The best don’t worry about being the best; they worry about being the best at getting better. What follows are a handful of principles — mindsets, really — that I’ve observed in people who are able to sustain performance, health, and happiness over the long-haul. If you’re looking to create a one-hit wonder, or to experience radical highs (which, by the way, are almost always accompanied by radical lows), then these principles aren’t for you. But if you’re interested in playing the long game, then read on.
1. The best route to achieving big goals? Quit thinking about the goal so much and focus on nailing the process instead. If you do the work, the results will come. If you’re too focused on results, you don’t the work, at least not as well.
2. Treat your work like it’s your life because, by definition, it is. When you pour your heart and soul into something you don’t only do that thing, but you also become a larger, expanded you. This is important to realize. It helps you decide what to — and what not to — spend your time on.
3. Do you. Not what you think others want you to do. External motivators are good for a few months, maybe a year. Internal motivators last a lifetime.
4. Real enjoyment and satisfaction live in the process of building/creating something, not in the result. The vast majority of a climb unfolds on the side of the mountain. You spend little time on top. And you don’t grow and develop on the peak, you grow and develop on the way up.
5. Move your body. Exercise offers a cure to SO MUCH of what ails us — both physically and mentally. This doesn’t even mean you need to go to a gym, or run marathons. Garden. Walk with your friends. Take the stairs. Just move and move regularly.
6. Be consistent; small and regular efforts that are hard, smart, and well-paced over a long period of time give you best chance of big and heroic outcomes. With consistency comes compounding gains. You get a little bit better each day, and then build off a new basis point of a little bit better. This cycle is how you become a lot better.
7. Don’t strive for “balance.” It’s an illusion. Instead, strive for the self-awareness required to evaluate tradeoffs. (This is one of my favorite topics. I wrote more about it for the New York Times here.)
8. Relish in moments when you are firing on all cylinders. But also remember that it’s often when you aren’t that you become stronger, kinder, wiser. Getting “better” is every bit as much about becoming stronger, kinder, and wiser as it is about anything else. You entire experience is fuel for learning and development.
9. Be humble. Humility is a prerequisite to growth.
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Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and New York Magazine.