The Strange Practice that Accelerates Success
First, a quick true shark tale…
It was the summer of 2008. I was in a kayak over open water off the coast of Beaufort, South Carolina. An experienced kayaker, I was comfortable paddling to different barrier islands and spending long stretches over the open ocean. However, on this particular day, the current and wind suddenly built up to a force that I had never known before.
My boat got swept out of the bay and into deep water before my brain could fully process what was happening. A shark fin darted a few yards from my paddle and I choked on a glob of salty spit.
My first instinct was to panic until I remembered something called a “power ten.” I had learned it a few years earlier while volunteering as a coxswain for a club crew team. No, not the Ivy League monogrammed sweater kind.
I had been waking up at five in the morning every day for the Summer to steer the scull for a group of hardened military vets. Whenever I’d feel us slowing down, I’d call out for ten strokes of maximum rowing power to be applied by the crew. They always complied, even though sometimes they looked like they wanted to choke me out.
I wondered. Could doing a power ten turn my ocean kayaking disaster into a personal triumph?
During a race, a power ten is called at a crucial time to zip past the competition. It requires extreme physical and mental focus, but when it’s done well, it can be the difference between winning and losing. Or, in my case, not becoming shark bait. (The curious bull shark moved on when I started paddling ten hard strokes.)
Driving home from the beach after my kayak scare, I realized that the concept of a power ten might have applications beyond rowing. What if I could call on ten principles to power up all aspects of my life? Maybe I could stop drifting away from what I wanted. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it got me motivated.
I spent the next few months going through old journals and re-reading my favorite books to create what I called my “Power Ten” philosophy.
I’m only going to share 5 of my 10 principles with you. Why? Because I feel like everyone overshares these days. Also, this type of “Power Ten” is personal. Yours will probably be a little different from mine. The idea is to honest with yourself and discover what motivates you.
So, here we go…a few powerful principles to get you thinking before you start paddling out on your own.
1. Take Control of Your Story
You make your decisions, and your decisions make you. That’s something I remind myself of daily. Taking control of your story means making the right decisions at the right time. It helps to let good values be your guide. It’s about learning to do things well regardless of your starting skill level or natural talent. When you’re the author of your story, you can’t make excuses for what happens to you because you’re the one in control.
Stop listening to the negative narratives others might try to pin on you. They are allowed to write your story.
When left on autopilot, our animal brains pursue money and power because reasoning goes that will give us an evolutionary edge. However, true success often comes when we accept the inevitability of failure and eventual death, see it as something to not be afraid of, and start living each day with purpose.
The best kind of life is one that you define on your own terms.
When you can honestly stop looking to other people or possessions to fulfill your needs and sense of well-being–you’ll feel the power of true self-possession and ultimate control.
2. Welcome Accountability
You need people around you that you can trust to call you out on your B.S. These are the skippers in your boat who will tell you when your actions could sink the whole ship. On the flip side, constructive feedback is an incredible motivator and can bring out your best work.
Stop reading right now and write down your three greatest accomplishments to date. What helped you achieve them? Was it a word of encouragement you received? A certain way you approached the task? Look for connections that can breed future wins. It’s time to start connecting the actions of your past to predict your future. This same exercise can be used in reverse to break bad habits that are holding you back.
Productivity is lost and performance suffers when people fail to take accountability for their actions. Set your ego aside. Ask for help. Admit when you make a mistake. The faster you can learn to correct your course, the more time you’ll spend on the right track.
Do you know how to tell when you’ve found a good accountability partner? When that person’s influence is making you better–not just exposing flaws to bring you down. Spend time with people who are honest with you because they care.
And don’t forget to hold others to the same high standards you set for yourself. Being an enabler of bad behavior isn’t good for anyone — it even hurts innocent bystanders. Anyone who’s ever eaten at a restaurant table next to a misbehaving child knows this to be true.
3. Sharpen Your Intuition and Learn to Trust It.
“The power of intuitive understanding will protect you from harm until the end of your days.”
— Lao Tzu
In his best-selling book “Mastery” (2012), American author Robert Greene says, “All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance.”
Intuition is knowing something without conscious thought, observation, or reason. It’s a way of using your brain at warp speed–all gas, no brakes.
When it comes to intuitive thinking, too much pragmatism (being highly practical in your approach) can act as a blocker to a higher-level understanding. Albert Einstein called the intuitive mind a “sacred gift.”
And you already use this power all the time–even though it’s hard to distinguish between true intuition and random coincidence, you have to believe in the power of your unconscious mind to even give it a chance to work in your favor.
No one can really teach you how to be more intuitive, but participating in activities that make you more in tune with your body, more relaxed, and more mindful will heighten your capacity for intuition. Improving your intuition is like giving yourself a rare and valuable gift that you can use again and again.
I wrote about other key factors for building your intuition like a muscle here. It explains how the key factors below are tied to a more intuitive mind:
Constant distractions, trying to multitask, or spending too much time on digital devices can mute intuition. Stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and burnout can make you reject it.
Have the courage to trust your intuitive feelings — even if you don’t fully understand them. Ulysses S. Grant was supposed to sit beside Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre the night President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Had he gone, he might have been killed too. When Grant’s wife had a sudden feeling that he shouldn’t go, Grant followed her advice, which probably saved his life (unlike Julius Caesar) who chose NOT to listen to a woman’s intuition.
Confidence goes a long way in creating a more intuitive mind–so start believing in this superpower!
4. Make it Look Easy
Whether you are preparing a presentation, designing an ad, painting a picture, coding a website, writing an article, or teaching a class–everything you put out in a public space is going to have an impression on someone.
To leave the best impression, don’t appear to be toiling and feverishly striving for it–make your work seem easy. Even moving through a room with a feeling of ease makes others see you as a confident, capable person.
Think about the last great movie you saw or album you listened to. What did they have in common? They probably seemed to be spontaneously created by someone riding a wave of inspiration–even though in reality they were the result of many people collaborating, failing, experimenting, and recording over the course of many months.
When you learn new skills it’s natural to want to show them off. In school, teachers were always asking us to “show our work” as evidence we had really learned a concept. Outside of academia, the powers that be care more about results. They want someone who can step up and deliver again and again without showing signs of fatigue, a drop in productivity, or quality. They want someone who can make it look easy.
Health and mental well-being are important! No one is 100% all of the time. If you’re displaying symptoms of exhaustion and burnout and need time and space to get your head right to be and feel your best, be honest and ask for a break when you need one. Making it look easy doesn’t mean you can never be vulnerable.
Otherwise, keep your processes to yourself, don’t voice your frustrations to coworkers or complain about the amount of work you have. Making it look easy has a touch of magic about it. People admire it. And you don’t have to fake it. There are probably plenty of things that do come easy for you. If you can get rewarding work that plays to your strengths–you’ve obtained something of great value.
5. Don’t Be a Self-Doubter
The number one roadblock to success is self-doubt. When you doubt that you can do something, you’ve already set your parameter for performance to total failure. That makes you paralyzed to even try. Why? Because your imagining your future self as a loser. You can’t lose at something that hasn’t happened yet.
To win in anything you have to believe you can and not be afraid to take risks.
Here’s the winning equation:
Willingness to take calculated risks > Fear of failing
“The fear of the work is harder than the actual work.” — Michael Gervais
When I say don’t self-doubt. I’m not talking about the disconnected believe in yourself platitude you were told as a kid. I’m referring to taking the focus off yourself and putting it on your purpose for being there. That’s what removes self-doubt.
In a high-paced, competitive environment, the ones who rise to the top are the people who have assurance in their purpose.
It takes hundreds of little decisions to run a successful marketing campaign or deliver an award-winning project. Every time you stop to doubt yourself, you’re killing valuable momentum.
If you’re still worried that forging ahead without any doubts will get you into trouble, go back and read #2 above.
Instead of self-doubt. Try to maintain a mindset of optimistic curiosity. It will open up entire worlds of creative opportunities you never knew you were capable of before.
Now you’ve seen the first half of my “Power Ten” principles.
It’s time to go write your own, so you can start living them.
“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
— Anaïs Nin
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, check out my other Medium articles. I’d also enjoy getting your feedback.