When you take a look at people like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk, the most obvious common denominator that they have is that they’re super achievers. Many people would probably credit their achievements to sheer talent or even good fortune. Athletes have the physique and physical characteristics to excel in their sports while the business super achievers were probably born into rich families, had abnormally high IQ’s, or were at the right place at the right time.
This notion of how these superstars are able to achieve so much more prolifically and consistently than the rest of the world’s population is simply mislead. This is an incomplete view of reality because most of the factors to which their successes can be attributed lie beneath the radar or are hidden beyond plain sight. And in this article, we will be talking about 5 of the common key strengths of super achievers that are accessible to all of us.
Strength #1: Purpose
The purpose may be thought of as the primary reason why you were born. Robert Green, in his brilliant book “Mastery”, refers to this as your Life’s Task, and he describes it this way: “You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task-what you are meant to accomplish in the time you have to live… The first move toward Mastery is always inward, learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force.”
Researchers have now confirmed that striving for a meaningful life is one of the main factors associated with psychological well-being. It turns out that “meaning” in our lives is most closely associated with feelings of enthusiasm, satisfaction, social connections, and most of all coherence. Indeed coherence, the idea that our efforts bring meaning if they “make sense” in the context of our lives, appears to be particularly crucial to our consistent success and achievement. We want to know that our work is in alignment with something important and significant, and that it is serving some larger purpose.
Purpose serves as a compass to help you navigate through the many decisions you will face regarding where to spend your time, money, attention, and energy. It is also a filter to help eliminate extraneous opportunities that don’t support your mission. When you know your life’s purpose, you can then choose wisely regarding those things that will make you most effective, efficient, and productive.
Another thing a definite sense of purpose can give you to help you become a super achiever is the power to persevere. Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, in his timeless classic “Man’s Search for Meaning,” shares the lessons he drew from his experiences in the death camps. Most importantly, he shows us how, despite all odds, we are always free to find meaning and purpose even in the face of unspeakable obstacles. While sharing his heart-wrenching experiences, he explains how he retained his sense of freedom by being the ultimate determiner of his own behavior and actions. He tells us how he and some of his peers were able to triumph through their impossible circumstances by actively “choosing” to focus on an attitude of intense purpose for the future. The fact that they chose their attitude and executed it at will even under the most trying circumstances made them feel liberated and empowered. That, according to him, was his doorway to sanity and freedom.
When you have a compelling purpose for doing something, even if that something is very hard or seemingly impossible, you’ll find the inner strength to continue staying the course until you accomplish what you need to accomplish. As Frankl beautifully points out, the key to understanding one’s purpose is not to question the meaning of life, but to question how to make life meaningful. That is indeed where we must focus to find our true purpose.
Strength #2: Focus
Super achievers have mastered the art of Focused Attention. In fact, when asked what one single factor is most important to them in their journey to success, both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates agree that the most important factor in both of their lives is intense and unwavering focus. Personally, I find that when Warren and Bill speak, it’s worth listening.
Serial entrepreneur and formal Navy Seal Brandon Webb, in his book “Total Focus”, puts it this way: “If I had to pick a single core principle for success in business, it would be this: choose one thing, focus on that one thing, and execute it to the absolute limit of your abilities. Focus on your career, invest in yourself, and learn how to say no to everything else… Sit down with 20 different successful entrepreneurs and have 20 different conversations; you’ll hear 20 different stories, 20 different sets of circumstances, and 20 variations on a theme. But one guaranteed thing you’ll hear in common will be this: every single one will exhibit a level of engagement with his or her business that borders on the obsessive—not an unhealthy obsession, but one born of passion and dedication to the point of almost seeming pathological”.
Another equally important aspect of focus that is crucial to high performers is the cultivation of intense periods of concentration. My favorite treatment of this topic comes from the book “DEEP WORK” by Cal Newport. Cal defines “Deep Work” as: “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
Deep work is so important that we might consider it, to use the phrasing of business writer Eric Barker “the superpower of the 21st Century”. This idea jives well with our current understanding of neuroscience as well. By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant neural circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin (biological insulation) around the neurons in the circuits-effectively cementing the skill in place.
We would do well to take the following advice from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges regarding focus: “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea”.
Strength #3: Self-Confidence
We can never achieve anything by doing nothing. But we tend to do nothing at times for different reasons. And fear of failure is one of the most significant reasons for inaction. Unreasonable fear leads to failure because it prevents us from putting ourselves in a position where success is possible.
Fear of failure all boils down to one thing; lack of self-confidence. We fear the possibility of failure on 2 grounds; inability and inadequacy. We fear we’ll fail because we don’t think we have what it takes to succeed! We may think we’re not intelligent enough, experienced enough, rich enough, beautiful or handsome enough, or talented enough to get things done. So how is this type of fear addressed?
One way to do this is by an honest evaluation of your skill sets and experiences vis-a-vis what you need to accomplish. If you find that you actually have the necessary skills and experience, it will be easier for you to convince yourself that you have what it takes to succeed. But what if you find that you lack certain skills and experiences?
That’s simple – work at developing those necessary skills and acquiring relevant experience. When we look at icons like Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Richard Branson, or Elon Musk, we must realize that they weren’t as good as they are now in the beginning. Their games had shortcomings, their decision-making capabilities lacked fluidity, and they each had people (well-meaning or otherwise) advising them against their lofty aspirations in favor of a more “reasonable” path. But, these individual challenges didn’t stop them from being confident in themselves. In fact, they likely served as motivation for them to work on their weaknesses and transform themselves into world-class performers. Essentially all progress is based on the acquisition and refinement of key skills. We all have shortcomings and areas of vulnerability, but the key is to identify these and address them in order to bolster our confidence.
Lastly, the best way to have confidence is by taking baby steps. Often times, it’s the grandiosity of tasks that lie ahead that makes us cower in fear. It’s very useful to develop the practice of breaking down your major goals or objectives into smaller chunks. Also, give each small chunk of progress a deadline to keep yourself moving and build momentum. As you do, your chances of accomplishing big goals become much, much higher, and as you pile on the small victories, you’ll find your self-confidence on a consistent positive trajectory.
Strength #4: Enthusiasm
While you can’t expect to be very enthusiastic about doing what needs to be done to become a super achiever all the time, you will need to be enthusiastic about what you do (at least most of the time). Why?
If you’re not enthusiastic about what you need to do or accomplish, it means you’ll be relying on willpower to push through. But here’s the problem with willpower. It’s a limited resource. If you always get by using willpower as your fuel source, it will eventually run out and you’ll get burned out. Once that happens, it is game over!
So how can you maintain an adequate enough level of enthusiasm? The primary way is to go back to your compelling reason or purpose for doing what you’re doing. In many cases, being reminded of why you need to accomplish what you need to accomplish gives you enough enthusiasm to get back on track. We tend to lose enthusiasm in our daily actions when we lose focus on our Life’s Task.
Another way to build and maintain enthusiasm is by breaking down your main goals into smaller task chunks. That way, you register smaller but more victories that, over time, can either help you stay enthusiastic or rekindle that lost flame. One very easy way to supercharge your daily motivation is to set only one crucial goal that must be accomplished prior to finishing the day of work. The goal should be one thing that will move you toward accomplishing your Life’s Task as quickly as possible. Success mentor Darren Hardy calls this daily goal your Most Valuable Priority (MVP). Set the bar relatively low as you initially adopt this practice in order to build some quick momentum and gain more enthusiasm.
Lastly, learn to reward yourself every time you achieve something major. Many people get burned out because all they do is to work and get things done. Without rewarding yourself, you’ll eventually question why you’re doing the things you’re doing and start to lose sight of and passion for your compelling reason. But when you reward yourself upon accomplishing tasks, you give yourself something to look forward to and in the process, kindle your enthusiasm.
Strength #5: Specialized Expertise
The final strength most super achievers have – and it’s something that we can all learn to acquire – is specialized expertise. Notice that I use the term specialized expertise rather than just expertise for a reason. Specialized expertise entails the selection of a relatively detailed niche in which you make a definite decision to focus your efforts. Generalized “high performance” in many generalized areas will not be sufficient to fit the criteria. You may have all the other strengths but if you lack specialized expertise, then you can’t become a super-achiever!
Now, I hope you’ll recognize that I’m not saying that the four previous strengths aren’t important. In fact, one could make the case that the first four strengths can work together to help you develop the necessary skills or expertise to become a super achiever. However, this ability to achieve Mastery of a certain skill set is what separates super achievers from everyone else.
So how does one develop specialized expertise? Interestingly, it turns out that there is a field of study devoted entirely to designing protocols for mastering skills. I’m currently finishing an entire book on the topic. The book is called You Can Become A Master: How To Become A Top Performer Using The Evidence On Expertise. Here are some other key terms regarding what we know about expert level performance.
Deliberate Practice (DP) is a term coined by K. Anders Ericsson, the psychologist and author of Peak. It refers to a set of principles of successful practice followed by world class performers in almost any discipline imaginable. Another term for essentially the same process is “Deep Practice”. The second term was coined by Daniel Coyle, and he describes it well in his book The Talent Code. In essence, each of the processes involves a series of steps that if followed correctly will create a superstar performer. There seems to be an evidence-based formula that can now be used to allow predictable formation of expertise in nearly any given field! For a more thorough understanding of how to become an expert, I recommend You Can Become A Master: How To Become A Top Performer Using The Evidence On Expertise, Peak, and The Talent Code.
Remember, developing the necessary expertise is all about consistency in doing the right things, in the right way, as many times as it takes to develop strong neural connections around the skill.