I read a lot . Maybe it’s age and realizing that you can learn more by sourcing through the experiences of others, or perhaps it’s as simple as I love to read. My mother is a voracious reader and and manages to read several hundred books a year as she approaches her 80th birthday.
Most coaches have a library of books that they draw from for inspiration and clarity. The majority offer plenty of insights into human nature although over time most of them begin to sound the same. Every once in a while a book comes along that offers something different and resonates powerfully because it gets to the heart of the matter. I recently read such a book while traveling to Alberta on a recruiting trip. Written in clear concise terms and laid out beautifully it was both compelling and an easy read. More importantly it was easy to digest. It struck a chord from the opening chapter.
The book is titled “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.” Co-authored by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan it was released last month and quickly jumped to the top of the NY Time Bestsellers list. After reading it, I’m not surprised. Of course the title alone is a magnet for anyone actively trying to do a better job managing their career and family life. Who among us doesn’t feel they can do a better job if they could just get a handle on the 6,755 things that scroll across our gray matter on a daily basis?
I shared some of the key points of the book with our players when I returned from Florida. It occurred to me that the author’s had struck a chord that not only altered some of my thinking about the choices I make each and every day, but it also could simplify things for my athletes. I spend countless hours during the school year urging our athletes to settle into a routine that prioritizes their choices. There are plenty of things I could point to that separate a bright eyed and eager freshman from a seasoned senior, but if I had to boil maturity down to a single word it would be: “prioritizing”. For want of a better term I’ve often expressed it loosely as “getting it”. Older more experienced adults and athletes tend to “get it” because they begin to make the connection between priorities and achieving. That’s a powerful connection and undeniably critical in the pursuit of excellence in anything; school, relationships and athletics.
So prior to my departure for the Coaches Convention, I provided a handout that summarized some of Keller’s key points and asked each player to do an exercise where they worked backwards listing their most cherished goal/dream/objective, from a far off ”someday” to “collegiate career” to “next year” and on down to “month” “week” and “day”. It’s a simple exercise, at least in appearance. I asked them to take an hour or two, work the list backwards and give it to me when I returned from Florida. Upon collecting each players list, I spent an hour reading what they’d written. Two things jumped out at me. First, every single player had made the time to do an honest job of laying out what really matters to them. I wasn’t shocked because we have a terrific, conscientious group of individuals in our program.
But the second thing that jumped out did surprise me somewhat. While virtually every player had identified some clear objectives/goals that they aspired to accomplish either “someday” or during their collegiate career, none of them seemed able to make the connection between that and their short term priorities. In other words, while they all had great “someday” dreams and excellent goals for the year ahead, when they got into the action/prioritizing portion of the exercise where they had to identify the objective for the month,week and day…..virtually every player listed abstract, somewhat unrelated activities.
So I took the liberty of re-meeting with each of them and walking through the process again. I took my own “someday” dream of guiding a team to the National Championship and walked it backwards into what I focus my attention on every day. This time the light bulb seemed to go off and to date most of their revised paperwork is showing signs that they are beginning to understand how what they focus on today, tomorrow and next week leads them in whatever direction they want to go.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so they say! I shared the book with my wife because I could clearly see how the material related to her and her profession. I likewise took the time to work out my own version of the “one thing”. Before I share how that’s playing out on my end, I want to share one particularly clairvoyant piece of Keller’s work. In the early chapters Keller lays out what prevents most of us from doing the “one thing”. Before you can narrow your focus he offers that you have to come to grips with six widely held, popular beliefs and then proceeds to destroy them as completely false, one by one. The six are as follows:
1. Everything Matters Equally
2. Multitasking is Good
3. Success is About Leading a Robotic Disciplined Life
4. Willpower is Always On Call and Available
5. A Balanced Life is What Makes Us Happy
6. Big is Bad
Aside from convincingly refuting each and every premise I’ve listed above, Keller also makes the reader critically aware how often we operate under false pretense without realizing it. This is a topic that I’m keenly aware of as a coach, not only because I observe it in my players, but because I observe how often I fall victim to it myself. The best analogy I’ve heard and often repeat is that operating under false pretenses is akin to trying to navigate the streets of New York City with a map of Boston. The image of someone or myself wandering aimlessly around the city trying to get my bearings is a powerful one. Can you say “lost”?
After finishing this book ( which is a quick read by the way ) and undertaking this exercise with our players, I found myself more committed than ever to help each of our players develop their own “one thing”. I’ve had plenty of experience reading books of this nature that shed light on some of the challenges we face every day, but all too often the solutions are forgotten within a few days. Perhaps that’s one more reason I found this book to be so enlightening. It didn’t just diagnose the challenges we face. It offers a fairly simple, direct way of addressing them. There are no complicated formulas or ten step programs to remember. More importantly, this work got me reflecting how people’s inability to focus on “the One Thing” affects our journey. And perhaps most critically, the same principle applies in our relationships, families, careers and hobbies.
After some self reflection, I revisited one of my own “one things”. Cycling. For most of my life I’ve been active athletically. Maybe it was the discipline instilled by playing hockey for 15 years. From the time I left Dartmouth until I reached my fifties I kept a fairly sound workout routine. But after crossing the mid century mark I discovered running and injury meant I had to find other ways to exercise. Add in the stress of the long playing season and overnight it seemed my routine had evaporated. Now if you want to talk about the brain telling you the wrong thing and leading you in the wrong direction…. I found the more stressed I got, the more my mind told me I was “too busy” to work out. Essentially the more I needed the exercise to clear my head, the more my head told me I didn’t have time to waste working out. If you read this book, you’ll undoubtedly recognize some of your own rationalizing mistruths. We all have them.
So this spring I began getting back on the road and making cycling a part of my day. Yes it’s time consuming; yes it’s challenging when the weather makes it rather unpleasant to think about; yes it’s harder some days than others. The payoff however has been enormous. I’ve gotten Karen into it and she’s become as passionate about it as me. My mood, diet and energy levels have all surged in a better direction. It’s a little thing that Keller identifies as one of my one things. By his description it’s one of my dominoes, because when I knock this one down it seems to cascade a whole bunch of other things in a similarly positive direction.
There are a whole lot of choices we make in life that result in feeling good or bad about ourselves. If you have a few hours to spare this summer I highly encourage you to put “The One Thing” at the top of your reading list. It may not strike the same chord with everyone, but I promise that you’ll put it down and spend a lot more time thinking about your own list.
- The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan (downloadpdfebooks.wordpress.com)