will be straight with you and point you in a direction that you haven’t been.

They’ll help shape your definition of what it means to be great and also push you to be better than you currently are.

Your ‘very best’ is a stopping point… their very best for you will take you to places that you didn’t know you needed to go.

By the time I made a comment about inadequacy to our community college ballplayers, I had seen many examples of greatness – those players I was talking to had not (yet.)

While they could become (or might already be) a ‘great’ community college player, that isn’t what any of us were aiming at – that was in large part due to the head coach I worked for.

Consider that Felix Hernandez and Bryce Harper were in the big leagues at 19, the same age as our college players.

Our guys were capable of some form of greatness, and becoming so requires improvement, some sort of change.

Change for the better implies a previous and relative inadequacy.

This isn’t just about athletes, baseball, or sports, either… I am talking to anyone who expects ‘more.’

And it can apply to all aspects of life.

As a dad, I have a contingent of men who I greatly admire for various purposes and reasons.

In addition to my own dad, both of my father-in-laws have traits that I try hard to emulate.

Like a typical son though, I begrudgingly, humbly (and secretly) heed all advice that comes my way from this group – sometimes it just takes a while for me to come around.

As a marketer, I have a friend and mentor down south, who by no coincidence had a successful Division I baseball career at the same college I attended.

He founded a company called Digital Logic, and has literally been there for anything I need in business.

He’s built a successful and growing marketing company and has vast knowledge of the world we play in.

He, and my ultra-smart sister are my marketing mentor go-to’s.

Bottom line, we need a star to shoot at if we want to be great; someone who can provide us meaningful critique, assistance and also demonstrates the greatness that we seek.

And that ‘athlete’ is in all of us; the worker, the grinder, the survivor.

It’s important to evaluate where we are and what is needed to grow; sometimes it is wisdom, sometimes its physical grit.

A person who I follow a little on the investing front and whose career fascinates me is Ray Dalio.

Long ago, I read an essay (now book) that he’d written called ‘Principles.’

In short, he first suggests that you have them.

As a coach I had adopted three really basic ones that I felt could help players.

While it’s interpretation is a work in progress, these still resonate for me as an entrepreneur.

So, this year will mark the first that I change the habit and direct my efforts to those same principles that I preached to the players I coached.

1. Appreciate the level of intellect required for greatness in your industry

Become smarter and grow in wisdom. One way to separate yourself from your peers and competitors is to know more than they do.

Unfortunately, we sometimes spend more time trying to convince people of our knowledge rather than make an effort to learn more.

Guilty as charged.

Sometimes the content is boring and excruciating, but if we can learn one new important and relevant thing today we’re making progress.

2. Become physically great at what you do

This was really easy to define in sports, as you could imagine. Equally, many trades might offer a more clear picture of what this looks like.

This is less-clear if you are a real-estate agent or a lawyer, but what I would say is this:

Change the habits that physically keep you from being the absolute best.

That means that if you have a real hankering for staying up til 1 am drinking Mountain Dew or find yourself in a local pub five nights a week having one-too-many, remove yourself.

Remember what mom said; little good takes place between 11 pm and 4 am (pick your time).

Likewise (and this one sings to me), get physically fit… ugh. Lots of benefit to making this a priority.

3. Get tougher

As we told baseball players – become more resilient.

Coach Milt, by way of Coach Cheff used to define mental toughness for their players as I will for you:

Respond positively to perceived adversity

Positive does not always mean happy – it just means productive for the longterm improvement.

It may hurt in the short term, but in the long term it will drag you in the opposite direction of your personal hell.

Perception is important as part of this definition because we all have differing thresholds for what we deem adverse.

Sometime this is waking up an hour earlier, maybe demanding three days next week of exercise, or reading time.

Our greatest progress in toughness will happen when we least want to do the work or perform the task.

Whatever your adversity is – identify it! Then get better at dealing with it.

As always, conduct honestly, work at a pace that’s faster and more efficient than those around you and understand it’s not too late – in fact, you’re right on time if you start today.

Last, be grateful for those who help pave your way – for us, that is a long list of many; family, friends, business partners and clients.

To beyond!