It was 4:50 a.m. and I’d just run through my warm-up routine in the gym. It was chest and tris day on the schedule.
That meant the first set was a heavy with dumbbells. Which meant, if I did it right, I’d be seeing stars by the time the weights went back on the floor.
I wanted to say “F it.” I wanted to go back in the house for another mug of coffee. It was cold in the garage. And it was dark outside. I was already worn out from the last few days’ lifts. I had other stuff to do. And missing one workout wouldn’t make a difference in my health.
But I just sort of plodded along instead. And stayed in the cold. And pumped myself up for that first set. And hit it as hard as I could.
Midway through the workout I’d sweated through the tee underneath my hoodie. A callous below my ring finger had torn off and left a raw spot that stung every time I gripped a bar. My breathing was ragged. I was damn tired and only a fraction of the way through.
I could’ve called it good and stood in the shower and gotten that coffee. It was still cold. I’d already done a workout most people would place in their top 10 ever. And I was still all alone in the garage. Nobody’d think anything of it if I packed it in. And nobody’d see the effort it took to stick it out.
But I hit it again. Hard as I could. Max effort. Max intensity.
Just before my last couple sets, my chest burned near my shoulders and ached around my sternum. The backs of my arms felt like they had deadweight hams hanging off them. And my forearms were shot from bearing the loads. The David Guetta playlist I’d been listening to was more tired than I was. Two more sets to go.
I wanted to walk away from them.
Nobody’d know the difference if I did just one more instead of two. Or zero more. Or if I just hopped on the bike for a couple minutes instead. And maybe searched for a different playlist, no offense to David Guetta.
But that’s not how you get stronger. That’s not how you get better. That’s not how you build your discipline. Or build your capabilities. Or make tomorrow better than yesterday. Or take everything you do and can do and want to do and will do to the next level.
Nope. You hit it. You hit it harder than you thought you’d be able to. And then you do it again.
And you know what? There’s nothing easier than quitting. Which is exactly why effort is always a surefire way to be one of the very best out there, no matter what you’re doing.
Here are my four keys for using the effort lever to its greatest effect. Which, if you put to use in your life, will mean you’re immediately one of the truly elite performers at whatever it is you’re doing. Because maximum (smart) effort is a rare and valuable thing. And, by the way, it pays off big-ly.
1. Have a Plan
So here’s the deal. We lizard-brained humans are really excellent at doing exactly one thing at a time. And really horrendously terrible at doing exactly anything more than one thing at a time.
Which means we’s gotsta focus to not be horrendously terrible.
Which means we’s gotsta plan ahead so we can focus on executing when it comes time for maximum effort and intensity and seeing stars during incline press. Because we can’t simultaneously plan and execute at a really high level. Focus.
My workouts follow a pre-set schedule. There’s a weekly rotation that more or less goes like this: 1) Chest/Triceps; 2) Back/Biceps/Forearms; 3) Legs Day 1; 4) Shoulders/Traps/Neck; 5) Core/Stretching/Cardio Focus; 6) Legs Day 2; 7) Off.
And, without getting into particulars, each day’s workout is planned ahead. I know how many sets of each exercise I’m doing. I know my rep and weight targets. And I know if I’m gonna superset stuff or do interval cardio or do other things to keep the routine fresh and varied. And then I do it.
I don’t have to wonder mid-set, while I’ve got some multiple of my bodyweight hovering above my chest, whether I’ll throw in a set of crunches before moving onto decline press. I’ve found having a plan to be super-helpful when I’ve got other stuff to tend to. Like not crushing my ribcage.
If you’ve got a boatload of stuff you’ve gotta do during your workweek, jot it down on a legal pad, spend five minutes arranging priorities and figuring out what you’ll have energy for in a given day, and generate a plan of attack.
Having a to-do list isn’t sufficient. It’s not good enough to know you’ve gotta do 35 things. You’ve gotta know exactly when you’re gonna do ‘em. Otherwise it’ll be too easy to walk away from those last two sets in the gym when you’re tired: You’ll think you can just do it tomorrow or nobody’ll notice. But you can’t. And they will.
So make it easier on yourself and plan that shit.
2. One Step At A Time
And then, once it’s planned, do it.
But do it like this: One. Step. At. A. Time.
Don’t mix and match. Don’t start something and then move onto something else and then come back to the first thing for a while before beginning task 3 and then get distracted by another cat video on Twitter and then try to remember what you were doing for 10 minutes and then go to lunch.
That kind of execution is an unfailing recipe for mediocrity and getting to the end of your day and looking back and hating yourself for not being your best. Because you can’t be your best if you’re not focused.
Be your best by putting all your energy and effort into a single task. Do that one thing. Do it amazingly. Then move to the next thing with all your focus. And do that one amazingly.
In the gym it’s obvious. You don’t crush a set of deadlifts and then hop on the stationary bike for three minutes and then hit the sauna before doing dumbbell flyes and stretching your hammies. That’s ludicrous.
So don’t do that kind of crap during other parts of your life. Trust in your plan. And execute at the highest possible level against that plan. And do it: One. Step. At. A. Time.
When I’m in the middle of rep 8 in a set of 12 presses, I’m not thinking about rep 12. Or rep 5. I’m thinking about rep 8. And then, once 8 is over, I’m thinking about rep 9.
And then, once that set of 12 is done, I’m thinking about the next set. Specifically, I’m thinking about that first rep of the next set. I’m thinking about how I’m gonna do it the best I can. I’m trusting the framework I have in place. I’m doing it. One rep at a time.
Doing it this way keeps you focused on executing at your highest level. But it also keeps you from looking ahead too much and getting discouraged by how much you’ve got left. Just doing that first rep is all you have to care about. One rep’s nothing. Do that one. Then you can think about the next one after the first one’s done. Just plod along. Grind it out.
One rep/step at a time also keeps you from looking back too much and getting distracted by how much you’ve done. It’s tempting to rest on your laurels when you’ve done great stuff. It’s easy to believe you’ve done so much that you don’t need to worry about doing anything more. Focusing on just the one step keeps that destructive mindset at bay. And helps you complete the full plan.
One step at a time. Maximum focus. It’s that current step that matters more than anything else.
3. Bonus Round
At the end of my workouts, I always do one more thing. It’s my single deviation from the scripted plan.
Sometimes I use the foam roller to stretch out, or I jump rope for a few minutes. Sometimes I do one more set of something where I feel like I can really burn out. Whatever. But always one more thing.
It’s the bonus round. There are no expectations. There’s no requirement. But I know I’m gonna do something. And it’s powerful because it gives me a psychological boost to think I took down the plan with such dominance that it’s been crushed and I’m not only still left standing but I’ve still got more gas in the tank.
I had the same attitude in my consultancy. Everything completed that needed to be? Great: An opportunity to do one more thing (usually little) that can make things better. Sometimes I’d do a little thing to market the firm like a quick email or phone call or LinkedIn thing. (LinkedIn was the only social media platform I used professionally. Mainly because social media wastes time. And wasting time is dumb.)
The bonus round is for small things in terms of effort. But with nice potential upside.
So not only do these bonus round things buff your psychology. But they can have real implications for good.
If you’re already in the truly elite status by having a good plan and executing it with maximum intensity, then doing something – anything – in the bonus round makes you an instant star.
4. Set the Stage
I always pick up the gym when I’m done. Weights go to their homes. Bars, too. Everything gets organized and put away.
This practice monumentally sucks on leg days when my whole lower half is shot to hell and moving weight plates around is right up there with getting dragged behind a semi.
But I do it because it means the next day’s workout will start off on the right note. And I’ll be able to stick to the plan and execute with maximum effort because I won’t be distracted or worn out by deferred maintenance.
At the end of workdays I’d always make sure I knew exactly what was on deck for the next morning. I’d get things set to take care of that task. Which meant the only variable in getting that thing done the next day would be me. Would I be the weakest link in the chain of completion? Aw, hellnaw. Will you be?
And that’s all there is to it. Plan. Action. Max Effort. Prep for mañana.
Which means, if you do stuff this way, you’ll immediately be truly elite. You’ll be top tier. You’ll be a star.
And that’s because, even though effort is an incredibly simple lever for success, it’s an incredibly easy lever to ignore. Which means most people ignore it. Which means it’s all the more powerful for those who throw down with maximum effort.
Want the guaranteed taste of failure and regret in your little whiny mouth every time something gets a little tough? Just give up on it or don’t plan ahead much or cut corners. Guaranteed regret. Guaranteed mediocrity.
So get out there. Plan and hit it one step at a time and crush the bonus round and set the stage for greatness tomorrow. And then do it again. And then some more.
It’ll bring out the best in you. It’ll mean you’re always operating at your highest level. And it’ll mean you’re well down the path to success and life awesomeness, no matter what it is you’re doing.
Best part is: You can start today.
Holla, Luchadores – What are your keys for success?