The 5 Principles for Achieving Greatness in Anything

If You Want to Achieve Greatness Stop Asking for Permission

A reporter once asked Muhammad Ali how many sit ups he could do. The great boxer said he didn’t know. He only started counting when it started hurting.

This is the story I like to think about when I think about reaching greatness. Muhammad Ali is generally considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. Just by looking at this quote I can see why.

What made Muhammad Ali great is this ability to push past his limits so he could grow and become better.  That’s what it takes to reach greatness.  It means ignoring what you think is impossible to be the best.

So what qualities do you need to bring out your own greatness?

1. Intense dedication/obsessiveness

Those who are great at something become extremely dedicated to it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was so focused and determined to be a great bodybuilder that he used to break into a local gym when it was closed so he could train.

When he served in the Austrian army, which was compulsory for all 18-year-olds, he was put into military prison for about a week because he sneaked out to participate in the Junior Mr. Europe bodybuilding contest in Germany.

Arnold never stopped thinking about how to improve his performance as a bodybuilder.  With this determination, he would go on to win the top bodybuilder accolade, Mr. Olympia seven times.

It’s hard to see how he would have won without that intense dedication.

If you want to reach greatness, you have to think about it all the time. Think of different ways to improve yourself or different ways to reach your goals.

Start obsessing about it. Don’t focus on anything else.  As Michael Jordan once said, “In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport.”

Reaching greatness isn’t easy. It takes a lot of dedication to get there. No matter what skill or ability you want to be become great in, you need perseverance and determination to see it all the way to the end.

2. Practice as much as you can

They say it takes 10,000 hours to be proficient in an activity. The only way to reach that number is to put in the time and effort. That means a lot of practice.

Even the best artists and athletes practice constantly.  For example, Michael Phelps trained six hours a day six days a week and consumed 12,000 calories every day.

No one gets a free pass on practice. It takes hours and hours to hone your skills.

There are a lot of people who think greatness comes from natural talent, but that’s not true.

Take Mozart for example. He was a musical genius who occasionally played for kings when was just a little boy.

You might think he was just born gifted.

Look closer and you’ll see all the practice that went into his musical ability. A lot of classical music fans consider one of his earliest and greatest works to be the Piano Concerto no. 9 which he composed when he was 21.

That’s such a young age to reach greatness. But by the time he composed that Concerto, he had been practicing and training for 18 years.

3. Work smarter AND harder

Arnold Schwarzenegger once gave a speech about his rules for success. One of those rules was to work your butt off. He said that while most people are goofing off, there are people who are working harder, getting better and becoming smarter.

He’s right. If you’re not working your butt off to become great, you’re losing ground to someone who is.

This isn’t the same as practicing; it’s about the intensity of your practice.  Working hard means pushing your skills to new levels and abilities.  It’s not about practicing the same things over and over again.

Working smarter is equally important to working harder. If you can find a quicker way to reach your goals and objectives, you’ll get a lot further in a shorter amount of time.

By working smarter, you’re making your hard work pay off more. Think of them working in conjunction with each other. Working smarter is like a catalyst giving you quicker results.

4. Measure everything

You need to measure your progress for two reasons:

• It tells you how well you’re doing
• It tells you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong

There’s a good reason sport teams measure so many statistics of their players. How else would they know what needs work?

In my personal experience, I can attest to why you need to measure your progress. I’m a weightlifter so gaining muscle is important.

For the longest time, I never measured how much I ate or how often I lifted weights at the gym.
That was a mistake.

I didn’t gain much progress.

Now I measure what I eat and how often I go the gym. That little difference has given me big results. Now I know what I’m doing wrong and what’s working. It makes it so much easier to correct mistakes and get to the next level.

5. Mental preparation/strength

I think we can all agree that reaching greatness is difficult. And it’s not just the hard work, countless hours of practice, time and dedication you need to get there.

There are many things that will try and throw you off mentally.

• Setbacks
• Failures
• Mistakes
• Loss of willpower
• Doubt
• Fear
Negativity

Any one of these things can prevent you from pushing past your limits to that next level of performance. This is why mental preparation and strength is so important.

These mental blocks are going to pop into your head and tell you that you can’t go any further. And if you listen to them, you won’t get very far.

If you want to be great at something, you have to be cognizant about mental strength. When something comes around to throw you off mentally, you have to stop and deal with it. Otherwise, you can’t push yourself to the next level.
photo credit: Thomas Hawk

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Comments

  1. A balanced life is overrated, at least when it comes to achieving any sort of greatness at something. As you say, an obsessive mindset is damn near a requirement if you wish to truly excel in your field.

    But so few are able to bring that dedication day in and day out. That’s why there are so few truly great individuals.

    Maybe we just need to obsess a little bit more.

    Cheers!

    • You make a good point about the difficulty of dedication. It’s hard to stick to your goals and persevere day in and day out. You may very well be right that obsessiveness/dedication is the reason so few become great.

      Could that be the most important part of becoming great? I think it could be. If you have the dedication, other things might be easier to do. It’s an interesting thought.

  2. We suffer today from too many choices and opportunities that only serve to distract so it takes determination to stick at the one most important thing that you want to excel at. We’re also conned by a lot of the media into believeing in overnight sucess. Closer scrutiny often reveals the opposite.
    My current favourite alternative to the 10,000 hours is the million words for a writer. Basically, you need to write 10 books before you’re getting really good!

    • I think a million words is a great goal for being a good writer. It seems that no matter how good I get at writing, there is always room to become better. There is no overnight success; it takes time. That’s why I think the 10,000 hours rule is so good. It makes you factor in determination and the long term to reach greatness. No matter what you want to do, you have to put in the time to be good at it.

  3. I enjoyed reading this article very much. Your examples are inspiring. It was interesting reading about Mohammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegge. Very often, we forget about the hard work that goes behind the success.

    And yes, I believe that working smart is just as important to working hard. But definitely, putting in the necessary number of hours is very important for success!

    Thank you, Steve!

    • Yeah, I’ve always been fascinated in Mohammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They both just were so good in what they did. And on top of it, they both have interesting personalities.

  4. You made tons of great points here. Have you ever seen Eric Thomas’ “Secret to Success?” It’s a great short video that provides tons of inspiration. He mentions in the video that you have to make sacrifices. People want success but they don’t want to give up talking on the phone or even sleep less to achieve their goal.

    The one thing he said in the video that has always stuck with me is that you have to want success as much as you want to breathe. Imagine if someone held you under water and you had no air in your lungs. You’d be fighting this person and you won’t be thinking about anything else. You’ll violently jerk back and forth trying to get the one thing that’s on your mind, air. That’s how bad you’ve got to want to achieve greatness.

    • I haven’t seen that video yet, but I’ll have to check it out. That is a good point about success and sacrifice. Most people don’t want to give things up to reach their goals. Or they think they don’t need to give something up to get there. It’s like those people I see at the gym who think they can get into get shape, but still eat junk food all day long. It just doesn’t work well.

      I love that imagery. You have to need to reach where you want to go just like you need to breathe. You’ll struggle and strive hard to get it, but that’s what you need to do.

  5. Steve,
    I loved your examples with Mohamed Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It does take a hell of a lot of time and dedication to the point of obsessiveness to be great at something.
    I calculated 10,000 hours to become an expert means that if you work 40 hours a week at one thing, in one year you will have amassed 2080 hours towards that thing. At that rate it will take a little under 5 years to become an expert?
    It’s no wonder most people never scratch the surface of what they are capable of doing.

    • When you put it that way, it seems like such a long time. Of course, that’s assuming you put 40 hours a week to it. It’s hard to see most people being able to do that. Most of the time it will take even longer to get to 10,000 hours. Yeah, that’s probably why most people don’t get to a mastery level.

    • The problem is worse than that. It’s not just 10,000 hours – it’s 10,000 hours of progress, of focus, of re-writing our neural connections, of consciously trying to improve.

      The reason so many people don’t become experts in their career is that once they’ve reached an acceptable level of performance, they shut their brains off – they work and they practice, but they stop putting in the effort and obsessiveness necessary for progress.

      • That’s a good point, Amit. It can’t just be any type of practice, it has to be progressive. You have to constantly be pushing how well you can do it. I remember when I used to play the trumpet back in junior high. I would practice the same lessons over and over again and wondered why I never improved. It has to come from consistently challenging yourself to do better.

  6. Great article man

  7. But is it worth the cost?

    I know a bunch of people who are reaching for greatness, and most of them have to pay a price. They have less free time and usually more stress. Some of them are less happy than I think they would be if they stopped and slowed down. Others seem to manage it really well – enjoying themselves much more than if they settled for mediocrity.

    I myself am reaching for greatness, but I still have process work to do – I need to make the day-to-day business more enjoyable.

    You’ve nailed it with this article though – where does your wisdom come from? Have you already reached greatness in a particular field, or are you learning and preparing for a new journey?

    • It’s definitely stressful to put so much effort into something. You will have less time to devote to other things so it has to be something you really enjoy.

      I watched my mom carefully as she reached greatness in playing piano. She’s probably played well beyond the 10,000 hour mark. She even got a Master’s degree in music so she could be better at it. I remember listening to her play every night. That’s where some of the inspiration for this post comes from. Other parts come from what I’ve learned as I strive to become great in writing and weight lifting. I still have a long way to go before I reach 10,000 hours, but I’m closing that gap as much as I can.

  8. It is a lot of price to pay. Your family life, social life, and other important things will definitely affected through the process. Greatness really should be something like reason for existence so that it doesn’t feel how much it costs.

    • In some circumstances, you’ll probably have to make some sacrifices. It’s up to each person to make the call if it’s worth it or not. Sometimes it won’t be.

  9. I don’t think it’s so much about being obsessed or determined but more about endurance and stamina.I can be obsessed with something or determined to achieve a goal but then sometimes the passion fades like a week or a month later. I often lack the stamina or endurance to continue pursuing my goal long term.

    • Yeah, endurance and stamina are important for any goal. How many people give up on their New Year’s resolutions after only a few weeks because they couldn’t keep it going? So it does help.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Great people are ordinary people who are obsessed and possessed with the drive of actualizing their own innate potentials. Such people are bred not born, throughout the ages, there have been instances of people with few genetic gifts who attained power. The great earned to be great. They were not born with it. Beloved, doesn’t that give you the happiness that you can learn to be great as well? […]

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