What does it take to break through the seemingly impossible

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If you’ve never heard of the British Cycling team, then you must have been on another planet for the last ten years.

It’s an incredible story of transformation from mediocrity to dominance. To all of us, it may look as if it came out of the blue but that’s hardly the case. Today we would like to bring it up as one excellent example.[1]

“Hall of shame“

By 2005 British Track Team has won only once for the last 4 World Championships which looked more like of a fluke than anything else. They were chronically underfunded. A leading bicycle manufactured considered a potential sponsorship as a PR loser.

“The devil is in the detail”

The driving force became coach Brailsford who approached the job from an entirely new perspective. He started introducing small but consistent improvements. None of which would have an immediate impact and yet…

Let’s list a few. New high tech fabrics to reduce the drag was one. Another was the introduction of muscle relaxants for faster recovery. Even painting the interior of the team vans white wasn’t too small a detail for him to ignore. The aim was to help the cyclists to sharpen their vision so that they can notice the minutest imperfection on the track. And one more which is very indicative – he asked a surgeon to give a lecture on the value of washing your hands and thus minimizing virus infections.

“A jug fills drop by drop”

All of these plus a number of little but innovative upgrades proved to have a great cumulative effect on the overall performance. It didn’t take long and in a few years, the British team became dominant.

They swept 60% of the gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. A total of 178 championships, 66 Olympic and Paralympic medals followed in the next decade. Plus five Tour de France.

As impressive and inspiring all of this might be the moral of it is something we all badly need. And learn from it.

The key

The secret is to have a vision for a grand, almost unthinkable goal which you go after by making all sorts of focal changes along the way.

A strategy like that will take you to a place that in the eyes of the world would have been recognized as unbelievable historical first.

Any success, be that in sports, business or academia, is a function of tiny moves forward based on
a solid decision-making process. The repetitive nature of this has several aspects which we would like to look at now.

Staying the course

It is utmost not to get distracted while pursuing your dreams. This will require all of your ability to persevere and be concentrated on what is your destination.

Just like the fly-by-wire computer constantly adjusts and corrects the plane’s trajectory we can too master that. Our vision and focus are playing exactly that role. They will also insulate us from all the “noise” of everyday life.

Having the will power

Reaching an objective means having the strength to say “No” to any distraction along the way.

For example, a professional athlete who is on a strict routine of training can occasionally join his buddies for a couple of beers on Saturday night. It’s not a major offense, perhaps. Well, not really. This is what we try to put the emphasis on here – the accumulative effect of uninterrupted series of small actions.

Therefore, the ability to make the right choice based on careful consideration of all the circumstances is what makes you or breaks you.

Don’t skip a single step

Being persistent means a regular, persistent and dedicated work in support of what moves you forward.

It’s a widespread mistake. We go for a specific change -let’s say a healthy diet. And then we decide to join a gym but by that time the “healthy” part of the diet is long gone. Obviously, the problem is the sustainability of those actions that we want to come to fruition.

The elusive nature of the target here, the hard to reach consistency, is based in an interesting phenomenon. This is actually the initial hurdle for you to get over.

The first challenge: Those easy to do things which are easier still not to do at all

The tricky thing about something insignificant is that you may fail to get how consequential it actually might turn out to be.

Let’s face it! No one cares much about the total intake of calories in the next 10 years when we decide to have a slice of pizza for lunch. Or when we decide to skip our morning run in the park just because it’s a drizzle outside.

Going vs being taken somewhere

There is an excellent book, “The slight edge”[2], which advances the following concept. The not so important choices we make in our everyday life have very little or no immediate effect on us. They do exert a change on us when summed up together for the duration of a longer period of time.

We would suggest several very good approaches on how to deal with this.

#1 Perseverance

It means that you have to stay committed to the weekly steps regardless of how minute they might be. If you can be consistent, of course.

Anyone can learn that. It’s not some God-given talent but a skill that can easily be enhanced. Here it is how.

#2 Habits

Our own experience taught us about the power of habit. A step, an act, that becomes an integral part of a routine will benefit us in the following way. Namely, we won’t have to consciously apply any effort on executing it.

Realizing some objectives will become a naturally flowing process. The first thing that comes to mind is how we get better at saving money. Once it becomes an “instinct” of ours we may never have to spend the time and energy on something like running a tight ship when it comes to your personal finances.

#3 The Buddy

Last but not least – you can always rely on your Goal Buddy. You discuss the weekly steps and join efforts in addressing any of the issues along the way. You will also have next to you someone who makes sure that you stay firmly on track.

And when things get especially demanding you will need all the help that you can get. That’s a must notwithstanding how good you might have become in achieving goals. We know and appreciate this very well.

The second challenge: The Dip

Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” turned our world around.

It is as brilliant as a simple concept. Any of our endeavors start with us flying on the wings of excitement. We kick it off with endless energy and motivation but the inevitability is that this can’t last. There will come a moment when you get too tired, stuck and ultimately burnt out.

That is the point when most people give up. However, if you don’t, if you manage to get out of this hole then you will have made a remarkable breakthrough.

We were surprised to realize that we were among these same people who would readily give up. Many of our projects in the past didn’t succeed just because we ran out of motivation.

#4 The vision

A confident and filled with conviction answer to the “Why” question is the source of strength and courage to get through the most trying moments.

If you haven’t made any substantial progress you may ask yourself, “Why in hell do I keep doing the same thing over and over!” You should seek out the answer in your vision.

It should be an article of faith for you. That’s why it is mandatory to do a review every 90 days and remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place.

#5 The 90-day goals

“The Dip” made us rethink across the board but there was this one change to our system that we had to implement. We included the concept of 90-day goals.

Usually, it is the three months mark when it becomes really difficult and for the first time, one might start thinking of calling it quits. So, it becomes crucial to have a review of your vision and direction. Then you can assess what went well and what not so well. Learning from the past mistakes and the subsequent corrections will give you the extra energy to go forward.

Only if you were a superman

Take it easy here! Neither are we.

We know very well that it is humanly impossible to be 100% all the time. But staying on top of a reasonable shape is more than enough. Being fully aware of the “Dip” you will be well prepared to soldier on.

There is one more factor.

The third challenge: no results come to us right away

While it was not an issue for your grandparents in today’s world the trap of the “instant gratification” is something you should seriously take into account.

Perhaps, today’s busy life teaches us the wrong lesson. We became used to expect that everything would happen right away. For good or for bad, social media has a role too. With all the positives of modern life, we are very well setting ourselves for expecting too much too soon, including our own dreams.

Rome wasn’t built in a day…

When we look at a winner at an Olympic podium we are simply tempted to just marvel at the accomplishment. It doesn’t cross our mind the amount of hard work that went into earning the gold. The brutal training, the diets and often the injuries – these all are the ingredients we shouldn’t forget about. Most importantly, it is the time needed for all the sacrifices to pay off in that one moment under the spotlight of glory.

“I don’t have the time…”

These are the words of those who never bothered to put their hearts into anything.

Learning and enriching your expertise wouldn’t take as long as you might suspect. Only 10 pages a day would be plenty so that in a year or so you would have gone through a dozen books. Same applies for goals.

Years of work

Ivan has been running his own business by putting in an enormous amount of time and effort. Still, for the first 5 years, it wasn’t taking off. Eventually, things started falling into their places and nowadays growth and profits are more than robust. He knew that patience coupled with focused work is his best bet.

Are 10 years more than enough?

Well, there is always good and bad news. So far we’ve been giving you the good. If you think that 10 years is way too much let’s break it to you. These years will pass no matter what. Michael Jordan put it best – “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”

We know very well from our own experience that it isn’t easy to stay positive when things don’t go our way. The winning strategy is just one – a long-term vision plus steady steps towards it.

To achieve our boldest goals we need the vision and the discipline to follow through all the way with regular small steps. That’s how you win big and against all the odds.


[1] Based on the book of James Clear “Atomic Habits”.

[2] “The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness” is the book of the authors Jeff Olson and John David Mann.

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