One of the best books I’ve read in a while is “Influencer” Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a few blog posts that take the best nuggets from the book and share how you can use them to become a better athlete.

The first of six main parts of Influencer hones in on surpassing your limits – which is more highly called personal ability.

In order to increase your chance for success (and influence over your own self) take this incredibly important piece of advice.

Always increase ability first, and seek out motivation second.

Simply put. You are more likely to enjoy an activity the better you become.
And you become better at an activity by increasing your ability at said activity.

This was echoed in a Mark Cuban post, Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort.

So, what about motivation?

Motivation does play a substantial role in our lives. However, I argue we do not need more motivation but we need more ability. If we are excited and energized to perform an activity but do not perform that activity, what good did motivation do? Or, if we are so motivated to run but we are not good at running, it’s not long before we quit.

While it is important to know the why, you cannot accomplish anything without the how. If I’m pumped to build an outdoor deck to enjoy with my friends but have no clue how to do it that deck isn’t getting built by willpower alone.

There are two types of mindsets when it comes to increasing personal ability.

1) Fixed mindset – this is where we do not want to be. The fixed mindset is try to improve +don’t improve + won’t try = self-fufilling prophecy of failure.

“I knew I couldn’t do it.

2) Growth mindset – This is where we want to be. Instead of focusing on the improvement, we focus on learning high level skills and techniques that masters use all the time. Armed with those two items, we are on a path for growth and not one of self-fufillment focused on “Oh, I can’t do this.”

A key on getting on the growth mindset is to focus on deliberate practice. Psychologist Anders Ericsson has researched this topic in depth. The two main takeaways for us are:

1) Professionals deliberately practice to improve their weaknesses. Amateurs practice their strengths.
2) Professionals deliberately focus during their practice, and can only maintain this focus for short, intense amounts of time. Amateurs waste time and do not focus their efforts, but feel their longer workouts are more beneficial.

So, how do we put into practice what we learned above?

The answer to becoming a better athlete is by putting in the focused work to become better. By seeking out techniques used by those who succeed as well as understanding the fundamentals of what we want to improve, we become better.

Let’s look at the fixed mindset and growth mindset in real world examples.

Fixed mindset. Mollie is a new runner. She has run before but now that she has friends who are training for a 1/2 marathon, she is extremely motivated to follow in their footsteps. Mollie begins to go out and run, a few miles a day, and after two weeks, sees slight gains in her performance. She has lost her motivation. She seeks out more motivation by looking online and reading blogs, and gets a jolt of motivation, which wears off the following week when she does not see results the expects. She continues to run and believes she will never be a faster runner.

Growth mindset. Mollie is a new runner. She has run before, but now she has friends who are training for a 1/2 marathon. Mollie begins to run, but before, she researches online on how to train effectively for a 1/2 marathon. She finds some training plans and emails a few friends who help her learn more about what she needs to do to succeed. After a week or so with little improvement, she contacts a local running coach who helps her figure out a better way to train. Within a few short weeks she is improving and looking forward to her first 1/2 marathon. She continues to learn and structure her training based off of her results and her increased knowledge base and also reads running blogs and websites for motivation and support.

Same person. Two different mindsets. The difference is the focus on knowledge and skills vs. motivation. Seek out qualified people smarter than you. Read books, ask questions and teach yourself.

You can also get into a growth mindset by hiring a coach or finding a mentor to help you train, although not necessary!

Deliberate practice

More miles does not equal a better athlete. To get the most out of your practice, remember to find your weaknesses and then address those weaknesses in your training.

Quick ways to deal with most weaknesses and something we will focus on in the coming weeks thanks to Jay Dicharry’s book Anatomy For Runners.

1) Form work – whether in the pool, swimming, cycling, running uphill, you can always work on refining your form. Michael Phelps still gets in the pool and does drills, so why can’t you?
2) Flexibility – a key weakness of endurance athletes. Deliberately focus on improving your flexibility through yoga and other workouts that help extend your range of motion.
3) Stability – running is just a series of single-leg squats. Work on your stability and find your weaknesses to fix them and become a healthier runner!

To go a bit deeper with performance, it’s important to address your strengths and weaknesses within the amount of improvement you seek to gain. Focus on your areas of improvement with a direct relation to the goal.

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