Improving Personal Performance: What am I About?

A friend of mine relayed a few bits he took away from a talk he heard the other day that was given by Tom Brand, the former Olympic wrestling gold medalist and current head coach of the Nebraska wrestling team, about identifying what you are about as a person and achieving your goals. Two points that he made in the talk really hit home for me. I want to share them because I don’t think their applicability is limited to the realm of athletics. They carry directly into individual performance in every aspect of your life. The first key point was that you should ask yourself is, “What am I about?” This isn’t tremendously clear at first but what he was getting at was: What are the values, characteristics, etc. that make you different from everyone else? What is it that makes you the individual you are and not a clone of the guy in the cube next to you? This is probably pretty easy to answer on the surface, and the surface is about as far as most people take it. You might say you are all about competing to win, or personal integrity, or honoring your family, or some other unique thing. However, Mr. Brand’s point ran deeper because he followed this thought with a second one, which was that this self identification of “What you are all about” is only as valid as the things you are doing to achieve it every day. How true is this identity you have put on yourself? If you have set forth that leadership is part of your self identity – Are you leading? What are you doing every day to become a better leader? Are you spending time reading on leadership, or practicing leadership skills? Are you identifying where you’ve done well and where you have failed? The focus on daily improvement was something that really rang true with me because I think that while we tend to experience life as a sprint, it is the marathon of daily grinds that define us. It’s those grinds where you are pushing yourself to be a better version of you, that truly set you on the path to achieving your personal goals. They will enable you to marry the idea of “What am I all about?” to the reality of “What am I actually about?”

Mr. Brand’s talk really resonated with me as an all out approach to getting what you want out of life. Everyday we are faced with choices from eating a piece of cake or not, to volunteering to take on a difficult assignment at the office, that will take their place in a long line of similar decisions. When we look back at these decisions in 10, 20, or 30 years, they will provide us with real insight into who we are and what we stand for as people. Those decisions will have each caused a small change for the better or worse. They will carry us either a bit closer, or a bit farther, from the ideal selves that we hope to one day see staring back at us from the mirror. Unfortunately, we too often choose things without assigning their proper value or taking into account just how important each small decision is, which would prompt us to make them with more care. I think one critical aspect in helping change this is by explicitly planning your activities; and also by regularly taking time to both review progress against the plan and the decisions you made that impacted successes and failures. Documenting your decision-making and the data points that feed into success or failure is an enormous part of understanding how to improve. If you wake up every morning and give yourself one thought as to how you are going to make yourself better and close your day with a mental review, then you will immeasurably improve your chances at achieving your desired end state. If you can work towards some sort of structured approach to documenting your progress that’s great, but the simple act of building in 5 minutes to plan forward mentally in the morning and 5 minutes to review in the evening will help you begin to make progress towards the goals you’ve set for yourself. Everyone has time for 10 minutes somewhere in their day. Use that time to get closer to the person you want to be by finding a way to near that state every day. In the end you want to like the answer to the question, “What am I all about?”

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