Like basically every other entrepreneur and self-improvement nerd in the world, I rolled into 2017 reading Tim Ferriss’ excellent new book, Tools of Titans, a collection of bite-sized insights and lessons from 200 podcast interviews with top achievers in a slew of areas.
In his first episode on the podcast, elite gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer talked with Tim about the first seminar that he held for adults, back in 2007: an all-day training for top CrossFit athletes and coaches.
We tried to do entry level plyometric work. The stronger the athlete, the faster they went down. […] We had 15 minutes on the schedule to stretch. [That] stretch took an hour and a half to complete. There were bodies lying everywhere; it was like we were in Vietnam. [And I said to my staff,] “what the fuck am I supposed to do now? They failed warmup. They failed warm-up.”
Funny enough, I was at that seminar, and I always remember, just before the lunch break, Sommer rounding us all up to say, “I’ve never seen such strong people do such terrible gymnastics.”
Today, gymnastics-based training is a much bigger part of my (and Composite’s) approach, and I’d like to think Sommer would be (at least a bit) less appalled by my technique. But gymnastics training – like so much of fitness – is often slow, frustrating going. So I hugely appreciated the email he sent to Tim, when Tim was similarly struggling with learning a challenging new gymnastic movement:
Patience. Far too soon to expect strength improvements. Strength improvements [for a movement like this] take a minimum of 6 weeks. Any perceived improvements prior to that are simply the result of improved synaptic facilitation. In plain English, the central nervous system simply became more efficient at that particular movement with practice. This is, however, not to be confused with actual strength gains.
Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations timewise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.
The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.
A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge. Refuse to compromise.
And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.
Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.
Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.
If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.
Tools of Titans, definitely worth the read.