As you live your days, so you live your life.Robin Sharma
All of us have daily routines. Some people see routine as a ‘rut.’ That usually happens when you are not mindful of your habits and have no purpose or sense of direction. For me, it’s valuable to install the proper daily habits. Routines are a system to help you live a certain behavior and automate it. Systems are always more powerful than single actions done by using willpower.
I don’t talk about what you do mindlessly when I talk about daily routines. I talk about deliberate practice, which is purposeful and systematic. Deliberate practice gives you more time to focus on creating value. On being creative. In effect on realizing your big visions and bold dreams.
When I was organizing the interviews for my book, I was anxious to know how super achievers think about daily routines. I wanted to see if they see them as ‘mindless’ or focused on a purpose or a sense of direction? I wanted to know their process of installing a new daily habit? I tried to find out if there are common patterns? Do they approach their day differently than you or me?
Based on those I interviewed, the answer is yes and no.
Do they have daily rituals, habits, or behaviors? Absolutely! Do they all take the same approach or employ the same system? Absolutely not. Their approaches to their daily routines are as varied and diverse as are their personalities. But, there are indeed commonalities in how they approach their days and practices.
I’m reminded of an expression I once heard… ‘Doing something once is a singular behavior. Doing it twice is repeated behavior. Doing it for the third time consistently…is the beginning of a habit. But only the beginning.’ According to a study conducted by Dr. Philippe Lally at the London City College, it takes an average of 66 days for a resolution to become an ingrained habit. In that same study, Professor Jane Wardle said, ‘It varied between individuals, but the finding is that if you do something every day in the same situation, it will become an automatic reaction in response to those situational cues, a habit. It is the first time this has been established.’
Though we all have some form of daily routines or daily rituals, they tend to fall into one of three categories… those who meticulously plan out their day and attack their day in accordance to their plan; those who begin their day with a general idea of what their day will be, and then allow the events of the day to shape the day from there; and then, those who are entirely comfortable letting their day’s events come to them.
Though their routines and rituals vary widely, those I interviewed fall into the first category. Some are more ritualistic than they think, like Deno Hewson, for example. The executive coach and mountain climber is determined to change his routine daily. As a small example, he is wearing a different clothing style, from business suit to casual attire, depending on the mood. Variance is his routine.
Personally, I like to frequently change my daily habits frequently. I tried many of the daily habits that the achievers talked about. And though the specifics of my daily plan and rituals differ, the ingredients stay the same, and consists of exercise, coffee, and learning something new. Just imagine what you can achieve, learning every day something new. I’m chaotic and creative by nature, counter to my professional role as a continuous improvement manager. So, forcing myself to a certain structure has always been important. I’m also someone who thrives on frequent change and is freedom-loving. This might make you wonder if I’m the guy who has the discipline to a routine. I really looked forward to my discussions with the achievers about their daily rituals. These men and women were super successful in their endeavors. Their achievements weren’t random or accidental. They had a sense of purpose and the discipline to pursue their dream. They had to be laser-focused each and every day. Clearly, their daily rituals had to be a significant component of that focus. So, what was it? What were their daily routines? Were their daily rituals different from mine? Were they rigidly disciplined in following their daily plans? Were they doing something special that may be unique to super-achievers? Or was I overthinking the whole issue? It didn’t take me long to get my answers.
Early Risers, Quiet Time
One of the first habits I heard was very similar to one I adhere to… that of waking early in the mornings to have my quiet time to exercise and plan my day. From my earliest memories, I was an early riser. Initially, as a boy, it was something that I just did. It was a mindless habit. Later in life, that habit began to have meaning. It became part of my identity. I was proud that I was able to jump out of bed and be ready for whatever the day might throw at me. I would wake up early and structure my morning to engage in some form of learning, exercise, and coffee… those same three ingredients I referenced earlier. Sometimes I would even get up thirty or forty-five minutes earlier than normal to get that extra boost. Maybe I could sneak in a different exercise, a longer run, or enjoy an extra cup of coffee before the rest of the family was up. I have always been an early riser. The solitude of my morning rituals and habits has been essential to my physical and mental health and well-being.
I was gratified to know that many of those I interviewed had the same habit. Though their morning routines differed once they awoke, it was as if they all had the belief as me that a new day was upon them, and they wanted to live as much of the day as possible.
Adam Kreek, for example, told me he typically wakes every morning around 4:30AM. The Canadian Olympic Hall of Famer described how he would go into his garage, make himself a coffee, then devote the first two hours of his day in quiet solitude, exercising and writing in his journal. Then, he said, he would come back into the house around 6:45AM and make breakfast for his wife and children.
He said that early morning quiet time energized him to begin his day.
John Mattone described a similar routine, especially when working on a book. The executive coach and author said he would awake at 4:00 to write for two hours before starting his typical working day.
Other early risers described how they would wake early to prepare for their day but do so from the comfort of their bed.
Moustafa Hamwi told me, ‘My morning starts the minutes I open my eyes, reminding myself of my beliefs. I begin by saying that I am the most passionate person on this planet. I don’t like the word affirmation. I prefer the word ‘re-affirming your values,’ with the belief that you can only affirm what you truly embrace. Otherwise, it is like beating yourself with a hammer to convince yourself of something that you don’t believe! It is a reminder of a conviction that I have – more than anything.’ He continued, ‘The status of how you wake up is irrelevant. It is what you do with that time that matters.
Vickie Saunders, the advocate of female entrepreneurship, shared a similar view, describing how she would align her mindset. ‘My morning routine is the most important. Sometimes, I wake up with negative thoughts or anxiety about something or stress or worry. I stay in bed and won’t open my eyes until I’ve changed that conversation. I wake up, I’ll keep my eyes shut and say to myself, ‘OK, I’ll worry about that later.’ Then I do like a little prayer in my head. It’s not like a religious prayer, but it’s just that conversation of giving thanks and preparing for the day. Then, I’ll get up!’
Romeo Ruh, the executive coach, also was in that category. ‘When I wake up,’ he told me, ‘I do not try to get up immediately but take the time to consciously realize where I am. I do not want to rush into everyday life. Some years ago, I deliberately decided to slow down my walking pace. I always had the feeling that I was driven and that I rushed from one place to the next. Slowing down doesn’t mean that I’m walking at a snail’s pace. I meditate for half an hour on the train on my commute to work instead of reading a newspaper or playing on the phone. I practice different meditation forms and use an app for guided meditation, listening to music, or gentle sounds. I do whatever feels best at the moment. My half an hour of daily meditation is a non-negotiable part of my daily routine. Some days I deliberately deal with a challenge that I face currently, such as having better self-control in dealing with my kids. I usually do a few mental training exercises and visualize an ideal state. After repeating that for some days, the anchor for the perfect state is set.’
So, being an early riser was not a universal element of how those I interviewed began their days. But it was close. The way they described it, it was as if they needed time to gear up for their day, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Each day for them was a project in and of itself. It had a beginning and an end, and the early morning start allowed them their prep time to gear up for the day’s project.
Mind, Body, and Spirit
More and more, I find people are more aware of and more educated about the mind-body connection… the principle that says, ‘where the mind takes us, our bodies tend to follow.’ If we believe we’re getting stronger, for example, we project strength. If we believe we’re going to get sick, we get sick. There is more and more data, both scientific and anecdotal, that support the belief of the mind-body connection. My mind-body connection came through exercise. I never managed to install a formal meditation habit or another mental regimen. Still, my morning runs allowed me to cleanse my mind as I exercised my body.
Now, let’s go one step further. Similar emerging data support the notion of a mind-body-spiritual connection and how each of those three dimensions impact and interact with one another. Whether your spiritual beliefs, be they Christian, Buddhist, or atheist, studies have demonstrated that those with a strong spiritual belief are equally impactful in our mental and physical health. Working in concert with one another, those three ingredients play a role in our performance, centeredness, and overall wellness. Those I interviewed consistently spoke of that connection. Their morning or daily rituals were not just about physical exercise. They were about getting their bodies aligned with their mental and spiritual faculties.
Some used exercise, others used meditation, or some form of self-talk. The methods were different and varied, but the commonality was the same…gearing their mind and bodies to anticipate and prepare for the upcoming day.
Nathan Gold, the so-called ‘demo coach, also talked about the importance of his early morning ritual. ‘Every morning, I wake up and have coffee with my wife. We have a little bit of a chat over coffee, then I take a shower. For me, a shower is where I get my creativity going. I start every day with a nice hot shower. That’s the coffee for my brain. From there, I attack my plan for the day.
Back to Deno Hewson, the Hong Kong-based mountain climber, and coach. Beyond the wild variations in what he wears each day, he described his morning ritual as very consistent. He explained, ‘I like being on time. I pretty much do the same type of stuff every day. I have two dogs, and I take them out for a walk in the morning. We live right next to a trail, so I love to take them up on the forest trail for 30 minutes each day. Living in Hong Kong, it’s not always easy to get to a forest, but we deliberately live in a place where we have access to woods within minutes. We live on the peak in Hong Kong. There are many wild animals and birds. At night, I’ve been out and seen giant porcupines. It’s an excellent way to wake up. The dogs like it, of course, and enjoy that quiet time. I have a spectacular view of Hong Kong Island, whether it is raining or the sun is shining. It’s an excellent connection and living in a place like Hong Kong where it’s so much of city life; for me, that’s an essential habit.’
Then he shifted gears when it came to the rest of his day. ‘Part of my morning ritual is thinking about what I want to wear that day. I like to dress each day differently. I don’t know whether this is a habit or not. Do you know what I mean? I feel bored having to dress the same every day at the office. There is freedom in that for me, I. I imagine a day I don’t do this. I think that people should wear how they feel and not be told how to dress.’
Part of having a consistent routine, I learned, is being different!
All of those I interviewed described a consistent daily routine. Some had some variance in how they approached their routines, and some were very disciplined. For example, Simon Whitfield, the Canadian triathlete and Olympic champion begins every morning by making his bed. ‘To feel centered,’ he said, ‘begins with celebrating and having empathy for your future self. For me, that begins with making my bed first thing in the morning. It’s like my way of preparing myself for the person I intend to become. It’s like, ‘Hey future self, I like you, and I made the bed for you.’ It’s a small and symbolic gesture that you’re taking care of the person you’re becoming. If you don’t care for yourself, you cannot care for others. I don’t always do it. I get my best days when I make my bed. I’m moving intentionally, and my thoughts and my actions are synchronized.
From there, I drink a large glass of water, a hot liquid, then go into my daily exercise routine. My morning is all about priming my mind and body for the coming day.’
Ben Greenfield, the fitness coach and author of Beyond Training and many other books, described a highly disciplined approach to his day that I both admired and was a little intimidated by. He said, ‘I won’t miss the morning cup of coffee or tea. I have to have my coffee, or later these days, it’s been green tea. I’m a fan of the morning hot beverage, whether summer or winter. And then I have a ritual for working… I work like a horse with blinders. The push notifications on the phone are turned off, and no one is there to distract me. I work my butt off with no distractions at all and work, work, and work. I love focused attention: I can stay mindful because of that. I have a little man cave at my home. Whenever I’m traveling, I find a hotel room, a library, or a coffee shop for my work.’
I loved his passion and disciplined approach to how he managed his days but humbled. He took the regime to a new level.
Then some took an approach that many feel a kinship with. Take Christian Wenk, for example. The piano-playing paraplegic physician described a more casual approach to beginning his days. ‘My morning coffee is my motivation to get out of bed. I’m actually a night owl. When I don’t have a reason to get up the next day, I let myself go and stay up all night. The next day I sleep in and don’t get much productive stuff done. That’s why I trick myself into planning the plannable things in the morning. I work on a Saturday morning because I take the Wednesday afternoon off so that I can do something for myself then. This creates two productive half days: Wednesday and Saturday mornings. For a scheduled working day, I get up at relatively short notice and drink a cup of coffee.’
Fabian Unteregger, the Swiss medical doctor and comedian, described a similar, somewhat relaxed approach to his day. ‘By far, the most rigorous element of my morning routine is breakfast. I love eating breakfast. It includes green tea, at least one to two Nutella-covered pieces of bread, and some fresh vegetables. About three years ago, I added raw vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, and fennel in the morning. It’s fennel, and I cut them open and eat them fresh, and they are so new and then a little bit of cheese, for example, Gruyere cheese. And without breakfast, that wouldn’t work. Then I have to move. That is either a CrossFit session, go for a run, go for a swim, go for a bike ride, play a game of tennis, or do any water sports. I try to move at least every second day. On the days I don’t do sports, I do the plank four times one minute. I also do the side plank between 10 to 20 seconds or 12 times. Doing the side plank is the hardest exercise for me.’
I think I have subconsciously been in tune with my mind/body/spirit connection. But my interviews gave me a new, more cognizant appreciation for the importance of these three aspects of our being and how they work in concert with one another. It became abundantly clear that this connection is an absolute necessity in doing anything at an unthinkable level. Whether climbing Mt. Everest, being a Buddhist Monk, being a successful entrepreneur, or being an unthinkable parent, they are with us, either consciously or unconsciously.
I suspected that to be true from many of my own life experiences. But my interviews made it even clearer for me.
What are you thankful for? You would probably answer you’re grateful for your partner, your family, your health, or any other ‘blessings’ that have enriched your life. Another aspect of our lives that I was surprised by in my interviews was the issue of gratitude. The Japanese expression, which is a foundation of their way of life, s called ‘Giri Ninjo.’ Roughly translated, that means, ‘The loyal obligation of friendship.’ Another way Giri Ninjo could be interpreted as the highest honor and privilege one can have is to be of service to others. And should receive that honor, be forever thankful. In Africa, there is a comparable term in Zulu called Ubuntu, translated to ‘humanity towards others, or the phrase,’ I am because We Are.
I doubt very few of those I interviewed spent time in Japan or learned the principle of Giri Ninjo. But, unknowingly, they all seemed to be practicing its concepts in one way or another.
Those two elements, being of service to others and being thankful for that honor, were prevalent in how interviewees described their daily habits and routines.
Similar to the Japanese practice of Giri Ninjo, there is an Indian tribe that lives in the mountains of central Mexico, called the Huichol, who practice very similar principles. Mark Allen is a significant proponent of Huichol and giving back to the land. In my youth, I was a big fan of native American literature. I read the biographies of the great native American chiefs, like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Geronimo, and many more. I adored the way how they lived in sync with the land. Not taking more than they needed. This is aligned with my keen interest in stoic philosophy and minimalism.
The idea of being of service to others,’ the six-time triathlon champion told me, ‘helps me get centered. I try to have pleasant dreams at night. During a year, I go to races and lead clinics. I give back a lot of what I have learned over the years while going to many retreats to continue my learning.
The practice of giving back is just as essential to my daily routine as physical exercise. I count that among my greatest pleasures in life and am deeply thankful for the opportunity.
Adam Kreek, for example, said, ‘When I write in my journal, one of the things I find myself writing about are the things that occurred the previous day, and what I’m grateful for. That gratitude is what sets me up for the next day. When I think about what I’ll accomplish today, how I can be of service to others, it is founded on what I’m thankful for from the previous day. That automatically gets me geared up for what I want to do to expand on that. That’s the ritual. You’re writing while thinking about how you’ve served others and how you’re grateful for the opportunity.
The patterns of those I interviewed were becoming more straightforward and more transparent. They were almost binary. They were not about achieving success and accumulating more for themselves but about achieving fulfillment by serving others. And, they were not about seeking more but being grateful for what they had. Gratitude, I learned, was the payback to finding fulfillment through serving others.
Focus on What’s Important
With busy family life, a full-time job, trying to stay fit and healthy, and writing a book, one of my most significant faults has been trying to do too many things at once and doing none of them well. I was making little progress and constantly being exhausted. I had heard the “be focused’ message all of my life, including my interviewees. But that’s easier said than done.
Amid my interview schedule, I had lunch with Hans C. Werner, my accounting, business, and economics professor. Even though I never really enjoyed accounting, I enjoyed his classes. His dry sense of humor and storytelling made up for the lack of accessibility to the subject matter.
Unfortunately for me, he quickly became the dean of the school. He then moved into the private economy, joining SwissRe, a Swiss reinsurance company, thus limiting my time as his student. When he agreed to meet for lunch, he was the chief personnel officer at Swisscom, the national telecommunications company in Switzerland.
When we sat down, I excitedly told that I was working on my book and was interviewing achievers from across the world. I told him about all the people I have spoken to and my purpose. I further said of the Tony Robbins coaching program I am taking and my intentions of becoming a certified coach. I was exhilarated in telling him how excited I felt to finally take ownership of my actions and how much I’m learning in my weekly training sessions. Then, I told him of my vision of building up my coaching business and moving out of my role as a lean manager.
Throughout my discussion, he listened politely and casually took out a pen and drew a funnel on a napkin, ‘The top of the funnel is wide. At the bottom, it is very narrow. It seems to me that you are at the top of the funnel, trying to do too many things at the same time. You need to get to the bottom of the funnel, where it is narrow. That is where you can focus on essential things to you.
You have to focus on what’s most important. Your funnel is more narrow at the bottom.’
It’s a beautiful thing when you are clear about your sense of purpose. Your focus becomes equally clear. Your field of vision is sharply divided between what is and what is not essential or relevant. You know when and when not to engage or debate. And you know when to ignore that which is out of your domain.
From Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, I learned that for him, everything is either a ‘hell yeah’ or a ‘no.’
There were two characteristics that all the super-achievers I interviewed possessed… they were clear about their sense of purpose, and they were laser-focused on that.
Continuous Learning and Improving
‘Learn something new every day!’ That was a constant refrain with each of the interviewees. Whether a book, a podcast, or some type of daily message, they all had vociferous appetites for learning something today that they didn’t know yesterday. Whether it be about their chosen career endeavors or life itself, their curiosity and determination to pursue new information were boundless.
I’d always felt I was a lifelong learner. I read. I listened to podcasts. I participated in workshops, both actual and virtual. The essence of my job as a lean manager in the hospital where I worked was about exploring and learning new ways to do things. So, that fits right into my passion for continued learning.
I listened to podcasts or audiobooks during my daily commutes, whether by train, car, or bicycle. When I would find a topic that helps me improve myself in a particular area, I would pursue anything and everything I could find to learn more about the subject. Podcasts, YouTube, Ted Talks, you name it. If it piqued my interest and thought it would help me, I was on it. I didn’t just watch or listen to talks about the topic. I binge-watched or binge-listened.
I got to the point of pursuing so much information. I felt like I was ruining my eyesight from reading. I found myself resorting to audio formats as opposed to reading materials. That’s how exuberant I was about my own continuous learnings. But what I heard in my interviews took the concept to a new level. Most of the achievers I spoke with shared my passion for new learnings. But they seemed to have this finely honed radar in their brains, programmed to seek out something new and different each and every day that I’m not sure I possessed.
So, what was the difference? One simple distinction.
My continuous learning was about exploring new and exciting topics. I might listen to a podcast one day about becoming a better coach and watch a Ted Talk about nutrition or training the next day. I was curious about everything! That was the problem. My curiosity was endless, but there was no rhyme or reason for my interests. I was like a bee, going from flower to flower, interest to interest, with no common thread.
In contrast to my bee approach, the people I interviewed evolved around a common theme. Whether it was how to better employ the psychology of physical performance or better serve mankind, their continuous learning had a purpose. That was because they had a sense. Whereas I was still searching for my purpose.
My performance coach, Jorge Coutinho, described the same learnings I pursued… podcasts, YouTube clips, Ted Talks. But his learning pursuits were aligned with his purpose. Not random like mine.
Dr. Phil Davidson, the sports medicine physician, expressed similar sentiments. He said ‘Continuous improvement is a theme of my professional and personal life. In our weekly practice team meetings, we talk about processes and improvements. That’s the focus of my continuous improvement. When things are running smoothly, I’ll step back and look at how we can further enhance the operations based on my interpretations and personal input.’ The next level of continuous improvement I was learning was constant learning with a purpose. Whether the goal is sports medicine or entrepreneurship, the message is the same.
Dan Kuschell, the entrepreneur who specializes in helping companies achieve growth, described a similar but varied approach for his business. He explained how he passionately consumes books that give him alternate viewpoints on growing businesses. He said, ‘I love listening to audiobooks. And if they capture me, I will buy the physical version and listen to the audiobook again as I read it. On average, I go through two books a month this way. With this technology, you can virtually get a Ph.D. on the go.’ That’s his level of thinking regarding continuous improvement… Ph.D. level expertise on the subject.
As disciplined and determined as these world-class achievers were in exercising their bodies, they were equally so in exercising their minds. Whatever their endeavor, their interest, there was more to be learned about it. They were forever curious about anything and everything that aligned with their purpose. What else is there to be known that they do not already know? What are others in the same field of endeavor doing that they are not?
This level of dissatisfaction and not knowing all there is to know was a recurring theme.
Expand Your Comfort Zone
The focus on continuous learning that many expressed in our interviews were really about pushing themselves, mentally and emotionally. Their true objective was to overcome their weaknesses, fears, or other issues they felt were barriers to their growth. While you and I might want to keep our worries at bay and not let them protrude into our daily lives, those I interviewed had the exact opposite view. They sought those things outside their comfort zones and attacked them, determined to conquer or overcome them. Whatever endeavor or field they had chosen, they knew that the only way to get better was to focus on their weaknesses.
Kobe Bryant talked of how he knew, coming into the NBA, that his stamina was lacking, his ability to drive to the basket, and his leg strength was not what he needed it to be if he were going to excel as a professional basketball player. As a result, those were the very things he relentlessly worked on.
Though he had much more significant challenges, Christian Wenk, the physician, and musician, described his way of pushing himself to continuously improve, both in sports and in music. He told me he is not the most diligent athlete, and if left to his own devices, might slack off when he’s not feeling like pushing himself on a given day. For that reason, he described a consistent tactic of engaging in training with others. Especially those who were more disciplined, better, or stronger than he was. They would push, he said. They were his means of pushing himself. ‘Sometimes,’ he told me, ‘we’ll excuse ourselves from pushing as hard as we should. However, if you commit to others, they are not as forgiving.’
He employed the same tactic as a musician.
Christin Wenk and Kobe Bryant came from dramatically different backgrounds and equally different circumstances. As performers, however, they were one and the same… find your weakness and push yourself to improve through whatever means necessary. Attack the pain! Focus not on your strengths but on your weaknesses!
Go beyond your comfort zone! Those were the messages I heard consistently from those I interviewed, regardless of their chosen endeavor. Their focus on continuous improvement was aligned with their purpose, with a laser focus on not what they were good at but their weaknesses and how they could improve.
Margie Warrell, the speaker, and best-selling author, has built a career around expanding your comfort zone, probably best illustrated by one of her bestselling books, Stop Playing Safe! She lives as she coaches. She told me, ‘I’m always paying attention to what I am afraid of and what’s going on in my head. I keep challenging myself to do things that I am so scared of. I have the ritual of going running every day.’
Sean Richardson, the sports psychologist, said virtually the same thing. ‘Everything that comes into my life and expanding my knowledge or my comfort zone comes back to the values of health.’
Now, consider taking this principle from the world of competitive sports and entrepreneurship to the world of the Buddhist Monks. One of my most enjoyable interviews was with the Buddhis monk, Geshe Thupten Legmen. Among the many other lessons he taught me, he described his pursuit of continuous improvement and expanding his comfort zone. He said, ‘As a Buddhist monk, I am challenged to put the teachings of Buddha into practice as much as I can, especially in difficult circumstances. I work on my inner strengths because a monk amassing money is not an option. I focus on measuring my inner strengths. I look at the virtues of things like compassion and honesty. If I don’t meet my standards, there that’s the weakness. I’m the best judge of my shortcomings. I know exactly where I stand and what is missing.’
I guess it’s only natural that if you’re learning something new every day, by definition, you’re expanding your comfort zone. It was impressive and a little bit humbling how these individuals were willing to push themselves into the unknown every day… to explore, learn new concepts and ideas, and evolve.
Enjoy the Little Things
When you think of obsessively focused on achieving great accomplishments, it is accessible to conger up an image of a relentless, almost joyless regimen of drills or exercises dedicated to that one objective. When you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his 10-12 hour training days to pursue the Mr. Universe title, all while attending night school, it might be difficult to view his days as ‘joyful.’
On the contrary, in an interview, I heard him say that he always smiled when he trained. He said that he enjoyed every set and rep. He enjoyed the process. It brought him closer to the goals he set for himself.
That contrary view, I learned, was true with all the folks I interviewed. It seems the syllogism would go something like this… (1) to excel at something is to have a purpose; (2) to have a purpose is to be focused on that purpose, which eliminates distractions; (3) the absence of distractions allows one to see and enjoy the simple pleasures of the universe!
Whether it be hearing birds sing during an early morning run, the sounds of a bubbling brook, or relaxing with a nice cappuccino with their partner, each of the achievers I interviewed spoke of the simple joys of their life.
Daniel Martin Eckhart, the author, and screenwriter told me, ‘I stroll, take time, listen, and observe the little things. No tools, no tricks – just being mindful, and I can do that at my best when I breathe deeply and fully experience the now.’
Adam Kreek, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Famer, told me he is also an avid journalist. And rather than journaling electronically, he resorts to the old-fashioned way of journaling by actually writing. ‘Just five minutes of writing in my journal each day,’ he told me, ‘puts me in touch with so many simple things in life. I focus on little things such as what am I grateful for. And that, alone, opens up a universe of the simplest pleasures.’
Simon Whitfield, the Olympic Triathlon champion, also described how the practice of journaling and reflecting on what he’s grateful for brings out thoughts of the simple pleasures of life. He said the practice of meditation provides the same sensation. I must say I was mildly surprised at how those I spoke to talked about the idea of enjoying the little things. I guess I assumed that super-achievers were super-focused on their objectives and didn’t have time for the ‘little things.’ Surprisingly, it was quite the opposite. The simple pleasures of life keep them balanced and maintain their perspective. If someone is spending eight, ten, twelve hours a day training, those simple pleasures remind them why!
And Finally, in the Realm of the Unusual…
While listening to the Tim Ferriss Show, I heard of Wim Hof for the first time. I was totally intrigued by his training practices… his breathing technique, yoga, and exposure to cold. I discovered that I could endure icy water better than the other kids as a child. I always felt drawn to testing myself in the cold water… the colder, the better. Being submerged in cold water gave me a sense of calm.
When I listened to Wim Hof, I rediscovered my love for the cold water. I started practicing his breathing technique. I followed his online training course with daily cold showers, longer and longer, up to five or even ten minutes. And, in the winter of 2015/2016, I started walking barefoot in the snow or dipping into cold rivers and lakes.
David Passiak, the former religious scholar, turned coach, gave me a degree of pleasure when he described part of his daily routine. He said, ‘I usually meditate for 45 minutes in the morning when I wake up, using an app called Insight Timer to help me stay focused and on track.’
Moustafa Hamwi, told me, ‘I go for cardio for around 20 minutes while listening to audiobooks, some Yoga, or stretching.’ ‘Then,’ he said, ‘I go straight into a cold shower and sing out loud, the Ethyl Merman classic, “There is No Business Like Show Business,” which I learned from My mentor Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. He is the world’s #1 Executive Coach who reminded me that we are all in show business, that life is the stage of the show business, and that I have to make things happen.
Then I do my prayers, my meditation, and I prepare my breakfast. Sometimes, I hang upside down with an inversion table.’
Whether it was a dip into an icy lake, taking a cold shower, or subjecting myself to sub-zero temperatures, seeking the cold, I felt, was a way to improve my level of resistance, and perhaps, build character. Now, if you undertake to subject yourself to cold water like this, the odds are pretty good that you’ll be doing it by yourself. I felt fortunate when I found people that wanted to do it with me.
People looked at me sideways when I would tell them of my fetish for seeking cold and icy conditions, thinking I was strange, even a little bit crazy. Most people, when the subject of taking cold showers or walking barefoot in the snow came up, you were left with strange looks, or worse, people backing away.
Having endured these strange looks for as long as I had, it was refreshing (pardon the pun). In my interviews, I discovered others who enjoyed the same practice. After my interviews, I didn’t feel quite as strange. Or, at least, not alone. Many of them shared similar rituals that would probably be considered outside the more conventional practices.
Gregory Burns, for example, described a somewhat peculiar practice he had employed since childhood. The Paralympic swimmer told me, ‘Ever since I was a kid, I practiced my breathing technique. When we lived in Paris., we commuted through a long tunnel. I always tried to hold my breath when we drove through that tunnel. I still do this in every tunnel I pass through. Of course, short tunnels are no big deal. But when you get to some of these long, autobahn tunnels in Germany that go for four kilometers; or in China, then it gets challenging.’
I must admit that it gave me pleasure listening to some of these super-achievers remind me that I was not the only person who indulged in strange or unusual practices. Though, not everyone I interviewed expressed bizarre or weird regimens that were part of their daily routines. But those that did made me feel good about my own, leading me to believe I was in an elite company.
All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger.
It’s the small details that matter. Small daily wins make a big difference. We often overestimate what we can do within a year and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Over a decade, these thousands of minor improvements have led to staggering results. From the outside, it looks like an overnight success. I learned the importance of the small daily decisions on what kind of results you will achieve. The daily rituals are the standards you set for yourself, even when everything in your life falls apart. Your life is a result of your daily routines.
Everyone has them.. the daily routines and rituals make up our lives. Without purpose, those daily routines can be mildly interesting but meaningless. They can be the ingredients of what people refer to as ‘being in a rut.’
However, living a life of purpose gives those daily habits and routines both substance and meaning and are the ingredients of the unthinkable.