The book Chasing Excellence: A Story About Building the World’s Fittest Athletes by Ben Bergeron and Lioncrest Publishing is about coaching elite CrossFit Games athletes, including Katrin Davidsdottir and Mat Fraser, to be some of the fittest human beings in the world. If you’re interested in CrossFit or just human physicality and performance, you’ll find this book to be compelling and motivational. If you think this is about CrossFit though, you’ve missed the meat of Bergeron’s book.
Chasing Excellence is about maximizing human potential over the long term to achieve your goals. That’s not CrossFit, necessarily. It’s about motherhood, entrepreneurship, business, physical fitness, or absolutely anything you want to achieve. CrossFit is simply the storyline for the lesson. Upfront Bergeron states,
“That’s what this book is about: how you can learn the mindset I’ve used to train champion athletes and apply it to your life.”
Bergeron, like Nick Saban, focuses on The Process.
”At its heart the process is the single-minded emphasis of preparation above all else. In practice, this is very mundane – the process is many things, but glamorous is not one of them.
This is the process – acknowledging where you are, identifying where you want to be, and breaking it down into pieces. Excellence is a matter of steps. Excel at this one, then that one, and then the one after that.
The process is simple, but it’s not easy. Most people don’t have the character traits necessary to fully commit to it…When character and process are both in place, the results will take care of themselves.”
The thing about The Process that I think most people underestimate is that it requires you to be truly honest with yourself. You first have to verbalize what your dreams really are and for so many of us, we’ve repressed those dreams. Life has taught us that people who dream big are ridiculed and massive success is for the few like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk and so a “big dream” for most people is to retire at 65. It isn’t to be the fittest human being that ever lived or to colonize Mars. We dream small because we’re afraid of failure or rejection. Why not dream big and see what you’re capable of?
The next obstacle presented to most people by The Process is that we aren’t patient and we lack grit. We want success now. We need instant gratification to the point that even waiting 4 minutes for the microwave popcorn to be done has become drudgery. Bergeron is very candid that the process of excellence is one of a life time. You may have rapid success but you probably won’t. Either way, the pursuit of excellence should and will occupy the rest of your life. It isn’t a destination but the path that is important.
“It not a question of how much work it will take, how much suffering will be involved, or how fast the results will come. It’s about committing to the grind every day.”
Another challenge of The Process is identifying your weaknesses. We aren’t talking about those things you could improve at. We’re talking about the things you truly suck at. The pursuit of excellence means improving every facet of your game. It’s about identifying those things that are holding you back and attacking them relentlessly until they’re no longer a weakness, but a strength. If you’re pursuing physical fitness and you’re early in the process, this may mean that you stop eating chips. If you’re already fit and trying to eke out 1% gains, it might mean not eating anything processed. Like…anything. If you’re a business owner this might mean taking a night class in accounting so you can better understand the mechanics of your business or talk to your banker. It might mean owning the fact that you can’t and shouldn’t do everything and in order for your business to grow, you have to take a pay cut to afford to hire someone who complements your skills. It requires a brutally honest assessment of where you are and where you want to be and frankly, most people won’t do that.
“This is the process – acknowledging where you are, identifying where you want to be, and breaking it down into pieces. Excellence is a matter of steps. Excel at this one, then that one, and then the one after that.”
This concept, that excellence is just a simple matter of breaking things down into the smallest pieces possible and executing on them over time, will motivate some and terrify others. Why would it terrify people? Because they’ve long been telling themselves a narrative that their lack of success is someone else’s fault. They were born to the wrong people. They haven’t been given the right opportunities. Other people have more money. Other people are smarter.
None of that matters. What matters is positivity and a growth mindset.
“Focusing on negative feelings or circumstances – it’s so hot out. I’m tired. Traffic sucks. My boss is such an idiot. – brings greater focus to things that are ultimately outside your control and are potentially detrimental to your performance. In no competitive or life scenario will focusing on negative uncontrollable factors improve your performance or stress levels.”
There is no circumstance in which you find yourself, no matter how bad, where you cannot find something positive on which to focus. If you don’t believe me, I’d like you to go read some Viktor Frankl and then come complain.
“If your story is telling you you’re not good enough, not smart enough, too old, too young, or can’t do it, you’re subconscious will believe you.”
I’ve been listening to a number of Tom Bilyeau podcasts lately and he talks effectively about us living in The Matrix in reference to our mindset. As soon as you realize you’re thinking negatively, you’ve realized you’re in the Matrix and now you’re in a position to do something about it. A negative mindset, like a positive one, is a habit and key to breaking bad habits is recognizing those behaviors. Start by making a note every time you recognize a negative thought. When you do, find something positive about the situation on which to focus. At the end of the day look back at your note pad and you’ll realize how absolutely pervasive your negative mindset is. Acknowledge the Matrix and refuse to live in it Over time, you’ll develop new habits and a new, positive mindset. This is absolutely critical to chasing excellence because much of the time things will not go your way. You will not get the results you expect and you will need to find the good in it in order to continue to persevere.
A growth mindset, a term popularized by Dr. Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, is the next bit of mental kung fu you need to learn. If you think you’re dumb, you are. If you think you can’t, you’re right. A growth mindset is one where no matter what it is, you know you can learn it…but it may take time. That’s what all of this is about. Knowing that you’re willing to work harder and sacrifice more than anyone else to achieve your goals, no matter how lofty. Bring it back to CrossFit for a minute. In Chasing Excellence Bergeron tells the story of Katrin Davidsdottir struggling in the CrossFit Games with the rope climb to the point that it knocked her so far down the leader board as to no longer matter. Early on in their relationship she struggled with the rope climb to the point of tears. A fixed mindset says, “I cannot do the rope climb. I’m not strong enough.” A growth mindset simply says, “I cannot do the rope climb…yet. I’m not strong enough…yet.” In the pursuit of excellence you will absolutely encounter things you cannot do…yet. You must develop the growth mindset that allows you to see challenges as things you will, in time, overcome. You must have the mindset to learn and grow, however long it takes.
I am a student of human performance and am endlessly fascinated by people who perform at the highest levels. Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron succinctly distills the mindset and habits that will allow you to achieve your goals, no matter how lofty. In closing, I leave you with a parting thought from the Epilogue of the book.
“…you don’t become a champion and then start acting like a champion. Whether you’re a professional athlete or a midlevel associate at a law firm, chasing excellence is about living and breathing the behaviors and habits of a champion daily. It’s about doing your best at whatever you do, whether it’s studying for a test, working out at CrossFit, loading the dishwasher, or listening to a friend in need. It’s the manner in which you try to achieve your potential that defines you as a champion, not titles, medals, or accolades. But a curious thing happens when you start acting like a champion – when you commit everything you have to the process, everything else tents to fall into place.”
Read this book and execute on its principles every day, relentlessly. I look forward to seeing how you change your life and the world.
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